The upside of cost

(as seen on Roman Brauns Trinergy-NLP-Blog on October 22, 2009)

Yesterday, I met with an illustrator about some ideas for a logo. I was feeling inspired and a little creative, so it seemed natural that I ended up buying art. It went down like this.

I had just left his office and no sooner had I turned the first corner onto a side street that I heard the rhythm and the calls:

Boom, boom, boom. “Pictures for sale!” Boom, boom, boom. “Ten cents a piece!” Boom, boom, boom. “Pictures for sale!” Boom, boom, boom. “Ten cents a piece!” Boom, boom, boom…

Picture of a houseThen I saw them: a painted-faced, munchkin-bunch of 4 and 5 yr. olds in front of a city kindergarten. Someone had seen fit to let them out onto the sidewalk wearing impromptu costumes resembling Native American dress. They had feathers and a red-headed chief, whose name I later learned was Lucy.

She expertly calmed the natives as I surveyed the concrete vernissage. Lucy:Stop drumming! We have a customer!” After thinking it over carefully, I picked two works of art with the point of a finger (for 20 cents I thought I could afford to indulge). Lucy:I said stop drumming!” She lifted the rocks which were weighing down the pictures, handed them to me and held out her hand.

Picture of a jetI gave her one Euro (which didn’t impress her one way or the other) and walked away smiling as the drumming and the chanting began again. And as I looked back I was thinking: “That Lucy is a mini- entrepreneur.” And I wondered: “Did someone already teach her about the upside of cost?

Which made me think of Chris Anderson: In his book “Free – The Future of a Radical Price”, Anderson explains the why’s, the how’s and the advantages of the new free economy, in which we enjoy an abundance of things at no cost – like free software, masses of information (e.g. blog articles) and unlimited e-mail storage.

But Anderson is also careful to depict the downside of Free, which he dubs “the cost of zero cost”. He cites the findings of behavioral economists who set out to discover what happens psychologically when we get something for nothing. In one example, researchers set up a booth on a college campus and sold chocolate to students:

“They priced the Lindt truffles at 15 cents and the (Hershey) Kisses at 1 cent. The customers behaved pretty rationally, calculating that the difference in the quality of the two chocolates more than made up for their difference in price: 73 percent chose the truffle and 27 percent chose the Kiss.

Then Ariely (the research initiator) introduced Free into the equation, lowering the price of both chocolates by 1 cent. Now the Lindt truffle was 14 cents and the Kiss was free. Suddenly the Kiss became a hit. 69 percent chose it over the truffle. Nothing about the price/quality calculation had changed – the two chocolates were still priced 14 cents apart.”

FreeThese test subjects literally reversed their behavior due to the Free factor. Anderson provides further arguments that Free is in fact a powerful trigger for the human psyche; that we are subconsciously driven to and by Free. He goes on to talk about the excessive consumption of free snacks at a scientific conference, where he was amazed to see the well-educated participants leaving half-eaten bags of “gratis goodies” everywhere:

No cost, no commitment. People often don’t care as much about things they don’t pay for, and as a result they don’t think as much about how they consume them. Free can encourage gluttony, hoarding, thoughtless consumption, waste, guilt and greed. We take stuff because it’s there, not necessarily because we want it.”


In my own self-development process and in my work as a coach, I have experienced this…

The price of change and personal development can be very minimal – like when we recognize an obstructive belief about ourselves and decide to exchange it for a constructive one. This can happen in a matter of seconds and no hard work follows. We just feel better and are somehow transformed.

Other times, the cost is higher and there is more at stake. And we may find ourselves needing to exhibit tenacity over a long period of time in order to reach a personal objective.

If you are in the process of consciously evolving and find yourself paying a price – however large or small – remember the upside of cost as you go your course:

  • Where there is cost, there is decision.
    This usually means you are driving instead of being driven (e.g. by Free). Good thing!
  • Where there is cost, there is commitment.
    And commitment leads to a far greater probability of success.
  • Where there is cost, we see value.
    In the end, you are likely to find yourself caring more about the changes you paid for than the ones that came for free.

Lucy could have given those pictures away. But somehow she knew about the upside of cost and the downside of free – without reading Anderson.

How competent!

Boom, boom, boom. “Pictures for sale!” Boom, boom, boom. “Ten cents a piece!” Boom, boom, boom. “Pictures for sale!” Boom, boom, boom. “Ten cents a piece!” Boom, boom, boom…

Until we meet again,



One response to “The upside of cost

  1. Jochen + Heribert Ulbing

    Ja, bereit sein den Preis zu bezahlen bedeutet sicherlich Commitment und Wertschätzung. Die Bereitschaft einen Preis zu bezahlen bedeutet auch sich zu Entscheiden – den jede Entscheidung hat einen Preis – nämlich den, dass Möglichkeiten wegfallen.

    Danke Shailia für Deinen Artikel!


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