How to explain the world at a cocktail party

Talk about Inter-Temporal Discounting at a cocktail party

Want a cool expression to toss out at a dinner party the next time you find yourself in such a socially-elite situation? I’ve got one for you.

It’s called “inter-temporal discounting.”

Sounds cool, right? I bet you’re already interested.

But what is it?

Simple: it’s a term describing the tendency of people to value current costs and benefits more than those that occur in the future. I learned about it here.

This has insanely relevant implications for the entire world. Consider:

Phrased another way: humans are mostly immediate creatures. That’s why we get obsessed with products, because we can buy them, unwrap them, and there’s an immediate satisfaction from that. In reality, your brain isn’t necessarily buying the product, it’s buying the experience that will come from the product.

Most people don’t actually realize that, though.

If you work for a place like, say, Coca-Cola … marketing is comparatively easy. There are handful of approaches to telling the story, but in general, a soda can fill an immediate need (thirst) for most people.

Now let’s say you were trying to market or explain the idea of drought. That’s not an immediate concept for a lot of people. If I stand up from typing this and want to take a shower, water will come out of my faucet and nozzle. It probably will tomorrow too. And it will probably will a year from today. So how can I focus on that when I have shorter-term, pressing concerns and needs and wants to deal with first?

Same deal with obesity: everyone knows they should be healthy. But people chase the immediacy, which can involve the less-good stuff. But until they start going to the doctor and getting bad diagnoses, the health thing is a future consideration. It’s not an immediate one.

Same with retirement: that’s a long way off for many people, so why think about it now? You’ve got deliverables to chase!

But the next time you hit up a cocktail party, feel free to discuss the idea of inter-temporal discounting. You’re sure to leave being vetted as the most interesting person there.

Ted Bauer

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