Monday, January 04, 2016

Harbingers of Failure? Good to know there's a name for it.

My Christmas Eve Yankee Swap contribution this year was, IMHO, an excellent one.

Thanks to eBay, I was able to find an intact 1950's Keyword, and an intact 1950's Easy Money

Not familiar with either of these board games?
Well, Keyword was an alternative to Scrabble. Easy Money was similar to Monopoly. That is to say, similar in some ways. In others...

Monopoly was all about top-hatted plutocrats amassing fortunes by achieving and exploiting monopolies. Easy Money was about making money but, as the name, implies, amassing fortunes was a bit shadier. Among the properties was the Black Cat Nightclub. I think there were dog and horse tracks, too. And other get-rich-quick mechanisms: lotteries, bingo games. Easy money!
Anyway, I was quite familiar with these games as the Rogers' family had them instead of the ones everybody else had.
Our parents were, of course, always quick to tell us we "weren't everybody else." That was putting it mildly.

We knew from the get-go that, even in a neighborhood that was well removed from any Leave It to Beaver normalcy, we were oddballs. 
As for our toys, even as kids we would scratch our little heads, wondering what there was about our folks that drew them to the odd-ball versions of games. 
We guessed that the motivation might have been financial, and that Easy Money and Keyword cost less. Or that, forgetting everything they knew about child psychology (as the parents of five, surely they had picked up a clue or two) - i.e., that most kids want exactly the same stuff that other kids have - they figured it would be more interesting not to have to play the same boring games that everybody else had. At least at Chez Rogers there'd be a variation on a theme. Or, we surmised, it was just my father giving into his keen sense of the absurd: having these games, quite simply, amused him. 
Perhaps there was some other force at play here. Perhaps my father, in making picks like this, was a "harbinger of failure."
"The people who are buying failures keep buying failures," said Duncan Simester, one of the researchers and a marketing professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management. While Simester and his colleagues studies shoppers' decisions about packaged goods, the same tendencies could apply to chioces in financial markets, with stock-picking, and among culturatl offerings, such as books, music and movies....
"I think the most surprising aspect of it is the cross-category" pattners, Professor Simester said. "So people who buy the nail polish that fails are also the people buying the ice cream that fails." 
Shoppers with what the authors call "Flop Affinity" have preferences that regularly clsah with the norm. "It they're an outlier in one category, they're an outlier in another," Simester said. (Source: WSJ)
That would be my folks. C.f., preference for ZaRex over Kool-Aid.

The article did say that they haven't identified precisely what makes one a harbinger of failure, "but say it's possible they simple enjoy variety and are willing to take risks."

Hmmmm. I wouldn't exactly say that Liz and Al were variety-seeking risk-takers. Yet after having a Kathleen and a Maureen, they did pass on the opportunity to name my younger sister Eileen. She's a Patricia Eileen. So, at minimum, they were variety-seeking.

Too bad they didn't do focus groups back in the day. My parents would have been in focus group demand.

Forget the positive feedback loopers who predict success. What you really want to do is tap into the insight of those failure harbingers. "If it's a unanimous thumbs-up, the house may well have a loser on its hands."

This all got me wondering whether this is a heritable trait?

As a consumer, am I a harbinger of failure with flop affinity?

I did recently retire my Blackberry, which I stubbornly clung to even when the handwriting, errrrr, texting, was on the wall. 

On the other hand, I was an early adopter of the New Beetle. Just before I bought mine, I was in a car with my friend George - we were on a road trip to check out the new digs for our company, a move that was necessitating my car purchase. We saw a New Beetle - then a rarity - on Route 128, and George remarked, "There's someone who's going to regret that purchase within the next year." 

This didn't dissuade me from going out and getting one of my own.

And I don't believe that the NewBies were a flop for VW. It was, as far as I know, a pretty good model, back in the day when the words "pretty" and "good" and "model" could be associated with the name Volkswagen. So I most decidedly did not flop with my New Beetle purchase.

I'm writing this on a Microsoft Sufrace Pro. Will this prove to be a flop? Am I in the clear here, flop-affinty wise? What about the fact that I liked Spotlight? Will this doom it to non-Oscar future, or just indicate that I actually do speak vox populi. But I didn't like the novel Nightengale. And I don't like Jonathan Franzen. (How he beats out Stewart O'Nan for the great white middle-aged male novelist hope, I just cannot fathom. I hope my mentioning O'Nan here doesn't guarantee that his next work will be on the remainder desk the day after it comes out.)

As frets go, whether I'm a harbinger of failure with flop affinity isn't a bad one. But it's probably just as well that I wasn't aware of it when I was in my brilliant full-time career. Talk about flop affinity! Or, as I prefer to think of it, just like my parents, I was a variety-seeking risk taker.

1 comment:

Frederick Wright said...

This is just fantastic - never knew there was a word for this, or an entire field of study devoted to it.