The more comfortable you become with making people feel discomfort, the better marketer and salesperson you will become…
I’ve become a mall-walker. I’d much prefer walking outside. Either in the convenience of my own neighborhood, or in a park or some other more interesting vista.
But here in Nebraska, it gets pretty dang cold in the winter. And even on a nicer day like today, I prefer the comfort of a controlled clime.
So today, like many other days, after dropping my kids off at school I took off for the mall, before settling down at Starbucks (not at the mall) where I’m now writing this.
Why am I telling you this?
Well, because I want to talk about the rules of mall walking. And about breaking rules — and the strange power that gives you.
Spend 5 minutes before the stores open in any mall in America, and you’ll quickly learn the #1 rule of mall walking…
Go with the flow…
As soon as you walk through the doors, you’ll see that the mall walkers’ foot traffic follows the rules of street traffic. Primarily, stay to the right.
Now, since most malls are laid out with wide hallways with kiosks up the middle, this creates a counter-clockwise flow around the entire mall.
This same flow is there when the stores are all open — however it’s much more pronounced when the mall is primarily populated by walkers, not shoppers.
Walk in any door, turn right, and suddenly you find yourself following a flow of traffic in a circuit around the whole mall. Up every hallway, staying to the right. To the end, following the right-hand wall. And back down the other side of the hallway. Continuing to follow the outer perimeter of the mall.
Although I’ve never seen printed, posted rules of mall walking, I’ve noticed that pretty much everyone in the place complies readily with this unwritten rule.
However, this opens up another empty lane on each side of every hallway, seldom populated with anything more than the occasional wanderer.
This lane is wide open. So walking into it doesn’t interrupt the flow of mall walking traffic. But it clearly bucks expectations. A choice to walk in this lane is a rejection of the social order.
Now I always choose this alternative lane…
And, I watch the response of the mall walkers. During the first half-circuit or so, before you start seeing people you’ve seen before, you get the occasional smile, the occasional dirty look.
Before the stores are open, most people who aren’t scurrying from door to store to begin their work shifts are mall walkers. And the other mall walkers know it. If you don’t look like you’re going to work, they assume you’re there to walk — and they start to impose their expectations on you.
So some will react with gentle amusement that you don’t know the rules yet — otherwise why would you be walking against the main flow?
Others assume you just don’t get it — and reject your ignorance with a clear look of disdain.
The reactions get more interesting as you continue. In two laps around the mall, you’ll pass many of the same groups up to about four times. This gives you plenty of time to see how reactions change with each pass.
Some shift from confusion to mild amusement. Others grow more wary and visibly agitated with every pass. Others get a wry smile of appreciation as they realize your intention, recognizing that it’s completely harmless, but an interesting social experiment.
(As an aside, if you go with the flow, you’re mostly staring at the backs of the same heads, and don’t get to really look into others’ eyes — how boring!)
This is a fun experiment — and a harmless practice in Discordianism…
Discordianism is a strange thing. It’s a religion? A philosophy? A parody? A work of fiction?
I’m not totally sure. And I believe that there are very few people who are actually sure of its origins — its existence blurs the lines between myth and reality. Quite fittingly.
On the surface, Discordianism is the worship of Eris, aka Discordia, the Goddess of chaos.
I say “on the surface” because I think most Discordians are only prone to “worship” in a paradoxical, tongue-in-cheek fashion.
I first learned of Discordianism in the work of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, in the novel The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Which, as a novel, is only the second published work that refers to this religion, and may have actually been its origin.
Wikipedia takes it totally seriously. It treats it as a modern religion.
RationalWiki, on the other hand, has the most fitting description: “Discordianism is, depending on who you ask, an elaborate joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as an elaborate joke. Adherents don’t take it entirely seriously, which is also a major tenet, since Discordians take nothing entirely seriously.”
All this to say, one of the most consistent practices of Discordianism is intentionally courting chaos and sowing discord. Not in a harmful way. But in a way that jolts people out of their everyday monotony.
Such as intentionally and knowingly breaking the rules of mall walking. It’s a minor transgression. But you can see in the faces of many “regulars” a sense of discomfort in someone willingly flaunting the unspoken social order.
One hotel I stayed at had suction-cup bath mats in the shower. Before checking out, I affixed mine to the wall. Nothing like the mess a careless, insensitive rock star would leave behind. But likely something that completely breaks expectations for the hotel staff, and hopefully caused a small delight in the unexpected and absurd.
Creating harmless chaos creates an enormously powerful resource state for you…
Most of our lives are spent trying to avoid chaos and discomfort. And in general, I prefer the same.
I also don’t like to create the kind of chaos that legitimately causes harm to someone’s person or property. That sucks the fun right out of it.
But creating momentary states of confusion and discomfort in the unsuspecting subject is something else entirely.
Most of us float through our days in a trance-like slumber, responding to stimuli with almost no mindfulness at all.
When someone goes against the flow, breaks the unwritten social rules, and embraces even minor psychological chaos, it interrupts the trance state.
It forces a moment of mindful awareness. It requires real thinking and processing to integrate. It gets the blood flowing to our brains again.
I like to think of it as giving a little gift — even if it causes slight discomfort in the moment, it’s for a higher purpose.
It also gives you enormous power, in the moment. When you’re writing your own rules for going through life, you’re no longer subject to the same level of outside influences. It gives you far more control of your life.
Here’s where get to the business applications…
If you’re not comfortable creating discomfort in others, it’s very hard to sell.
Since most of our buying decisions are a combination of moving away from pain and toward pleasure, the more pain we feel in what we don’t want, the more readily we’ll take action toward getting what we do want.
As a sales person (one-to-one or one-to-many), this means that creating discomfort in your prospects is a powerful tool you can use to move them toward the purchasing decision.
In fact, most of the most powerful marketing promotions leverage pain — opening a wound that the marketer then offers to heal.
The very best marketers and salespeople find a way to use this in their selling messages. Creating some level of chaos, discord, and discomfort in the present, with a promise of a return to order and normalcy in the future.
The more comfortable you can get in bringing people into these different emotional states, the more effective you can be in your selling and marketing. (And the less susceptible you will be to outside influences that would have thrown your mental state into chaos in the past!)
And if you want to get comfortable with this, it’s best to practice it in many areas of your life — not just your marketing and selling.
So, if you want a big marketing breakthrough, maybe you need to go mall walking, too!
Yours for bigger breakthroughs,
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