Why Smart People Sometimes Act Dumb

Let’s pretend you’ve locked your keys in your car.

You’ve tried everything short of breaking a window to get your keys out, but no luck.

You call a locksmith.

Locksmith #1 arrives. He’s friendly, and he opens your car in two minutes.

A week later, you lock your keys in your car again.

This time, locksmith #2 shows up. He’s also friendly, but unbeknownst to you, he’s less experienced than locksmith #1.

After some fiddling and a few trips back to the truck to find the right tools, locksmith #2 opens your car. Total time: 10 minutes.

If you had to guess, which locksmith do you think gets the bigger tip?

If your answer is locksmith #1… you’d be wrong.

Locksmith #2 gets the bigger tip, and here’s why…

Dan Ariely, a Psychology and Behavioral Economics professor at Duke and author of two New York Times bestsellers, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality, calls this the labor illusion.

Ariely tells a similar story on his blog about a veteran locksmith:

“[The locksmith] was tipped better when he was an apprentice and it took him longer to pick a lock, even though he would often break the lock! Now that it takes him only a moment, his customers complain that he is overcharging and they don’t tip him. What this reveals is that consumers don’t value goods and services solely by their utility, benefit from the service, but also a sense of fairness relating to how much effort was exerted.”

Dan Kennedy confirms the labor illusion is alive and well with his consulting clients.

If a client asks Kennedy to write new headlines for a sales page — a task that takes Kennedy 5 minutes — Kennedy tells his client to give him the night to work on it.

In Kennedy’s client’s mind, Kennedy is going home, pouring himself a glass of scotch, and burning the midnight oil wordsmithing the perfect headlines.

In actuality, Kennedy is going home, going about his night as he normally would, going to bed, sleeping like a baby and then waking up and taking five minutes to scrawl down a list of world-class headlines before meeting with his client.

The best consultants understand that your client’s perceived value of your services is far more important than the utility. Of course, your services have to deliver what they promise, but what your clients really want to see is some sweat on your brow. They need to be able to justify your price.

This is an interesting irrational blip we’re all susceptible to — even the smartest and most successful high achievers experience this.

For example, yesterday Gary Vaynerchuk published his latest DailyVee episode, called HUSTLE TOUR!

About half way through the video Gary Vee takes fans on a tour of his multi-floored office in New York.

While Gary is giving the tour, which is taking place around 8 p.m., he’s commenting on all the sections of the office where employees have gone home for the night.

“This is Finance. Nobody here. Looks like no bills are going to be paid,” jokes Gary.

When Gary gets to his section of the office, right outside his glass-encased corner office, almost all his staff are still working. “Hustlers,” boasts Gary.

This is the labor, aka “hustle” illusion at work.

Do you really think Gary’s section would all be staying late if Gary wasn’t still there? Some nights, when deadlines need to be met, sure. But every night? Probably not. This is questionable leadership, in my opinion.

A coworker sent me this article about why Millennials are to blame for America’s vacation problem. The article says that because millennials are work-obsessed — we rarely take time off — whenever our coworkers take time off, we’re inclined to shame them for it. The author calls this “vacation shaming.” While this is debatable, the article concludes by offering a solution:

“To change this trend, it has to come from the top. We need bosses who know the value that time off can bring to an organization.”

To be fair to Gary Vee, he ends his latest episode telling fans that he’s taking a two-week leave to spend time with family.

While it doesn’t completely excuse the hustle obsession, it’s a step in the right direction.

If I had to guess, I’d say the hustle obsession we see online is half show (marketing), half psychological (labor illusion). Entrepreneurs, especially ones who started from the bottom or who immigrated to America for a better life and had to hustle to get to where they are, for these entrepreneurs, hard work is ingrained in them. So it’s no surprise that their perceived value of their employees’ hustle is high.

As an employee reading this, you need to recognize situations like this. You need to know who you are working for and what kind of irrational expectations they may have of you. You have to be able to adjust your work accordingly.

This may sound like I’m suggesting you be lazy or deceptive. I’m not. If you can finish a task in 5 minutes, you should. But, there will be exceptions, there will be times when it’s beneficial to your clients, customers, managers, bosses, whoever is paying for your services to see you grinding. This is controversial advice, sure, but it’s in pursuit of customer/boss/client satisfaction.

Dan Ariely’s research supports this and so does Dan Kennedy’s decades-worth of in-the-trenches experience. Human relationships are not black and white. There’s a constant rational and irrational dance going on. The faster you learn to the steps, the more success you’ll have.

Nick Papple
Managing Editor
Success Formula Daily

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Nick Papple is a regular writer for Early to Rise. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Kinetics from the University of Guelph in Canada.