Episode #91: Why Aligned Self-Interest Is So Interesting

Self-interest has gotten a bad rap. It’s too often confused with “selfishness,” but they’re not really the same thing. Rational, aligned self-interest can be a powerful factor in marketing and economics. Today we look at self-interest as it applies to the ongoing COVID vaccine rollout, and make some lifeboat analogies along the way. Also, it’s National Grammar Day!

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The CXM Experience, it’s back, again, every day. It’s the CXM Experience. And today, your host is going to be me, Grad Conn, CXO, chief experience officer at Sprinklr. And I’m super excited to be here today, because I’m going to talk about one of my most interesting, one of most favorite, one of my most passionate things, which is human self-interest. And the motivation that drives to buy. That is the golden ticket to figuring out how to make people tick. And so I’ve always been really superduper interested in it. So that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

I do have a quick little housekeeping note. Apparently, I’ve been making a grammatical construction error on a frequent basis, to the point that some people were getting incredibly irritated by it. I think I’ve been saying… instead of, “there are many people who love the show,” I’ve been saying “there’s many people who love this show.” I don’t exactly know when I picked that up. That’s an odd contraction. It is, of course, completely incorrect, because that would mean I’m essentially saying, “there is many people who enjoy the show.” That’s terrible. And it just so happens that today is National Grammar Day. And on National Grammar Day… you didn’t know that right? Yeah. So, I’m recording the show today, which is the 4th of March. It is National Grammar Day. It’s also supposed to be the re-inauguration of Donald Trump. And it’s already 2pm. And we haven’t seen anything happen yet. But we’ll do the QAnon wrap up show tomorrow.

Anyway, so National Grammar Day. I am kind of coming out. If I say, “there’s a lot of people,” I’m going to try to correct myself when I hear myself say it. But you’re more than welcome to also correct me and keep me on the straight and narrow when it comes to grammar.

All right, let’s talk about self-interest. So, human beings are ultimately motivated, deeply motivated, by self-interest. And it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It often sounds like oh, you know, if only we didn’t have to be. And we actually experimented for nearly a century with a form of government, communism, where we attempted to deny self-interest. And you know, it did not work out. Self-interest-driven systems are effective systems, and particularly when you get aligned self-interest. You can get two people who both have interests in common through the accomplishment of a certain task.

I think part of that, and this is where I think people think of self-interest as selfish, right? So that’s why it’s often seen as a bad word. But in my opinion, it’s driven by this very present issue that all humans struggle with, which is our own awareness of our own mortality.

And we don’t know if other animals have awareness of their own mortality. The guess is they don’t. But we do. There’s an imaginary clock ticking on everyone’s wall. With an asterisk, right? The asterisk being the clock may not be correct. This is what you’re thinking, and this is what you’re planning. But a piano could fall from the sky 10 seconds from now, and Bob’s your uncle.

So, what does this do? As humans we deal with, and manage, mortality in lots of different ways. We confront it with… we actually will consume a fairly significant amount of content that has to do with death. Murder shows, and Doctor shows. Think about all this stuff we’re watching on TV, a lot of it’s got a very strong death and mortality component to it.

The second thing we do is we just ignore it. Pretend I don’t need to worry about that. I’ll just worry about that when I worry about it. And then often, in times like that, we behave in a way that speeds up our own mortality, which is I think, quite interesting. Or we embrace it. And think about our life in terms of seconds remaining. I know a number of people who do this. Who actually have a literal countdown, and in every second of the day they’re trying to make the most of every moment they have. It sounds exhausting, but that’s another approach that can work as well.

My approach is I like to talk about it a lot of the time. Right? And I think that creates awareness, but also helps me not be too obsessed with it in the dark moments.

So, who’s done a really good job on this? I would posit that Apple is a brilliant marketer against this whole issue of mortality, because they focus so much on creative, and creation, and memories, and creating legacy. Because humans do seek to have left behind something. We do want to know that we mattered, that our time here was not ill spent. That we made a difference, that there’s a memory of us, and that we don’t just come and go without anyone noticing.

And so creative, and creation, and all the things that are exploding… one of the things that I think the Internet has unleashed, and the web in particular has unleashed, is the idea that you can start a blog tomorrow and start writing stuff, or you can make a comment on something, or you can participate in something. And boy, that feeds into a DNA-level human desire to be heard, to be noticed, to be important. Very, very powerful. And Apple has done a brilliant job of leveraging that.

