Focusing on Self-interest

Posted on December 11, 2014 by Robert Ringer


The reason I have never bought a lottery ticket is that I don’t want to soil my belief system with fantasies of striking it rich through pure luck. Lotteries are perhaps the ultimate free-lunch delusion, which is why they are a favored method of taxation by governments throughout the world.

Sooner or later, anyone who is serious about success must be willing to discard all something-for-nothing fantasies and recognize that the key to getting what you want in life is to think value instead of rights. You have no right to someone’s love, you have no right to someone’s friendship, you have no right to someone’s respect. All these, and more, must be earned, and to the extent you create value for others, you will have them in abundance.

Wealth is a result of value creation, and, because it is quantifiable, it is one aspect of life that makes it very easy for you to gauge how successful your efforts have been. There is no mystery to this, because underlying it is a fundamental principle of human nature: People always attempt to do what they believe to be in their best interests at any given time.

If you can’t bear to accept this fact of life, ask yourself why millions of buyers purchase foreign cars, notwithstanding the goading of American auto manufacturers, auto workers, and the government for people to buy domestically produced automobiles. Not even government edicts and penalties (“tariffs”) can force people to stop buying higher-quality foreign cars when given the opportunity to do so.

For decades, the same was true of the garment industry, where garment workers’ unions in developed countries spent millions of dollars annually on advertising in an effort to cajole people into buying domestically produced garments instead of less expensive apparel manufactured in foreign countries. Today, however, they’ve pretty much accepted the reality that they simply can’t compete with lower, free-market wages in Third World countries.

If you still doubt that people always attempt to act in their own best interests, try asking someone to buy your product just because you need the money. Trust me, you’ll sleep much better at night if your success isn’t dependent upon the altruistic nature of others. Creating value for the other party is the surest way to protect yourself in any kind of business relationship.

You can spend a fortune on legal fees and draw up a contract two feet thick, but the reality is that if you manipulate a situation in such a way that it ends up being an onerous deal for the other party, you’ll only succeed in buying yourself a lawsuit. No matter what a contract says, no one will continue to put effort into a venture if it becomes obvious that there is no benefit to him, especially if the other party is profiting from it.

Where the marketplace is concerned, the reality is that consumers have no interest in a company’s needs, costs, or problems. What they are interested in is what the company’s products or services can do to make their lives more pleasurable or less painful, which is why it’s so important to understand self-interest. It is a human instinct that operates independently of our consciousness, so protestations to the contrary are irrelevant.

The late B. F. Skinner, collectivist psychologist and social theorist, spent his life searching for a scientific way to repress the human instinct to better one’s existence. Skinner, by focusing on the modification of human behavior, was inadvertently acknowledging that self-interest is a natural and normal human characteristic. Only force can prevent human beings from acting in their own best interests.

In today’s world of unlimited marketplace choices, the attitude of consumers is: “So what? What’s the big deal? Why should I buy your product?” They are overwhelmed with offers and products and, as a result, have become incredibly jaded.

Keeping this in mind, if you’re involved in selling a product — and virtually everyone is, even if the product is himself — you had better convince people in a hurry when it comes to selling them on the merits of your product. An old marketing axiom says:

Tell me quick,
And tell me true;
Otherwise sir,
To hell with you.

In other words, if you want to sell someone on yourself or your product, you have to get to the point quickly. Tell the prospect everything that you or it can do for him, and don’t waste his time with hyperbole. Better, faster, and cheaper are three magical words to remember when thinking about how to create value.

It’s also crucial to recognize that you can’t sell people what you think they should want; consumers buy only what they do want. Likewise, an asking price is nothing more than your opinion of what your product or service is worth; value is someone else’s opinion of what your product or service is worth.

And, trust me, prospects aren’t interested in your opinion. Which means that the virtue of self-interest in the marketplace is that no one can continue to produce a product if there aren’t enough people who want to buy that product at the price that is being asked for it.

The fact that people are programmed to act in their self-interest is whyyou have to bring value to the marketplace. It’s really very simple: Giving others what they want motivates them to give you what you want. And what people want are good products at reasonable prices, good customer service, and a good attitude from a company’s employees.

Everything else comes under the category of “Minor Details.”

Robert Ringer

Robert Ringer is an American icon whose unique insights into life have helped millions of readers worldwide. He is also the author of two New York Times #1 bestselling books, both of which have been listed by The New York Times among the 15 best-selling motivational books of all time.

