November 12, 2019

Cardboard or steel?

Sent by Jonathan Stark on November 13th, 2019

Pop quiz:

Which is better, corrugated cardboard or steel plate?

(Final Jeopardy music plays…)




Ding! Time’s up!

Okay, which is it… cardboard or steel?

Don’t have an answer?

Of course you don’t… it’s an unanswerable question. You don’t have enough information to make a choice, because the right answer depends on the context.

Are you building the hull of a nuclear submarine? I’ma go ahead and rule out cardboard.

Do you need a box to ship Beanie Babies via USPS? Steel plate would be overkill.

Here’s the thing…

Even with things that are much more similar than cardboard and steel, there’s no such thing as “objectively better” in absolute terms. Mercedes vs Hyundai. Starbucks vs Dunkin. Mac vs Windows. Android vs iOS. React vs Vue. Spaces vs tabs. Pencil vs Pen. Canon vs Nikon. 808 vs Gretsch.

Everything has pros and cons. There are always trade-offs when choosing between multiple options. It depends.

What does it depend on? It depends on the context.

And guess what?

Context is complicated. It is made up of multiple factors like budget, timeline, objective, strategy, intent, brand, reputation, risk tolerance, political climate, personal identity, company culture, employee morale, core values, and so on.

But wait, there’s more!

Both you and your buyer have a context and they are almost certainly very different! What this means is that you will probably have a bias toward a solution that isn’t actually the best fit for the buyer. 

What this looks like in practice is feeling the need to “educate my customers” or thinking something like “my clients just don’t get it” or complaining that “all clients are idiots”.

The reality is that none of these things are true… all clients are not idiots. They just have a different context than you do. And you need to understand that context if you’re going to deliver high value (and high priced!) solutions to them.

Pro tip: Whenever a client uses the word “better” about something, giant alarm bells should go off in your head. It is your cue to go deep to uncover why they think this particular something is better than all the other somethings they could choose.