Week 23 — Using Consistency Bias In Entrepreneurship

Have you ever done something because you felt the need to be ‘consistent’? Let me clarify what I mean.

Have you ever been stuck in a dilemma, choosing between 2 pairs of shoes and finally after painstaking consideration, committed to buy product A. Immediately after the purchase, you begin to find all sorts of reasons to justify your decision.

“Oh, I need product A because it has a better arch than B.”

Or whatever that excuse is. I’ve done it many times, so have you.

Just in case you were wondering, this tendency is neither limited to just shopping nor is it gender specific. We use it as a means of convenience or a way to be congruent with yourself.

We do this because we want to be consistent with ourselves.

What is consistency?

Consistency is one of the strongest principles that govern direct human action. We crave and desire to be consistent human beings. If I were to summarise the principle of consistency succinctly, it would be to say something and following through by doing whatever you said you were going to do simply because you said it.

It doesn’t have to be right or wrong. Just congruent with what you say, even if you blurted it out by mistake.

The Power Of A $10 Wager

Just recently, I spoke to a friend who is in the midst of a job search. I had an opportunity that I thought my friend would be suited for and I requested for the resume to be sent over.

I scanned through the resume pretty quickly and found nothing really unusual about it at first glance. But then I felt something was amiss and I opened up the file again to go through the resume in greater detail. This time, I spotted something that cracked me up throughout the whole afternoon.

Under the ‘interests’ section, my friend had put “discovering new food places” under it. I immediately burst out laughing at the silliness of such a claim, after which I proceeded to point it out to my friend.

We had a good laugh about it and traded some banter back and forth. Since my friend was scheduled to hop on a call with the interviewer later in the day, I decided to place a cheeky wager.

“If you tell your interviewer that you like exploring food places during the interview, I’ll give you $10.”

Deal.

The game’s afoot.

My friend’s true gung ho nature emerged and delivered the line as promised at the end of the interview. I tipped my hat and obliged by sending over the aforementioned reward of $10.

Upon reflection, I realised how the principle of consistency governed our entire business deal. My friend, wanting to be consistent to what was stated in the resume was more than willing to take up and carry out the specifics of the deal.

On the other hand, as the person that offered the deal, I felt an innate responsibility to uphold the sanctity of the wager. Not transferring the agreed upon sum of $10 would deem me as an inconsistent, untrustworthy human being and thus not reliable.

Inconsistency is thought of as an undesirable personality trait. Anyone who does not do what he/she says is recognised as fickle-minded, confused or even mentally ill.

On the other hand, consistent individuals are praised and relied upon as intellectually desirable people.

There’s nothing wrong with desiring consistency. I mean let’s face it, would you want your car to start 90% of the time? Likewise in the pharmaceutical industry, are you comfortable if your Covid-19 vaccine works 50% of the time? Probably not right?

Such variability breeds disjointedness, unpredictability and unnecessary anxiety.

There is nothing wrong with pursuing consistency, but the problem lies when we apply the ‘law’ of consistency too frivolously. Where it is not sensible, we tend to extract and illicit an automatic response of consistency without thought because it’s convenient to do so.

Chinese Brainwashing Technique

A fascinating discovery on US POWs from the Korean War was found, psychologists uncovered that almost all POWs interned during the Korean War had collaborated with the Chinese communists in one form or another. Many ended up having pro-communist sentiments!

How is that possible? Hollywood paints such a patriotic picture on every solider that survives a war, that they would never betray their country, let alone adopt pro-communist beliefs!

Well, turns out that the Chinese were no slouches when it comes to influence. These masters of compliance knew that it would not be sustainable to forcefully extract information from US POWs consistently. So, in true Bruce-Lee-be-like-water fashion, they started small, by encouraging these POWs to commit by sharing with them what some of the issues they believed the US was not perfect in. They even encouraged the POWs to write it down. Once written, they would reward the prisoner with special ‘gifts’ and privileges. At the same time, the Chinese would then take that slip of paper, broadcast it to the whole camp, then local radio station and finally international radio.

What was initially a harmless expression of someone’s opinions on his own country turned into a weapon of propaganda. The soldier, realising what he had unintentionally done, has now become a communist sympathiser. And because he has now embodied the role a collaborator, there is a strong desire to stay consistent with that new identity because such a role in the camp is deemed to be desirable.

This resulted in little or no attempts to escape the internment camp. Most escape plots were stifled not by the captors but by the collaborators themselves. By no means am I saying that they were traitors, but they were manipulated gradually into doing something they never intended to do and remained consistent till the end of the way.

Consistent “Exploitation” By The Toy Industry

Robert B. Caldini (and millions of parents globally) fall victim to a brilliant trick set up by the toy industry year after year. The problem faced by toy manufacturers during the Christmas period is this: how do I keep sales for toys high during the Christmas period and still retain healthy sales figures in the months after Christmas?

The toy industry devised a cunning plan. During the lead up to the peak shopping season, they would bombard ads for their flagship toy all over the TV. Soon, you’ll start hearing kids bug their parents to get that amazing toy that they saw on TV.

Out of obligation, parents start promising their kids that they’ll get that particular toy for Christmas. Now, you see that parents have already made that commitment.

Here’s where it get’s juicy. Toy companies know that millions of parents globally make that same commitment to their children every year, so how do they respond? They undersupply their stores with that flagship toy.

Unsuspecting parents head down to their local toy store only to be left scratching their heads, finding out that their ideal purchase has just ran out of stock, not just in this store, but ALL the stores in the area.

The only solution remaining would be to use the toy budget to buy other substitute toys that are of the equal value as the original flagship toy.

The toy company then continues to run ads to other flagship toys, driving the kids even crazier and they end up bugging the heck out of the parents, insisting that the parents make good on their initial promise.

Unwillingly, the parents are then ‘forced’ make good on their promise and end up in the same store, meeting other parents that have fallen for the same trick year after year… All because of a promise that was made and the need to remain consistent with what was promised.

Applications in Entrepreneurship & Life

There are many ways that the principle of consistency can be applied in entrepreneurship.

Some of it can be use offensively, some defensively … Some may even be unethical, but I leave it to you to decide what’s right and what’s wrong.

  1. foot-in-the-door: it’s much easier to get a prospect to make a purchase once
  2. Fake surveys: When service providers come up to you on the pretense of doing a survey to get you to say things about yourself and end up selling you something you don’t need but you feel forced to buy because of your need to feel ‘consistent’ to what you said during your survey.
  3. Sneaky car salesmen tactics: Telling you that their prices are 10% lower than competitor prices, only to tell you that there was a calculation error and that you need to top-up another $400 after the handshake deal has been made.

A couple of weeks back, I heard this quote from a podcast. I can’t remember where but it said:

“A superpower cannot be called a superpower unless it can be used for evil”

Do with this knowledge what you will. The choice is ultimately yours.

Hope you guys have a fantastic week ahead!

Till next week!