Some three years ago, I belatedly came around to reading Ariely’s original masterpiece, “Predictably Irrational.” Here’s verbatim the summary of my findings:
1. Among two offerings, a merchant can reliably make us pick the one he prefers by sliding a “decoy” bad choice that is more similar to the choice he wants to steer us to
2. The first price we see for anything is the one we remember forever. Get that high “anchor” in and you can sell anything at a high price (and vice versa)
3. We are suckers for ambience/context. We won’t just pay up for a product if a setting looks upmarket or is sold in an upmarket setting, we’ll enjoy it more too. If something’s presented as expensive, basically, we are drawn to it almost automatically, with a very notable exception:
4. We’re drawn to stuff even more if it’s FREE! FREE! (with an exclamation mark, like Yahoo!) is a law unto itself
5. We can’t deal well with mixing social norms and market norms. We’ll do things for free that you could not possibly pay us to do. Conversely, if a price is put on something that has previously been rationed but free, the magic is gone and we can’t go back to looking at it through the prism of social norms
6. We can do some very stupid things when the “animal” inside us comes to the surface
7. We simply don’t have it in us to delay gratification. We’re not wired like that. We have to find ways to trick ourselves to save for a rainy day, to get medical checks etc.
8. We value stuff we own higher by dint of owning it. Our house, our stereo, theatre tickets, the lot. It all goes up in our estimation because it’s ours
9. We place immense value on keeping options open and waste disproportionate resources on keeping our options open relative to the potential benefit of exercising them
10. When we think something will be good, we end up liking it and when we think medicine will work it will end up working better!
11. In the same vein, a 50-Cent Aspirin can do things a 1-Cent Aspirin cannot
12. When nobody’s looking, we all cheat, but we don’t cheat too much, lest we end up feeling bad about ourselves
13. The more removed we are from actual cash, the less inhibited we are in our cheating
Small Change covers exactly ZERO new ground, but omits point #5, point #6 and points #12
Funnily enough, that makes it a better book. I guess the author has come to realise that nine of his thirteen points were about… money. So he got a very funny (but impossibly lazy, he could not even be bothered to dig beyond his personal experience for new stories/examples) co-author to repackage those ideas and hey, presto, a better-focused book is on the shelves.
Also, a major beef of mine with psychologists is they have to get sex into everywhere, a fact that makes it impossible to recommend their books to my mom or even to read their work on the tube. With point #6 expunged, this is indeed a book you can recommend to your mom and a book you can read in the tube with little risk of embarrassment. Modulo the jarringly frequent invocation of a dominatrix throughout the text, that is.
So to all those of you who’ve never read Dan Ariely before, you can now skip his original opus. Buy “Small Change” instead, supplement it with “The Honest Truth about Dishonesty” and be on the lookout for his upcoming work on social norms vs. market norms.
On the other hand, if you’ve already read “Predictably Irrational,” I can’t recommend buying this book. Like myself, you’ll feel robbed of your valuable reading time. And of whatever not-so-small change you paid for it, of course.
I’ve read, and enjoyed, two of the author’s other books, but I found this stale and unoriginal by comparison. There is very little reference to research and what there is has been covered in the other books. The gap is filled with long anecdotes, some contrived, some purportedly true. It’s hard to say which is the more tedious.