# 328: Availability
Story behind the Passage
No, I am not talking about the kind of “availability” that we know from our daily lives; meaning temporal availability mostly. What is meant in the book is the availability of thoughts to get people to act in a certain way. This, more or less, already sums up the basic function of nudging which forms of the topic of the book. This topic is related to my awareness upsurge of the fact that pragmatism is even more crucial than I already thought it was. I always thought I was a holistic thinker but in the recent months, even weeks, I have been making real leaps in my ability to connect the dots on a global and historical scale. This also includes reflecting on what business and entrepreneurship have actually taught me. I know these three years have made me learn a lot but it wll only gradually unfold what exactly.
This reflection on my lessons also brings up the topic of simplicity again. I blogged about it before, I think. Simplicity is such a big topic that I cannot and do not want to get into it here. But it is, just like so many other things, tightly connected to the issue of availability. Human beings are fundamentally lazy in one way or another. Or, rather, we allow ourselves to not use our rationality quite often. There are probably a thousand biochemical processes involved in this which I have no clue about. But, as a matter of fact, business is about decision making all the time. And these decisions ultimately involve money. That is the case with most other decisions in life and politics as well. But in business, this is most obvious and we are all familiar with the process. It is nothing complex. No matter how little we buy and how minimalist we live, unless we have given up the idea of worldly possessions entirely, we need to buy things. So, we also know what it feels like to come up with a decision what to invest money in and why.
This simple logic of consumer decisions as an example of decision making gets us to the aspect of persuasion in the sense of selling ideas to others. You need to be convinced before you buy. This is where all the marketing and communication comes in in the business world. The problem is only, at least for me, that if you understand how this works, how the human mind responds to certain “nudges,” there is nothing interesting about any kind of business anymore. There is nothing new to learn because the roots of all this are in the study of rhetoric and psychology more of less. And if you have deep knowledge about this, business will simply offer you the use case of how effective this knowledge is. The problem is: You wonder why you should practice it at all…
I found a similar realization in St. Augustine’s life. But I also found a really striking finding in his path which I share. Augustine also worked as a rhetoretician; nowadays you might even call it marketing or PR guy in some way. And he was really good at it, no doubt, in theory and practice. The only way you get really good at something is by continuously putting work and energy into improvement. That takes motivation and needs to come from some inner conviction, even unconsciously, that what you are doing, what you are learning, is geared towards some positive outcome. What if you realize that the two are incompatible — that getting better at rhetoric can actually be harmful?
Well, this debate about communication skills and persuasion, of course, leads us to the field of propaganda studies. I do not want to go there because you end up in a debate about the goodness of goals, of ends more specifically. I want to focus more on my insight on what this means for the individual realizing this capacity. I think, this is what made such a tremendous change for Augustine as well. What if you realize that you are actually very, very, persuasive? You can convince anybody of anything — if you want to!
The crucial thing here is, of course, the wanting. I will write about the matter of “free will” at some other point, maybe also in connection with Augustine. He, of course, ended up using his rhetorical abilities for what he was convinced was the right thing: preaching the gospel and interpreting the Bible. Still, no matter what you end up doing with your skill, the fact of knowing how convinving you can actually be is terribly frightening. I do not mean the kind of “impostor-frightened” because you think you are a fraud. I am not talking about this. You can still know that you are not a fraud, that you deserve whatever you have achieved. Yet, the power of rhetoric and its effect on the world is mind-blowing if you have studied and experienced it in many different roles.
This finally takes me back to the topic of availability and what it means in business as well as to my learnings. In sum, this is very easy to explain. You learn to basically speak in examples all the time. You try to use and interpret every event in the world in a way that allows you to sell your product. Customers will only buy your solutions to a problem if they really realize the magnitude of the problem or vice versa, they realize the magnitude of your solution because they are already fully aware of the problem. So, let me add a few more insights on what the passage can teach you about this.
“If you have personally experienced a serious earthquake, you’re more likely to believe that an earthquake is likely than if you read it in a weekly magazine.” I have talked about availability above and you see how the passage also picks up the connection to salience and accessibility (cognitive). These are things you can learn more about if you look at how priming works in the brain. What caught my sight in this passage, of course, was the keyterm experience. What is interesting is that prior experience is explained to particularly impact the fact that people assess the likelihood of an event happening differently. This estimation might or might not correspond to the actual empirical data but it explains the emotional impact of personal experience and the availability of examples in your brain.
I have to be honest, I read this as another sign that my personal “philosophy” of experience-based learning and enlightenment in a way is “true” because personal experience is everything in the end. What I mean by that: a good ending or at least a responsible way of running the world. Let us just go through this thought experiment: If all of us were able to make have the experiences one could ever have in one person; good, bad, funny, tragic … and I mean in extreme forms, like the example of the earthquake shows, we would not need any communication or persuasion anymore. We would simply know what ist best for society because we know — this deep truthful knowldge inside — which pain it causes if we make the wrong decision. Imagine all people had experienced the death of a loved one, for example, the world would already be a better place because many more people would participate in actions that prevent death.
The same holds true for war and refugees…
Since we live in a world, however, in which people tend to shy away from all experiences that are truly new, unless they cannot escape them, we have to rely more and more on artificial ways of conveying experience. That is a problem, I guess, no matter how much of a fan I am of reading and thinking. Experience, the actual physical engagement with people, topics, and locations cannot be replaced. I just noticed something related as I skimmed through some entry about Polybius, the guy I mentioned yesterday. His definition of the pragmatic method of historians stressed the importance of personal experience in at least two ways: 1) visit to sites, 2) personl experience in the respective field.
This finally brings me back to the business learning issue I am just going through. In my method of working with clients, there was one thing I always insisted on: visiting the location, their company. This always makes a difference, no matter how much you can talk virtually. You suck up all the things around you and it changes the amount of insights you gain daramatically. In addition, talking about personal experience. I have always claimed that entrepreneurship — just like anything else in the world — cannot be taught responsibly unless you have experienced it.
Now I have.
1) What do you like about public speaking?
2) Do you agree that personal experience, in addition to theoretical learning, is necessary in order to fully understand a topic?
3) What can politicians learn from business people according to your opinion?