Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Nicer Car Always Blinks First

My friend was recently venting/complaining about certain Detroit drivers that are below average in driving skill and common courtesy. She gets cut off a lot. Drivers will almost hit her and then roll down their windows to flip her the bird or scream at her. I work in Detroit and get this from time to time (granted Detroit is far tamer than the Chicago streets I learned to drive on).

But then I realized that I hadn't encountered any terrible or super aggressive Detroit driver over the past month or so. Usually I'll run into (or avoid running into) a handful every week along my commute into and out of Detroit. Over the past month, zero.

Thought for a little while, and think I found the answer. Check out my back bumper:

About a month ago, a visitor decided to drive forward into my car instead of backward into the street when leaving my driveway. My car received a love tap and a cracked back bumper. The damage is only cosmetic, so I've taken my time getting it fixed until I have some extra cash available for repairs.

How does this relate to a dramatic decrease in scumbag-driver encounters? Let me share one of my high school friend's favorite sayings to explain:

The nicer car always blinks first.

My friend was a wild driver who thought speed limits and stop signs were for other people without important things to do. If he lived around Detroit, he would probably be one of the drivers my friend from the beginning of this post regularly complains about. He is also 100% correct with his statement.

If you're driving a Ferrari, you're always going to yield the lane when a broken down station wagon tries to merge into you. In a game of chicken, the person with the more expensive ride will back down first. When my back bumper cracked, my car's status changed to not-nice, and I now have a subliminally protective force field around my car.

Let this guy pass.
The crazy drivers that cut everyone off without a second thought, were suddenly thinking twice about me. With a crack in my bumper, I have less to worry about than they do if I bump into them. I *obviously* don't care very much for my car since I haven't gotten it fixed, so I probably drive a little more recklessly than the average driver. I also have visible proof hammered into my bumper showing that I'm not afraid of a little contact.

They see this, they think this, they yield the right of way.

This is what I've become.
Counter intuitive to think about, but getting hit by a car, has stopped other cars from hitting me. Similar to the phenomenon where a bachelor will complain about how hard it is to find a girl, but will then be fighting off female attention and offers of dates left and right after acquiring a girlfriend. The bachelor's status changes when he gets a girlfriend. He carries himself differently, and the opposite sex picks up on this. I still drive exactly the same way, but now my cracked outer appearance has artificially changed my status to something like "Crazy driver to avoid". Now the other crazy drivers avoid me.
(No complaints here)

Thinking Further About Perceived Status

This made me think about how perceptions can be artificially tweaked or modified to reflect an inaccurate reality.

Body language is an obvious one. If you carry yourself with confidence and swagger, other people will assume you have both (even if you don't have either). Amy Cuddy gives a great talk around this if you're curious (See above video).

You can do the same thing online if looking for a date or a job. One of my favorite blogs is called OkTrends (NSFW) and showcases data analysis around the OkCupid dating site. Some of the posts are a little (okay A LOT) risque, but they are FASCINATING. I've learned that a camera flash adds 7 years to your perceived age/attractiveness and people that like the taste of beer are more likely to go home with you after a first date. Definitely worth an afternoon of reading if you're single :-)

These will be in the thousands when I need a job...
You can do the exact same thing with your resume and online persona. LinkedIn has a feature where other people can vouch for your skills. This isn't policed or double-checked. If I ever need to find another gig, I am having all of my friends and pals +1 my scores on everything to make me look more attractive for recruiters and potential employers. I can (and have) applied all the same tricks OkCupid recommends to my LinkedIn profile as well (It's really the same thing if you think about it). Check out my profile if you're curious.

Since I followed OkCupid's advice and optimized my profile, I've consistently gotten 10+ job offers per week. Before I made any changes, I was getting maybe 2 in a month. Modifying perception works. Anyway, here's my point:

You could be awesome.
You could completely suck.
None of that matters when you are perceived differently in the eye of the beholder.

There are benefits to tweaking how other people see you. If you can control their perception, then you can use it to your advantage. Might as well make this perception work for you, instead of against you. At the very least, this is how I justify not fixing my bumper for another month.

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