Stagnation is easy, change is hard

They want to make the supermarket near my house better. Add free parking for all the people who want to shop in the village (where there is no free parking). Add more fresh produce and organic foods, as well as an enhanced deli/prepared food section. They also want to take over an abandoned lot where a car dealership stood abandoned for years, and eliminate a little-used street that messes up the traffic.

The town is up in arms!

There are petitions everywhere. People are outraged. Shocked. It’ll ruin everything.

It seems as though it’s easy to be against change.

WatertowerThere’s a toxic waste dump in my town, crowned by an old, rusting, abandoned water tower. There’s actually a committee to protect the water tower, given that it signifies an important part of our (toxic) heritage.

One more:

New York State fought for years (and spent millions on legal work) to keep a law that is patently ridiculous–that only in-state wineries could sell online and by mail. Somehow, I guess, the in-state wineries would avoid selling to minors, but not the ones from, say, California.

One day after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the law, our esteemed governor said that he was in favor of changing it anyway. No big deal. The world did not end.

Why is it so easy to protect the status quo, even when the status quo isn’t so great?

It has to do with a discontinuity on the curve of gain and loss. Think about it this way:

How much would you pay for a long long shot chance to win $100 million? Odds of a billion to one. Probably a dollar. They call it a lottery ticket.

Now, how much would you SELL a long long shot (at even better odds) where if a certain number came up, you’d have to give away every single item you owned?

Figure you’d lose a million dollars worth of assets. Now, before you answer, remember that this is just 1% of what you were willing to pay a dollar to win. The rational mathematical answer is no more than one penny. Of course, no one would sell this ticket for a penny. Most people wouldn’t sell it for a thousand dollars. A thousand dollars for a 100,000 to one shot you’ll go bankrupt? No way.

The fear of loss is way, way higher than the desire for gain. Unless it’s carefully hidden inside a story, that’s the way we feel. We’re humans, not Vulcans.

If I ran the Stop & Shop supermarket near my house, I’d bluff. I’d pull bulldozers and wrecking balls into town and tell everyone I was going to demolish my no longer profitable store and then leave the parking lot filled with bricks so no one could park there and jog over the wine store while using my parking lot.

The outrage would be so profound I’d have no trouble at all selling the town on a small upgrade.

All change isn’t good. Not at all. But the knee jerk irrational opposition to change is less good. Marketing is all about making change. More often than not, a good way to sell that change is not with the promise for gain. It’s with the fear of loss. Sad but true.