Canadian Contractor

Robert Koci   

When you know just how irrational your customers really are, you can sleep till noon.

"Give a renovator or custom homebuilder a reputation for having the best price and he can charge whatever he wants."

Over 30 years ago, a Stanford study discovered something unique about humans: we are much more interested in being a part of a group than being objective, rational and truthful.

Today’s polarizing societies are proving the point. Politically, socially, religiously, economically and culturally, we are moving into camps, learning what we must believe to stay there, and adhering to those beliefs regardless of evidence to the contrary or their proximity to truth. Left or Right, Global Warming or Global Hoax, vax or antivax, Kraft ketchup or French’s, all camps have their facts and truths, and if you want to join, you have to believe.

There is another human characteristic that shows human’s loose relationship with the truth articulated by Mark Twain. “Give a man a reputation as an early riser and he can sleep ‘til noon.” What you do (sleep till noon) is far less important than what people believe you do (get up early) regardless of the facts (you sleep till noon!)

Let’s translate Twain’s aphorism into Canadian Contractor language: “Give a renovator or custom homebuilder a reputation for having the best price and he can charge whatever he wants.” Or “Give a contractor a reputation for having the highest standards of quality and he can build whatever he wants.” Both suggest that, with the right reputation, you can be profitable regardless of the quality or price of your work.

Now you’re thinking, “The lie will eventually be exposed. Facts win out!” Yes, but let’s go back to the first point; when a lie is part of the foundation of a group, the group will vigorously guard against facts that might undermine it. Yes, lies will be exposed, but it can take generations for that to happen when it is part of the glue that keeps a group together.

I had a conversation with a big-city contractor recently. His ambition, he said, was to have the kind of reputation that would allow him to run ads punctuated by the message that he could be reached “by appointment only.” He is working on being so exclusive, capable, and valuable to his market that customers would willingly wait in line to purchase his services, pay his price, and defend him against negative onslaughts. That’s not rational. He is a good builder and is not charging usurious prices, but he is human and the competition is constantly putting downward pressure on prices. Having this kind of reputation can give him some breathing room.

He’s intuited the irrationality of human nature. He’s tapping into the same human characteristic that was understood by Twain and revealed by the study at Stanford. It is the irrational element that seeks connection and belonging and it is the part of his customer he realized he MUST appeal to in order to be able to charge better prices and build to the quality that suited him.

He’s not looking to manipulate anyone. His quest is for breathing room. He wants his company to be at the centre of a group that everyone wants to join; a group that uses his company for all their home renovation needs, that will defend him when he makes mistakes, and pay whatever price he needs to get the job done fairly. It is a group internally structured not on reason or facts, but on the good feelings that come from being part of a successful, exclusive, happy group. A group that will allow him to sometimes sleep till noon.


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