Sunday, 24 June 2007

Gullibility Flashback

I was just musing over past events through my career in the leisure industry when I had this really powerful 'gullibility flashback' I was zapped straight back some 15 years when I was the new marketing manager of our company on a routine customer visit.

For some months previous to the visit I had been doing some work on the area of gambling psychology with a view to uncovering insights into ways that we could make our products more 'appealing' to players, and also stucturing the thinking of the games designers who were prone to lurching from one 'gee whizz' idea to next in the search for products with the most 'player appeal'. The outcome of this exercise meant I was able to identify a range of psychological phenomena and link them to specific game design elements. These insights enabled us to explain why some products had done better in the past and also acted as springboard for future design activities.

At the same time, our recent sales successes based on these findings were taking the company out of a 10 year lull in performance and turning us into a company that customers didn't feel embarassed to talk to again. This was also coupled to a change in the supply chain where major licensed retailers (brewers/ pub owners to you and I) were employing 'slot executives' whose role was to professionalise the selection and placement of gaming products in their 'estates of pubs'. These guys were becoming powerful influencers in the industry and it was a necessity to keep close to them.

So, that's why, as part of our plan to keep close to these people I was making this customer visit. I thought I needed to impress the guy over the table from me, and so I presented in depth the work I had done assuming that it would simply increase his confidence in our ability and therefore work more closely with us in future.

You can imagine how flattered I was when he asked me if he could have a copy of the work I had done. Guess what... yes, I gave him the 'family silver'. Now here is the real 'toe curler' Un-beknown to 'mr wet behind the ears me' this guy was already planning to take a position up with one of our main competitors - OUCH! and surprise surprise this company suddenly leapt from nearly going out of business to an overnight 40% market share shortly after his joining.

The double whammy was that 5 years further on this 'intellectual power house of plagiarism' set up a 'knocking campaign' in the industry as I refused to become part of his red-wine swilling, golf jaunt, mutual back slapping clique. A choice that really did me no favours as his best mate was the guy that was to become a future owner of our business when he bought the company back off us following an 'interesting' management buyout episode I was part of.

Lessons? Be circumspect with what you know, realise the true value of ideas and insights that make sense of things that others have been wrestling with, always check for the hidden agenda, play the game and don't become a martyr for principles unless you have the power to survive the consequences.

Perhaps you see more lessons from this tale than me and I'd be delighted to hear them...

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