Saturday, May 06, 2006
The Economics of a Buttonhole
While shopping at Wal-Mart last night, I bumped into a parent. I had their daughter in class 10 years ago. The mother wanted to fill me in on every movement her daughter made since graduating from high school. She started with her daughter’s graduation party and began a chronological biographical sketch that included every college class, the kind of car her daughter drove, and every detail she thought was relevant. She talked while my ice cream melted, and I checked my hamburger for salmonella. I nodded and smiled like a fool at all of the appropriate times. At one point, I thought the manager would include us in his inventory. I moved while shoppers frequently said, "Excuse me" and moved around us. In the idiom of my colleague, Dan Rohde, I was buttonholed. It was as if she had her finger in my top buttonhole and I was her captive. In the language of my discipline, the marginal cost of the parent was lower. Let’s say that I value my time at $8 per minute. Then I would like to spend about 2.5 minutes talking. If the parent values her time at $2 per minute, then she would like to spend about 9 minutes talking. The parent values her time differently than me so she wants to talk longer. As the great motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar said, "Why is it that people with nothing to do want to do it with you?" If I want to escape from this loving parent, I either have to lower my cost by having a beautiful fiancé shop for me so I can talk or increase the cost for the parent. I can tell her that her ice cream is melting, point out the rude looks people are giving her, or charge her for my time. Let’s hope I never think I am really that valuable.