Today’s Special: Positive Spins & Pyrrhic Victories

I was going to use today’s space to crow about the elections, but an inconsequential incident at the Deli led to this article instead.

Bad news is bad enough, but popular trends toward imparting dashed expectations with a “positive spin” seem now to be the rule, rather than the exception, an art form if you will, and all the more obnoxious for their in-your-face obviousness. The formula is: sure, this news is bad, but we’re going to explain why you will actually like it (delivered with the practiced smile that assures you’re the perfect idiot for even asking).

The public may not appreciate being patronized, but we’re already used to this treatment in a business or political context.

  • Yes, the job cuts will be painful, but the health and the future of the company will be assured (and so will the new BMW’s in the parking lot)
  • Prices and rates are going up, and services will be curtailed, but that’s the price we pay to be competitive in the global economy (and fund the stock options, perks and golden parachutes)
  • Nobody likes war, but Real Americans know that freedom requires sacrifice (for example your son or daughter, the health of the economy for the next 30 years, and your best shot at a liveable retirement income).

Earlier generations knew this kind of good news as the Pyrrhic Victory – “the victory which comes at a devastating cost to the victor”?(Wikipedia).

Our company used to have a Human Resources department, and if you had questions you would go to that person and ask your question. How old-fashioned! Nobody’s actually said whether we’ve outsourced or just automated the “Human” our of HR, but now we have web pages for everything. If you ask a question today, the answer will be delivered brightly, and with a smile, by any executive fielding it: “Oh, all you have to do now is go to the web site and you’ll find all the answers there!”

So, what exactly do we need the humans for?

At our Deli this morning, I saw the sign that said “Today’s Special: one tamale and salad, $6.50”. This sounded great to me, as I’m tired of egg salad sandwiches and was looking forward to something really different today. So, I asked for Today’s Special.

“Oh!” they said, “It’s not ready yet!”

OK. I can handle that. It’s happened before. I started trying to decide on an appetizing substitute. But it gets better.

One employee cheerfully started explaining how, yes, they know I come in early, so I always like to eat early, but most customers don’t eat lunch for another hour (it was 11AM), and if they prepared the Special for serving now, then it would be all spoiled for most of their customers! Horrors!

I just can’t recall the last time I was told so masterfully, and so cheerfully, that it was somehow my fault for trying to buy a featured offering.

Mind you, I was the only customer in the Deli, but any fool could see everybody was pretty busy preparing for when the customers come in.

As Woody in “Cheers” once said, I saw it right away. They didn’t have the advertised Special. There was nothing anybody could do about that. They returned to their chores, assured that I could now grasp that I simply needed time alone to think of something more reasonable.

I’m on pretty good speaking terms with everybody at the Deli, so I handled it this way. “OK”, I said, “perhaps we can try another day, then.”

And I walked down the block to the next Deli, which is not as convenient, but where they are always glad to see me, they always have a great selection of fresh ingredients and home-cooked entrees, and they always genuinely appreciate my business.

It’s not about punishing folks whose business needs don’t always play nicely with ours. After all my years in Retail, you’d think I’d be pretty good at helping businesses that stumble when they should be closing the sale. But, the truth is, I think it’s really all about rewarding those who help me get what I want when I’m ready to buy it.

We can further condense that syllogism down to globally universal terms: no matter what kind of a positive spin is put on failure, people are happy when they get what they want.

So maybe I am crowing about the elections, after all. When you ask for the Special, don’t settle for a speech and an egg salad sandwich.

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