I’m a big Seinfeld fan. No matter how many times I’ve seen an episode I always laugh. I’ve watched reruns so many times over the past 25 years I feel like Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer are personal friends. What I appreciate most is how the show portrays everyday situations in such a humorous light. An episode I watched recently went right to the heart of one of the principles of influence, so I felt compelled to write about it.
In this particular Seinfeld rerun Jerry bought a fancy, very expensive tennis racquet from Milosh, the owner of the sporting goods store associated with the tennis club Jerry belonged to. A short time later Jerry discovered Milosh was a terrible tennis player while playing at another club with Elaine. Apparently Milosh was so bad he wouldn’t play at his own club because he knew it would kill his reputation and sales. The following conversation ensued between Jerry and Elaine later at Jerry’s apartment:
Elaine – “So he was bad. What do you care?”
Jerry – “Elaine, I paid $200 for this racquet because he said it’s the only one he plays with. He could play just as well with a log.”
What sealed the deal for Jerry was the thought of a tennis pro – an expert – playing with the suggested racquet. He thought if it was good enough for the pro then of course he should play with it too because pros only use the very best equipment.
Jerry’s actions go to the heart of the principle of authority – we rely on those with superior knowledge, wisdom or expertise, when making decisions. And the advice of an expert is even more effective when someone isn’t sure what to do.
Jerry had been playing with a wooden racquet and had no idea there was a better option available until the pro told him so. Any newer racquet would have been an improvement but the more expensive racquet must be better because, after all, “you get what you pay for,” according to the old saying.
This happens quite often, especially when someone takes up a new sport. They buy lots of fancy, expensive equipment because that’s what the best athletes use. Unfortunately the novices could have saved a lot of hard earned cash by going with good, but less expensive equipment, until they got much better. The very best equipment makes a difference for the very best players because sometimes the difference between winning and losing is a fraction of a second, a single stroke, or inches.
Is expert advice worth listening to? Most of the time, yes, but just be leery when that advice might lead to very costly purchases that make very little difference in the end.