So, what’s going on right now, that might be kind of interesting. Well, I do think that the experience in the COVID vaccine system is super fascinating to me, partly because there’s a line for it. And right now, you have to be over 65 or have a serious comorbidity to be able to get in the line. And all others need to wait which, I think, people have been pretty good about. I have noticed a fair amount of public shaming for people that are trying to jump the lines, which is very interesting. It feels a little bit like lifeboats.

If you think about how the lifeboat system works, it’s always women and children first, right? You’ve all heard that expression. But what I think is even more interesting is that there’s an implication that it’s women and children first, until all the women and children are in the lifeboats, right? And only then would the men get involved. And if you’re ship’s crew, no way, no how, you don’t get to go on that boat. And if you’re the captain… hilarious, you’re not going on any lifeboats.

And so that’s not always true, right? You do have to have crew on lifeboats to steer the lifeboat, to load the lifeboat, to lower the lifeboat, and all that stuff. So some crew is always on lifeboats. And some men do always end up sneaking on. And there’s always a bit of an askance view of these people — what do they think they’re doing getting on the lifeboat when there were women and children left behind on the boat.

This whole concept of the captain going down with the ship, it’s actually a maritime tradition. And the idea is that the sea captain has ultimate responsibility for both the ship and everyone who embarked on it. And so in an emergency, the captain will either save those people on board or die trying. It’s often connected to the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. And the very famous Captain Edward J. Smith, who also is one of the most captain-looking captains ever with his great white beard. He’s like, all captain. But apparently the tradition actually dates back about 11 years before that. So it’s not that old of a tradition.

But the idea is that the captain forgoes their own rapid departure of a ship in distress to concentrate on saving other people. And in many cases, you know, it gets kind of too late. What’s interesting is that it turns out that this tradition actually has now become legal precedent. I don’t know if you remember, but about nine years ago, there was a famous incident with an Italian cruise liner called the Costa Concordia. And the Costa Concordia did something called a sail-by salute. And this is actually a very interesting little experience nugget here. A sail-by salute near an island called Giglio My gosh, I probably said that wrong. Giglio I’ll go with that. I’ll be corrected by my CRO tomorrow.

And they had done this before. But for some reason this time was a little bit different. They struck an underwater rock. It partially capsized. Was in not very deep water, but partially capsized, rolled onto the starboard side, and 32 people died. Many of them passengers, some crew, and one salvage person as well.

And the captain was someone named Francesco Schettino. And he famously left the ship early. And he was pilloried in the press. He was called Captain Coward, and Captain Calamity — Captain Calamity actually sounds like a pretty cool name. And there’s some ugly pieces of this too. He was having an extramarital affair with a Maldivian dancer. And she was on the bridge with him while they were doing this sale-by salute. So, is he distracted? Or was he doing the sale-by salute to try to impress his mistress? Holy shmoly. And, of course, his name, Francesco Schettino, has led to the popular expression, boy, you really Schettinoed the bed there. It’s always interesting where the origin of things come from.

And so what you may not know, is that Francesco actually was sentenced to prison. He went through years of court cases. He appealed a couple times. And in 2017, the Supreme Court of Cassation upheld his original sentence, he turned himself in, and he got a 16-year sentence. Ten years for manslaughter, five years for causing the shipwreck, and a year for abandoning his passengers. Other crew who arguably had responsibilities that they did not fulfill, plea bargained out, and plea bargained out in a way that none of them served any time. So he was the only person that served time. And what was interesting is that what this did is it basically established a legal precedent for the fact that the captain can’t be the first to leave the ship. It’s no longer just a custom, it’s actually a legal precedent.

And it was actually quite an interesting moment where he actually maintains that he slipped and accidentally fell into a lifeboat — alright, it could happen, it could happen — and then couldn’t get out because it was dark, and it was too hard to move out. Then he ended up going to shore in the lifeboat and he was completely dry. He didn’t even get a drop of water on him. But there’s a transcript actually of a recorded conversation between Schettino and the Italian Coast Guard. And they were very angry at him. And they repeatedly ordered him to leave the lifeboat and return to the stricken Costa Concordia. The Coast Guard didn’t believe that he had fallen into the lifeboat, and didn’t believe that it was too dark to get out. And at one point, the Coast Guard is so angry that they told him, “Vada a bordo, cazzo!” which is a super insulting thing I just said in Italian. But if you don’t know Italian, you’re not offended. But loosely translated as, get the f*** on board. So, that’s kind of interesting.

