Predictions: Front Running The Future

Often we think of business and political policies as static.  Have a problem, apply the solution and end of story.  The same goes for sciences and pseudo-sciences (political science, sociology, much of psychology, and the like).  I mean if one breaks a bone the body, assuming the broken parts are placed correctly in position, will grow new bone cells that connect to the old and the problem of the broken bone will be fixed, usually permanently.  In business, make a new widget or provide a new service whose function is to create some advantage for the customer and one need not worry about doing that again for a long time.  Development of a new product often takes a fair amount of time and a goodly number of improvements, from the initial idea to the final deliverable product.  Seldom does life run on automatic, even for hunter-gathers.  Of course their world may seem to crawl at a snail’s pace in comparison to the modern world.

The fact remains that we like to know a little about the future occurrences, whether such occurrences are predictable.  So we learned about the changing of seasons and over time we might recall events or occurrences that would provide general clues as to the strength of the coming winter and duration of the summer.  Since a few individuals were better at observing such matter and better still at remembering from year to year and season to season, they were looked upon as soothsayers, able to predict the future, if only in general terms.  Much of our weather forecasts are derived by way of historical data.  That is, historical observations.  We know that winter in the arctic will never see temperatures in the 90s.  We also know that in the arctic the general mean temperature during the day during January will be close to 40 degrees below zero.  Some days it may be a balmy minus 20 degrees and some days it might be a minus 60 degrees.  In that type of cold, does a forty degree temperature swing have much meaning?  Only if you are a vehicle and your engine is likely to freeze for the rest of the year if you shut yourself off.  For us humans, that same temperature gradient can mean the difference between life and death depending on exposure time.  At minus 60 degrees it takes only a short time to freeze to death while at minus 20 degrees the process takes somewhat longer.  Of course once it goes below zero one should have the common sense to avoid prolonged exposure, if possible.

But we as humans are never satisfied with the general, we want facts, specific facts.  Horror scopes are complied based on the position of stars and planets, whose large scale movements are cause changes in their positions.  We like magic, we want things to change without much effort.  I want to lose thirty or even fifty pounds of ugly fat tonight and wake up looking like a young and beautiful teenager.  I think you might have better luck with the stars and planets.  You’ll win the lottery before that ever happens, but it could….  We love front running the future, there is a magic to it.  That is why there is marketing and sales.  New and improved gives way to Latest and more advanced that ever.  Just ask any marketing manager.  All of this pervades our lives in many strange ways.  Some idiot came up with “delighting the customer” as if one could chain a customer’s pocketbook to the corporate bank account.  The customer will be so delighted with us that they will be our customer for life or at least until they run out of money buying our stuff.  And how do we delight the customer?  We anticipate his needs.  We front run his desires.  We try to predict what will make us special in his eyes and provide that product that he desires the most.  Marketing isn’t so much about creating demand as it is about trying to manage the future the customer’s future choices.  Marketing tries to front run the customer, pure and simple.

An example: I lost a nut to a part that made a machine work well.  The nut was a specialty item and the machine needed this one little nut in order to work.  The part that had the nut costs twenty dollars, including delivery.  So I emailed my request for this nut.  There was no way to order the nut without ordering the part.  I mean, they had other nuts in stock and I inquired if they had my nut in stock.  Well yes they did.  In their online catalog the nominal cost would have been about three dollars for the nut.  But there was no way I could specifically order that nut.  So I asked them to send me the nut and an invoice and I would pay the bill upon receipt.  Oh, but that clerk wanted to “delight me” with superior service, so he sent the entire part.  All I wanted was the nut.  Okay, so I wan’t charged for the part, it came gratis, free, including shipping.  It is not likely that I will order many more parts or machinery from this company, but it is that thinking that can sink a company.  I mean, one can only buy so much stuff.  It is like constantly receiving advertisements to up grade from a push mower to a small power mower to a larger self propelled mower to a riding mower.  If all one needs for a very small yard is a push mower, then how can one delight me with more stuff at reduced prices.

I used to work for one of the Bell operating companies in outside plant.  I was a lineman/cable splicer.  When I joined the company I saw a small poster with eight panels on it.  Inside each panel was a drawing and a short explanation.  The first panel showed a tree with a tire hanging from a limb by a length of rope.  The caption was: What the customer ordered.  Then the next six panels had various variations of swings with more and more ropes, levels of seats, poorly installed swings and so forth.  The last panel was that same tire swing with the caption: What the customer wanted.  That little poster had been around since the early fifties.  Front running the customer assumes you know exactly what the customer wants.  It is an erroneous assumption.  And next to that poster was another one that read: We never have enough money in the budget to do the job right the first time.  But we always have enough money to fix it again and again.


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