I love the movie “Groundhog Day“; it’s brilliant. And oddly enough, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’ll explain, but first, some background:
As Phil relives the same 24 hours over and over, he makes minor tweaks in every interaction so that he can squeeze as much out of people as possible. Eventually, his focus turns to Rita, whom he attempts to seduce. Despite Phil’s ability to quickly lure other women into bed with him (particularly Nancy), it becomes obvious that Rita will not fall for Phil’s superficial efforts. She cannot be deceived, no matter how much Phil learns about her and simulates rapport. Even when he gets her in his bed, she stops him because she feels like he’s trying to cash in too quickly. He hasn’t earned anything yet.
Phil becomes depressed after his countless failures with Rita. He tries to kill himself numerous times, only to continually regain consciousness the next morning. Eventually, Phil accepts that there’s no way out of his predicament, and he may as well make the most of it.
So he decides to spend his time improving himself and helping others. He reads books. He develops interesting skills, like ice sculpting and jazz piano. He befriends everyone in town — not to take advantage of them the next day, but just for the sake of it. He learns to be genuinely empathetic and compassionate, and focuses exclusively on improving the lives of those around him.
This, of course, ultimately leads to him winning Rita over. Not from actively trying to seduce her, but by having tons of other people willingly vouch for him and confirm that he’s the real deal. The seduction is seemingly effortless, even though it took years for Phil to finally put all the pieces together.
So… where am I going with this?
When you start a business, you get to decide who your customers will be. You have two options.
The first option is people like Nancy, who will fall for all the right words and tricks. They’re very easy kills. If you know which buttons to push, you can reel them in almost every time. Optimize this here, tweak the wording there, adjust the coloring, and voila – sale! Nancy is easy, profitable, but frankly, she’s boring as hell. You did nothing meaningful to earn her, other than cracking a code through trial and error. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
The second option is for you to focus on people like Rita. They are not easily deceived. Even if you get them up to Step 9 of 10, they will stop suddenly and say, “Wait a minute… you’re full of shit!” and storm off. Rita is exhausting to win over. But Rita is sustainable. She pushes you to be better, and to hold yourself to a higher standard. Paradoxically, winning Rita over cannot be accomplished if it’s the end goal; it can only be a byproduct in your pursuit of something that’s sincerely meaningful to you.
I’ve learned a fair amount about how easy it is to persuade most people into buying something. At first, having that knowledge is pretty cool. But after using it a few times, it becomes fairly monotonous. Do this, do that, and Nancy will predictably hop in the sack. Sigh. There’s no meaning, and eventually, no real challenge.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of trying to win over the Ritas of the world. It’s a long term play, and you cannot win with tricks and deception. It has to be difficult. It has to be real. You have to continually work on becoming the best version of yourself that you can possibly be. And other people have to vouch for you, without solicitation.
It just seems like that’s how things should be done.