And I think that this whole lifeboat analogy, like where are you going with this Grad? Please take us through the experience. So… oh, and one quick thing before I leave this story, because it was super interesting to read about that and catch up. The sail-by salute, which is this maritime customer going near shores. It’s actually part of the cruise experience, because you want to give passengers a really close look at the shore and the cool islands. Obviously, they do the same thing in Alaska for looking at icebergs and stuff like that. And so, it’s interesting that the experience sometimes can put things in danger. This pursuit of experience. It’s fascinating.

But I think we might get into a little bit of a lifeboat situation with the vaccines. That’s where I’m going with this. Right now, everyone’s like, women and children first. Lining up and boarding the lifeboats in a very orderly manner, which is great. And in the beginning, I think everyone was okay with that, because we all want to make sure that the most vulnerable are protected. That makes a ton of sense.

And then, of course, we have learned how to manage and take care of ourselves, so that we don’t get sick if we don’t want to. So I think that’s all pretty good training that we’ve all had. So we’re all pretty good there.

But you know, at some point, people are going to say, Wow, I don’t want to be the last person to die from COVID. Right? And boy, that darn line of women and children is moving really slowly. And people are gonna start trying to cut the line. And I think part of the challenge is that the health authorities have not been specific enough in their comorbidities. So the comorbidities are reasonably lightly stated. That means that you can just prove that the word like autoimmune disease, or cancer or high blood pressure, whatever… if you have one of those kinds of comorbidities, you can get in line, whether or not you’d really be in actual danger from the disease.

What that’s going to do is it’s going to slow down the line of the people who legitimately should be at the front of the line for the vaccine. And so you end up with the line slowing down, while people are trying to cut it to speed it up. And there’ll be lots of interesting tricks and things that people employ to try to get in there.

There’s a really interesting article, the governor of Florida is in trouble. De Santos is in trouble. Because apparently, property developers who had donated heavily to his campaign managed to magically get enough doses of the vaccine to vaccinate everybody in their developments. Which means that there’s a very interesting home sales pitch, right? Stay in this development, be vaccinated.

The reason this actually is a bigger issue than we may think right now, is we are thinking of the vaccine in the first pass, right? This is our first pass on it. We’re gonna have to get this vaccine frequently. They don’t know what the frequency is, but it’s no less than once a year. It could be as much as every six months. And so there’s a lot of work that needs to go into the experience planning and line management of how to make sure everyone gets the vaccine. And that lackadaisical “come as you may” approach that we’ve had with a flu vaccine for many years — and I’m a ardent flu vaccine-er. I’ve been getting a flu vaccine probably since I started working when I was 21 — is not going to work, we’re going to need to have this turned into something else. And that’s where I think private sector companies are going to come into play.

And that’s where customer experience from a private sector standpoint, around how vaccine distribution works. In the order of literally billions of vaccines a year could be one of the most interesting line management and customer experience challenges on the planet. And you know, how are they going to read customer feedback? How are they going to tell when people are not legitimately able to get it? How are they going to manage, informing people, it’s available? How do they manage stocks and supplies?

A couple of these vaccines, the Moderna and the Pfizer vaccine both require very extreme levels of refrigeration. I think Pfizer’s minus 50 to minus 80. J&J, while a little heartier, still requires refrigeration. Normal refrigeration, but still requires it. But there’s not a lot of minus 80-degree freezers just lying around. And so, as we struggle with all these different issues, I actually think some very interesting work, and some very interesting papers, are going to get written by the likes of people like Walgreens, and Walmart, and Publix, and CVS, and all the other companies involved in doing this. And I do think there’s a pretty big opportunity to create a really robust experience management practice around vaccinations in these large retail distribution centers. I’m obviously speaking from an American standpoint here, because those are all American examples. And there will be different approaches in different countries. But I really do think that it’s a very interesting time.

So that was today. A combination of grammar day, and thinking about the vaccine, and seeing what’s going on around me. It’s very interesting. I don’t know what you think about the social shaming on this. There are lots of different points of view on it. We’ll all have to get vaccinated at some point. So what does it matter whether we stay in line or not? Or make sure that people who need it get it first, and the people who don’t should wait? Interesting schools of thought.

That’s it for today. For the CXM Experience, I’m Grad Conn, and I’ll see you next time.