Steven's Blog

Presume the Best in People: The Gains Far Exceed the Losses

Recently, when traveling first class on the Shinkansen (the Green Car), I noticed that conductors no longer check passengers tickets. It used to be that uniformed conductor, often female, would first distribute complimentary disposable wet towels to new passengers who had just boarded, noting their seat numbers, and then some minutes later return to the same seats to inspect tickets. Now they just distribute towels. No one checks the tickets.

I figure they decided it was not worth bothering first class passengers–the ones that pay extra money for their seats. It also happens to cut conductors’ work in half. I can imagine that the people in Japan who cheat by sitting in first class without a fist class ticket, or simply mistakenly sit in the wrong car, are exceedingly rare. Why go through all the trouble of inspecting tickets, creating an undue burden on the staff and customers alike, the vast majority of customers do the right thing? And even if a few people do cheat the system successfully, who cares? What’s the impact? At the same time, how much goodwill does Japan Rail generate with its elite customers by demonstrating they implicitly trust us? What’s the profit derived from that?

In business, I see people go to great lengths to avoid being cheated at the expense of forgoing potential opportunity–such as requiring burdensome report filing by staff, when staff could be out selling or doing some good for customers. I have seen business leaders approach a potential partner with a suspicion that he or she will try to pull something, and be tentative and circumspect in discussions, rather than being open, imaginative and discussing possibilities.

In a Japanese coffee shop after ordering an iced coffee, I discovered that they had added sugar beforehand after tasting it. I asked to have something else, which was fine as long as I paid. They had to charge me for the product because I had “drunk part of it.” It was my fault, according to them.  At Starbucks, you can get another drink if you like, no questions asked, and not have to pay for the first. I have done that on occasion. How many people actually abuse Starbucks’s service?

For most situations where being duped is low-impact and rare, presume the best in people. Click To Tweet

The gain from captured opportunity, goodwill, and trust far exceeds the cost of the occasional times you may be duped. And if you are duped, forget about it! Your overall gains wipe out any occasional loss.

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