High octane

Sent by Jonathan Stark on November 25th, 2018

The past few days I’ve been on a road trip with my wife and our two little kids. 

We drove about 1000 miles from Rhode Island to Michigan to have Thanksgiving with my mother’s side of the family. 

It’s pretty cold this time of year in that part of the country so the odds of freezing temperatures and snow are pretty high. 

About 300 miles into our first day, something happened that made me laugh. I pulled into a rest stop to get gas and without thinking about it, I chose the highest octane (and most expensive) gasoline. 

I didn’t think about it. It was automatic. I didn’t consciously notice what I’d done until about a second after I’d done it.

Here’s the thing...

I’m not a car guy but I have been told (and believe) that there’s no meaningful difference between the lowest octane and the highest octane. So naturally, I normally buy the lowest octane (and least expensive) gasoline.

But this wasn’t a normal drive. 

Normally, I don’t drive much beyond the ten mile radius around our house. And half the time, I’m by myself in the car.

Apparently, a thousand mile trip on small roads with thirty miles between towns in freezing temperatures with my entire family in the car was enough to trigger my lizard brain into irrational risk aversion behavior. 

In other words, the increased likelihood and potential impact of mechanical failure caused me to take a small step to mitigate the risk, even though I know that the octane of the gas has no effect on the reliability of our car.

Hilariously, even after my rational brain recognized that my lizard brain was working its mischief, I couldn’t bring myself to buy the cheaper gas. 

I thought, “It’s only forty five cents more per gallon... I might as well get it just in case.” 

Just in case of what? In case a few points of octane would prevent our car from breaking down? That’s absurd. I know it’s absurd. 

But I still bought it. 

Takeaway

Purchasing decisions are often irrational. We make the decision and then rationalize it later. And people will pay to decrease their perceived risk... even if it’s all in their heads. 

Imagine how much of a premium you could charge if you actually decrease risk for your clients.

Yours,

—J


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