How 'disappointment-averse' are you?

150thedinerOne of my friends used this phrase while talking about restaurants in Taipei, but it can apply to anything. Being diappointment-averse is similar to giving up hope. A sad state, but a common one.

If you don't particularly like beef noodles, greasy dumplings, and 'slop shop' buffets - or even if you do and just want a change - the options in Taipei are quite limited. There are plenty of restaurants advertising themselves as Mexican, Thai, American, Italian, or whatever, and if you're not too picky then you can easily try a new place every day for a month. But if you've ever eaten real Italian food, the Taiwanese version is pretty disappointing. Thai food, Indian food, even more so. Even burgers and fries have to be localised, to suit the tastebuds of the majority of customers. So, if you're a foodie, you're constantly disappointed, except at those relatively few places that repeatedly make you happy.

I'm not being objective here, some people love Taiwanese food, and they're welcome to their opinions. Most Taiwanese complain about "localised" Chinese food in other countries too. Whenever you're a minority, an enthusiast, you are not objective, you have higher expectations than the average customer, and are likely to be disappointed by mass-market offerings. The question is, how do you deal with this reality?

My friend, like me, has a list in his head of places he will happily eat at. When he's hungry, he consults the list and makes a decision. He doesn't cruise the streets checking out the 27 new restaurants that have opened nearby since the last time he looked. He goes to one of the places he is comfortable with, because he doesn't want to be disappointed again.

He knows that being disappointment-averse prevents him from discovering great new places, but experience has taught him that he has to try 20, or 50, new places and be disappointed before finding the one that hits the spot. Occasionally he finds a place he really likes, or one particular dish at a place that is otherwise mediocre, and adds it to his list, but most of the time the verdict is "why did I waste my time coming here? I knew it would be like this."

When we visit a new country, go to a new school, join a new company, we don't know anything and willingly try everything. But our willingness to keep on trying new things is proportional to how long we stay and how often we are delighted with what we find. If you keep on disappointing people, they stop wanting to know what else you have for them.

As an entrepreneur, you are competing for the attention of enthusiasts, people who are really into whatever space you're entering. There is no point in making mass-market anythings any more. If you are selling curry, you have to appeal to people who really want a great curry. If they encounter too many mediocre offerings, they will become disappointment-averse, and make an exclusive list of places to go. If you don't give them a reason to try something new, you will be just like the other 27 new restaurants they drive past to get to an old favourite.

On the other hand, once you persuade them to try what you're selling, and if they love it, they will be more willing to try your next offering. They can be disappointment averse towards your competitors and loyal to you, if you can delight them. Fail to delight, and they will not only ignore you, they will lose their enthusiasm for food altogether. It's up to you to create enthusiastic committed customers, not to just steal them from someone else.