13 responses to “Focusing on Self-interest”

  1. RAM says:

    Much of what you write is true. But let's face it; In many respects, life is a lottery. That's why we ended up with the Kid from Kenya in the White House. Too many people bought the losing ticket. RAM

    • Jean says:

      That had nothing to do with "luck" RAM, that had to do with an infomercial-type marketing campaign by both the DNC and the press that sold a lot of hooey to the voting populace. What's appalling is that the "press" is still covering its tracks by continuing to ignore the reality of what the Kid from Kenya has accomplished – and the costs of all of his "success" to the people he's supposed to be representing. And it seems that the majority of people will believe what any "authority" (e.g. a "journalist") says rather than what they see with their own eyes. Lies and a lack of critical thinking skills gave us what we have today, not "luck."

  2. Jon says:

    I've met three (3) significantly-large-lottery winners over the years. Two of the three were again broke within a year. IMO, the reason the third was able to hold-onto their winnings is that they were already modestly wealthy as self-employed restaurant owners. If a person makes no effort to learn how to manage money, they'll quickly squander it. While it's true that a fool and his money are soon parted, it's amazes me that they ever get together in the first place.

  3. Scott theczech says:

    I have, with purpose, tried to align myself with organizations that understand and apply this truth. To the extent possible, the professional salesperson/business owner/employee puts self interest aside long enough to hear the customer's needs and wants – then delivers! Easier said than done.

  4. John Van Epps says:

    Here we go again! RR telling us we don't have 'rights' like even the poor looters in Ferguson – THEY have 'rights' to ten pairs of expensive sneakers; big screen TV's, and whatever else they can take.

    When I was 12 years old, I told my Dad I wanted a new bike – and he told me to get a job and earn it. I shoveled snow, mowed lawns, even got a paper route (with parental help, mind you). I learned at an early age that if you want something of value; you have to trade something of value that you have. I had a strong back, and developed a work ethic.

    Forward 45-plus years – THAT value-for-value system I learned in my youth still woks today – and is the only way I know. You don't get 'something for nothing'; you get 'something for something'. It's a trade-off, and the only way to succeed and thrive – despite the government's positing to the contrary.

    Well spoken as always, Mr. Ringer. Many's the time I've wished you were in charge, but then again – I doubt if you'd be willing to put up with the BS!

  5. Ben says:

    Great article!

  6. I traded one summer of college work studying two courses in Skinner's Behaviorism. I need that kind of thing to get a secondary teaching certificate. Better to have studied Jung and others, had they been offered, but they weren't. The Michigan State Psych Dept was full of Behaviorists, NOT real psychologists. Skinner sez you cannot change a behavior via punishment or the threat of it. The threat certainly makes me NOT do wrong. So the threat of punishment does have a positive effect on some of us. The field of psychology was nuts with Behaviorism for a long time, maybe still is. Not enough of the analytical types. In my opinion. BUT YES, in my several fields over the years, Mr. Ringer is absolutely right!

  7. jurgy says:

    The truth about better, faster, and cheaper is …

    If you want it faster and cheaper, it is not going to be better
    If you want it better and cheaper, it is not going to be faster
    If you want it better and faster, it is not going to be cheaper!

  8. Daniel says:

    "You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want." – Zig Ziglar Are RR and ZZ kindred spirits? Maybe. Regardless, they're my two favorite authors.

  9. Serge says:

    In today's entitlement society, the rules seemed to have changed. One could have a valuable product but it will and can be taken advantage of by self centered entitled people. Look at all the store refunds, products taken back after the consumer has used the product to provide for their self interest. Examples are clothes worn once for a Holiday party and then returned for a refund. A ladder or tool from home depot to work on a one time home project. I've even seen someone take half eaten food items for a refund. Then there are lawsuits from those who claimed injuries from products. I know some refunds and lawsuits are legitimate, I have taken items back myself, but come on, return back a half eaten salad. Most of the products cannot be put back on the shelves since consumers want unopened items, can't blame them. All in all too much self- interest or is it being pushed to self-entitlement puts a lot of unnecessary costs to the folks who produce valuable products.

    • In the long-run rational self-interest benefits the individual. What you describe is the irrational self-interest of people with the short-term entitlement mentality. You can imagine what happens to these reality evaders when the "party" ends.

  10. j-a-y says:

    A fool and his money are soon partying.

  11. phudee says:

    Self interest in its basest form is a survival instinct. Being an instinct it is not connected with the conscience. Civilised society is based on consideration for one another and wherefrom flows the noble need to be of service to others. Service adds value and is compensated through recognition and reward. As you give so you shall receive, and so society thrives. SELF INTEREST of the highest kind!