We are pattern-making machines. Our development of this one skill has changed our species from monosyllabic cave-dwellers to inventors of the microchip.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I operated a vendor booth at the Salt Lake Comic Con last weekend. When you stand in a small cage lined with toys for twelve hours, three days in a row, talking to people from all walks of life, you begin to notice people say the same things over and over again. After the first few hours, I began tracking the number of times I heard a certain phrase or variation of the phrase.
Phrase 1 – “This is my childhood!”
Attendee would happen upon the booth and jubilantly exclaim “This is my whole childhood!” or “It’s my childhood!” or “I’m a child again!” to which we would reply “Right?” or “Welcome to Christmas, 1984!”
Number of times counted: 126
Phrase 2 – “I had _____”
Attendee would be less jubilant when they approached the booth, but lean in and tell me what kind of vintage toy they had as a child. Often, they would relay a sub memory about how their sister, brother, dad, mom or grandmother interacted with that toy. Mother’s hated Garbage Pail Kids cards 15 times. Sisters always got the better toy 22 times. Parents sold their toy at a garage sale a whopping 36 times. A lost grandparent gave them the toy 14 times. A friend had a toy the attendee was jealous of 18 times, and so on.
Number of times counted: 111.
Phrase 3 – “I still have ______ mint in the box.”
Attendee would exclaim that they already have an item mint in the box at home. This is a well-known phrase in the antique world and it is usually a lie. I know because my dealer friends and I have heard it over and over again (and sometimes have said it ourselves). The reason why people exclaim that they have that item in the box is to impress you, seem just as legit and seem as interesting as you. While it is sometimes the truth, it is one of those small lies we tell in order to be part of the group.
Number of times counted: 39
Phrase 4 – “Where do you get all of this?”
Attendee asked where I get my stock from. I would reply that I buy collections.
Number of times counted: 32
I believe these patterns can be hacked.
After noticing that people responded in certain ways, my helpmeets and I began replying in certain ways in order to persuade them to stay at the booth, engage with the product and eventually buy.
Realizing we are not original is a bit frightening. I naturally understood that my own exclamations of excitement when I meet a stimuli might not be original either. When I recited that line about lidocaine powder to Cary Elwes, it was likely only the billionth time he’d heard that. When I stood on the spot where JFK was shot and turned to the man selling papers and recited “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” he’d probably heard that twelve times that day.
The idea is not to push harder for originality. We don’t need to be original to win.
The idea is to hack the pattern.
All patterns can be hacked, tweaked and experimented on. If you aren’t getting the results you want, find the pattern, hack it. If it doesn’t work, hack again.
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