Imagine you have a child in day care. No matter how hard you try to leave the office on time, you always seem to get caught in traffic or the boss catches you as you go out the door.
No matter. You know the day care center won’t close and put your child on the street, but you are tired of seeing the peevish looks on the staff members’ faces when you show up 20 minutes late.
Then one day, the center announces a new client benefit program. For just $3, they’ll watch your kid for another hour.
Do you say to yourself, “Wow! That’s great! For a nominal fee, now I don’t have to drive myself crazy with traffic, or risk offending my boss! What a great service.”
Not if you are the authors of a book topping the best-seller lists called “Freakonomics.”
The authors, who say they are applying economic principles to daily life, studied this case because the day care center actually didn’t want kids to stay late. They thought the “fine” of $3 would dissuade people from coming late so their staff could go home early. The opposite occurred – more parents than before came late and gladly paid the fee. The authors then make some wild assertion that the $3 “fine” actually alleviated the parents’ “guilt” for coming late.
No doubt you’ve heard a version of this tale at your cocktail parties or networking meetings. The story has made the rounds on NPR and in many book reviews. But it is always told from the author’s point of view. They never once considered that people would consider the fee a justifiable expense for a worthwhile service. Isn’t that what service is all about? I guess these authors don’t really live in the real world – one is an economist at a university. Need I say more?
I want to make a publicity point here, as I always do.
This book, “Freakonomics” and another book written in a similar vein to universal acclaim, “Tipping Point” share two things in common beyond their best-seller status and universal acclaim:
1. They are full of beautifully written stories.
2. At least one of their first stories is so convincingly told with nearly airtight precision in their logic that you don’t notice the gaping holes in the rest of the stories in their books!
Let me make the case, then show the point.
In “The Tipping Point,” the author tells the best story ever about social networks and influence that I’ve ever read. This is worth the price of the book alone. Absolutely brilliant.
However, in a later chapter, he makes the point that crime in New York went done when the mayor decided to launch a clean up campaign against graffiti on the subways. I won’t debate the point since I’m not a crime expert.
But, the authors of Freakonomics make the claim that crime has gone down because of legalized abortions.
Again, I won’t say who is right or who is wrong since I’m not qualified, but three thoughts should cross your minds:
1. If one is right, the other is wrong.
2. Both these ideas could be totally wrong! Could there be another factor? Or in this complicated world, couldn’t there be a variety of factors that interplay?
3. If they are wrong here, then maybe they are wrong elsewhere.
So here’s the point:
The authors of both books weaved stories so well told that literally hundreds of reporters and reviewers never questioned their conclusions!
Here’s what it means to you: If you tell a good story, sound convincing and offer a modicum of proof, you just might be able to convince some of the people some of the time. And if you do it better, then you can convince all of the people all of the time.
Critical thinking is rarely taught in schools and barely practiced by adults. I challenge you to re-read those books and see if you can’t poke holes in their arguments.
Your Fearless PR LEADER