Monday, March 28, 2005

Business People Are Extra-Terrestrial

I've recently developed a new marketing principle: Human beings are lazy... business people are extra-terrestrial.

If you didn't figure it out from my new maxim alone, let it explain it briefly. The first part, human beings are lazy, is not too difficult to grasp. Not that I want to make snap judgments about all people, I don't, but our species, especially the American variety, procrastinates with aplomb. We put off doing all kinds of important tasks, everything from the very simple (cleaning our homes, taking out the trash, and paying bills) to the slightly more complicated (filing our taxes, talking to our kids about sex and drugs, and telling others we love them). If it's something we don't feel like doing, there's a good chance we won't.

The second part plays off of the first - if human beings are lazy, then business people are something beyond lazy, hence "extra-terrestrials." That may sound downright un-American to your ears, but the fact of the matter is that it's true. The American workplace is full, not only of procrastination, but of personal inefficiency and distraction as well. Who works in an office and doesn't spend at least a small part of the day surfing the internet for personal reasons?

This premise was confirmed over the past five years after the dot-com bubble burst and nearly every company in America starting down-sizing its workforce. In the months and years that followed the cut-back, the most amazing thing happened: productivity increased in nearly every industry and companies were able to improve their balance sheets with lower overhead. Some companies were increasing capacity while decreasing personnel. Those who still had jobs were ready to work their asses off in order to keep them and companies across the country benefited greatly from it. Now if that doesn't indicate that there's some slack in the rope, then I don't know what does.

No business in it's right mind would expect that level of efficiency to be sustained over a long period of time, and as business seemed to be growing steadily again, most sensible outfits began to hire as well. But, of course, once the crisis is averted, human nature can return to form. Now don't get me wrong, Americans love a paycheck, and they'll work really hard when they feel it's in jeopardy, but as soon as business picks up and their jobs are more secure, the work-ethic is the first thing to go.

So what does all of this mean and why does it matter? Well, once you realize how supremely lazy the average American worker can be, you can begin to develop strategies to make your hard work MORE productive by tailoring your efforts to appeal to the lazy. This is especially true in marketing - the more work you do to make selling a product to someone as easy as it can possibly be, the better you will sell that product.

In my experience at Vintage Books, there have been some very fine examples of this principle - everything to doing all the legwork in creating a story idea that is then handed over to the media to setting up huge events with great publicity at no cost just by making enough phone calls and bringing in sponsors.

I think businesses are often guilty of making lazy mistakes - falling into the trap of spending money rather than expending effort, energy, brain-power, and resourcefulness. Frankly, I believe that anything you dream up can be accomplished (and probably at no cost to you) if you are smart and work hard enough to achieve it.


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