Reassuringly expensive creativity
I recently bought a replacement part for our Miele vacuum cleaner. Unlike the original part,
the replacement part turned up without the Miele logo. This was not what I expected. It seems
to be working, but I'm still concerned it'll break and that I'll need to replace it again.
As an addendum to the above general theory of attention, let's add the idea of satisficing
(which is a portmanteau
of satisfy and suffice). We satisfice to avoid downsides: near enough is good enough
most of the time (and we'll rationalise it later) except when want to protect our
The idea is that when you make decisions in an uncertain setting, you have to care about
not only the expected outcome, but also the possible variance. We'll pay a premium not only
for “better,” but for “less likely to be terrible”.
— Rory Sutherland
So one of the heuristics for satisficing is that we pay a premium for reassurance. “If it
costs alot, it must be good”. This line of thinking is cognitively less expensive
than doing the deliberate thinking to deduce the product's value ourselves.
But it's not just about price signaling. The presentation of said product is there to
reassure the buyer that the price is worth it. An investment in the communication of the
values of your product—for example, but not limited to, its visual branding—shows a buyer
that the product is sincere about it's promised use because it has made a deliberate,
conscious effort to display its values.
What happens if you haven't got much money, but you want to do an impactful wedding
invitation? Then you make it really creative. If you can't put actual money into the paper
or the printing, then what you can put in is something different, which is imagination.
To circle back to ideas in past letters, beauty is a signal for worthwhile information. We
often understand beauty as symmetry and order. When humans re-order and embody information as
products (to paraphrase Cesar Hidalgo for the third time in as many newsletters), then we're
using effortful System 2 thinking. Any time we see evidence of System 2 thinking—which is
really anytime we see evidence of creativity and imagination—we understand it as costly, and
we pay attention.