I was driving to my quiet place this morning when I heard a very interesting story on the radio.  It was being told by Dan Ariely, a professor in psychology and behavioural economics. A few years ago Dan had met a locksmith whose clients were complaining about how much he charged. ‘It never used to be the case’, he had said.  ‘When I started out, I wasn’t very good at my job. When I was called to someone who had locked themselves out of their house, it used to take me quite a while to get them in.  Often, I would break their lock in the process and they would have to pay, not only for my time but also for a new lock. The bill could easily reach 125USD or more.  There was never an issue though, in fact they would often give me a tip.  Today, I am a much better locksmith, mostly I can open a lock in just a couple of minutes and usually without any damage. But when I ask for my usual fee of 125USD my clients get upset.  I find this strange because they always tell me that they are so busy, one would think that my being able to get them in faster and without damaging their lock, avoiding all the hassle of new keys etc. would make them even more grateful?’

I found this an interesting story because it shows us just how much we still judge value by the amount of effort a task takes.

I remember a friend of mine complaining that his lawyer had charged 500EUR for what seemed like a two-minute phone call.  When I asked if his lawyer had solved the problem, he admitted that he had in fact given him a great piece of advice.  It was clear that my friend had called his lawyer because he was in a fix and needed urgent help. He had chosen him in particular because he was experienced and could be trusted.  If he had gone to a junior, it might have taken much longer and he may have had to attend two or three meetings, while the junior researched his question in depth. Who knows, he may have even have been charged more?

It won’t be long before many of us are having to assesses our employees for their end of year bonuses. I wonder if we will be able to focus on the results they achieve more than effort they put in achieving them?

Have a good week,


*Dan Ariely is the James B. Duke Professor of Psychology and Behavioral Economics at Duke University and a founding member of the Center for Advanced Hindsight. The story was told on a BBC Radio 4 program by Oliver Burkeman