Friday, February 03, 2012

Productivity, macbooks and buffet dinners.

I am a socialist at heart but I am not blind to the distinct advantages of capitalism. Since it is all so very complicated, it is important to think about how we are going to work with the system around us to ensure that we a) make the most of what we get and b) make quicker but more intelligent decisions on what we choose. So how do you go about buying a shoe?

The problem with product satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) is mostly not with bad purchasing but with the fear of bad purchasing even after the deed is done. This is primarily an ill-effect of excessive choice in the market. You buy a bad shoe, it is not a big deal; next time you don't buy that shoe. But when you buy something decent is when this problem creeps up. Nike free's or reebok realflex? How about the vibrams?  To average users, these choices and the sub-choices within them, just by sheer numbers, are much too large and overwhelming. But the worst effect of excessive choice is not in how difficult it is to make the choice. It is in how you are going to enjoy the choice you have made and actually focus on using those shoes for your workout. Many times, there is too much choice anxiety and therefore the focus on the actual use is lost. Makes sense - more choice, less focus.

So how do we wade through? Well, if it is decent stick with it. Take baby steps around to figure out large scale improvements but hold on to what you have and use it to the fullest. Interestingly, a lot of quality consumer products achieve it by minimal choice and greater focus on just quality. Apple will be today's example. For the smirking PC user, I am NOT an apple fanboy. But I have been using a macbook for the past three years and have not had much to complain about. In part, this is because I am more focussed on communicating with my folks, making my figures and listening to music, so there is hardly any time to look at the dust on the computer. It is important to understand that if any consumer product promises perfection, you are an idiot to believe it. There are no perfect things and PCs or Macs are no exception. But a quality product is where there would be minimal distractions - good or bad - to draw you away from the experience of actually using it. And that is where Apple delivers. It is not perfect and it still can give you a weird message during a powerpoint presentation. But it is quality enough to let you focus on your work. The immediate argument would be that there are PCs that do that too, and there definitely are. But Apple cleverly minimizes your choices in not just the products but also in the overall feel so you aren't so overwhelmed. That is why an apple fanboy comes across as an elitist - he has less to deal with so he can know more about it. Purchasing a PC on the other hand puts you in the unstable position of wading though a thousand different assemblies to figure out which one gets past the quality threshold. In contrast, I give you one thing but I promise you it will work decently and if it doesn't, I will give you good customer service to fix your problem. That is what Apple sells, not perfection. And it sells it well.

Now there is an other school of thought that says productivity is enhanced not by just making a good choice and using it well but also continuously upgrading and staying abreast with the latest. If you are an average consumer like me, steer clear - it is probably not worth it. In jumping from the latest version to the next version to the next version, the smaller the time and quality gaps are, the more counter-productive it is. By our previous definition, quality is established by minimal distractions and continuous maintenance is a pretty big distraction. You would rather wear that Adidas megabounce until it shows tear and then invest in those new Jordans. Besides, it is important to think about the time and money invested as a trade-off to the fractional improvement in experience. Yeah, if you are thinking about it for more than two seconds it is not worth it. Unless you are paid to critique or something, your upgrade from 3G to 4G did not change your life and you know it.

Very few companies like Apple stick with minimalism. Google is a decent example. So what is achieved by the others with grand choice? What do they get by scaring you away with choice? Why do they feed on your insecurity? The same reason why indian marriages have switched to the buffet system. When you have 20 different appetizers, 4 different cuisines and 25 different desserts to follow, somehow you end up eating a whole lot less! It is true, ask all your uncles with married daughters. The cost of the buffet is still Rs. 600 a plate but you eat for only half of that. It works the same way with pretty much everything. Yeah, I am talking about your 4 different sunglasses, 5 different headphones, 15 different coats and your 20 different shoes ladies! If 19 shoes don't fit your wardrobe or your feet, the 20th won't either.

So while choice is a good thing, and it improves quality by building competition, a company can turn the same on you and make you a victim of it. So calm down on the difference between 720p and 1080p just because you are worried about that douchebag friend-of-a-friend making a comment. If you are comfortable in your torn jeans, the joke's on him. Oh they now sell those in varieties. Damn.