(9/28/20) why we fall for things that are too good to be true

Hey all,

What’s something that you bought on a whim that you were super excited by?

…And when was the last time you wore it or used it?

I’ve got a long list of these — Soylent (back when it was powdered), a posture strap (basically a backpack without the pack), some weird “Eastern” herbal supplement to boost metabolism, many more that I won’t mention here.

In each instance, I mentally concocted a grand plan of how this was going to change everything. I excitedly tried these out for a couple months max, and then I’d grow frustrated or bored by them and toss them out.

What was missing from these products? Acknowledgement of difficulty.

What I’m Thinking About

The Magician’s Demo: when a demo convinces you that what was once very difficult is actually very easy, but it did so by pretending the difficult stuff doesn’t exist.

Here are some examples.

A rep impresses your Pointy-Haired Boss with a 5-minute demo of a product that uses Artificial Intelligence (!!!!!) to qualify your team's sales leads. Your entire team now has to start using this tool. It's complicated and doesn't really do anything that well.

An ad tells you that with a revolutionary plant-based synthetic meat or soy-based meal replacement, you'll be able to lose 10 pounds in two weeks. The testimonials look incredible. You try it. It tastes like shit and it doesn't work.

You want to make more money. A friend did a local coding bootcamp and now owns a new car and lives on the penthouse floor. So you fork over $15k in hopes of making a six-figure salary in 3 months. 9 months later, you're still searching for a job.

In all three instances, the marketing was short-term on the money.

The product sold the right dream to the right buyer at the right price. The customer salivated with what he could become thanks to the product. From there, all it took was a little push.

In the Magician’s Demo, the customer wants to be deluded. The customer wants a silver bullet. She wants to know that the fix to all her problems is right around the corner. The seller happily obliges in crafting the delusion.

This is one of the basic messages behind Darren Aronofsky's incredible 2000 film Requiem for a Dream. What's the quick fix that will save us from ourselves? Diet pills and television? Heroin? Love?

A common result here is that your problems don’t go away, they get a lot worse.

We've all fallen for the magician’s demo before. After succumbing to it many times before, I've realized there are a few principles we can follow to really get what we're looking for.

1/ Bootstrap it yourself, for your particular use case. Many indie artists recorded their first hit albums out of their bedrooms and apartments, using Garage Band for track arrangement, a cheap MPC for synth programming, and their bathroom for good acoustics. When you stitch things together yourself, you quickly begin to notice when products overstate their value.

2/ Find a process that isn’t tied to any particular tool. Your personal productivity system is a very simple procedure away. You can implement it using pen and paper, Google Docs, or even fancy-task-manager-du-jour. Hire a coach to help you implement the process. Reap the rewards forever.

3/ Talk to someone that’s used the product for a prolonged period of time. As I contemplated going to law school, I reached out to a handful of mid-career attorneys who were in the practice area I was interested in. From these very brief conversations, I developed a better sense of what the experience would actually be like (and I decided it wasn’t for me at the time).

Great products encourage a stance of cultivation rather than one of acquisition. What we need is not out there, it is in here. Great products thus help us develop a mindset of innate ability. They don’t require us to become dependent on them.

Using these tools, we learn a whole new way of being us. No magic, no sleight of hand.

Bullet-Point Summaries

The Future of Fitness, Nutrition, Mental Health, Education, and Everything Else

  1. People don’t exercise consistently because modern life is inherently disruptive and busy.

  2. Current mass-market solutions (such as expensive gyms) require more activation energy and self-discipline than is reasonable.

  3. Two groups have been successful in managing their day-to-day health: pro athletes and the extremely wealthy. They do so by hiring for discipline (personal trainers and chefs).

  4. The best predictor of fitness success is having a personal trainer. If you want to quit smoking, it’s been proven over and over that a human in the loop helps.

  5. In the era of information abundance, accountability systems will become more and more important.

  6. The challenge— What makes these systems effective? How can we make them more affordable?

If you’re enjoying reading these weekly notes and know of someone who would also enjoy them, please forward them along. Or better yet, introduce us! Talk to you next week.

Ammar