Seth has a post up on his blog called Benefit of the Doubt. In it, he basically suggests that when doubt is swinging your way in the minds of your consumers, they won’t be so ready to tear you a new one when you (inevitably) screw up. On its face, it’s difficult to argue with this insight. You know, self-deprecation and all that. It’s amazing to me that it’s much of an epiphany for anyone, but I’m sure it is.
Whatever. I wonder about something a little more diabolically subtle about the benefit of the doubt. I wonder whether those who attempt to ingratiate themselves to doubt’s benevolence realize what a cruel bitch it can be when you’re on the business end of it. I wonder this because, in spite of Seth’s five pithy “brainstorms to get you started” in extracting doubt’s benefits, he doesn’t offer the insight that seems to me of singular importance to the topic: Don’t be a damn liar. To demonstrate what I mean, here’s one of Seth’s “brainstorms”:
“Build up expectations of difficulty. Magicians are really good at this. If people think what you’re doing is really difficult, they root for you.”
Magicians also have the pop culture capital of, well, see for yourself. But that notwithstanding, does anyone else see the glaring problem here? Whatever it is you’re saying about yourself (whether in pursuit of doubt’s benefits or not) better actually be true. Part of what is unctuous about stage magic (no offense, Skye) is that it often maintains the illusion even after the show is over. I’ve seen companies do the same thing. It’s as if they think that because they’ve been holding forth about how innovative or smart or customer-focused they are, they must, in fact, be so.
For my part, I think the benefit of the doubt is conferred upon those in whom we have some trust. We either trust them because we know them or we trust them by proxy: reputation, demeanor, they wear the same brand of socks that you do, etc. So my rejoinder to Seth’s advice is to have real relationships with your customers, use those relationships to honestly exhibit your philosophy and practice, and only rely on the benefit of the doubt when it is offered.