Monday, October 7, 2013

If Life's Not Fair, Does Justice Matter?

Read enough blogs and e-books about leadership and success, and you'll see one bit of advice that overshadows all others: don't be a loser. Or, to be more precise: don't let a few losses keep you from winning in the end. This concept has created an endless number of platitudes that offer little comfort to the aggrieved: focus on wars instead of battles, be resilient in the face of adversity, and remember how long it took to build Rome. But embracing failure seems to deny one of our basic traits: a desire for justice.

If people are hardworking, kind, and generous, we want to see them rewarded with success; if they are hurtful or lazy, we want to see them punished. Our desires often don't become reality, leaving us with the conventional wisdom: "life's not fair" and "business is business." But the reality is that no matter how much we try to shake off this concept of justice,  we can't. Fairness is a part of us.

In a blog post today on the Harvard Business Review website, N.  Taylor Thompson, a fellow at Harvard University's Forum for Growth & Innovation, writes about how fairness is an integral factor in consumers' decisions. When Netflix decided to split its DVD and video streaming subscriptions two years ago from $10 total to $8 each, they expected to attract some customers interested in just one of the services eager to pay less for renting movies. But what happened? Many Netflix users considered the split an unfair price increase for the services and more than a million of them cancelled their subscriptions. What should Netflix have done? Explain why it had to raise prices. Maybe the company should have said how movie rights are more expensive on streaming video than on DVD, and that it wanted to provide as many movies as possible to its members? Or maybe it should have talked about the new costs associated with developing original content for subscribers, like the popular show House of Cards? No matter what, providing a reason would have been far better than telling people nothing. By sharing their rationale, Netflix executives would have shown that they wanted to be fair.

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