John from Jamaica

I met John from Jamaica in Thessaloniki. John is a con artist and John is likely not his real name. I was on my way to the airport on the last day of my trip to Greece.

He called out to me as I passed the White Tower, the main tourist destination in Thessaloniki.

“Hi, I’m John, John from Jamaica, don’t you remember me?”

I had never met him before in my life. John is a black man with a big smile. Think Eddie Murphy in Beverly Hills Cop. I would have remembered, trust me.

I had packed my stuff with me and was looking for a place to hail a taxi. I was in good time and in a good mood so I engaged him.

Before long he had pressed a laminated card into my hand. An invitation to come to a party the same night. I kindly declined on account of me leaving the city. 

I had my attention on my wallet and my phone, both in my back pockets, as we spoke. 

I gave the card back.

The White Tower of Thessaloniki
The White Tower of Thessaloniki, Copyright Frederik Jensen 2023.

He asked where I was from and if I had been to Jamaica. I answered, truthfully. I’m a Dane living in Sweden and no, I have never been in Jamaica.

Then he wanted to give me something to remember him by. He took out a bracelet, woven in the colours of Jamaica. He insisted it was a gift.

I accepted. Not exactly my style, but it would close the conversation on a friendly note and I could pass it on to my kids with a good story when I came home.

He insisted on putting it on. 

I accepted. 

He tied it around my wrist and with a pair of scissors cut the excess string.

Then he asked if I had something for him. Something for him to remember me.

LOL! It was the old trick of exploiting the reciprocity of gift giving. If you receive a gift, you feel compelled to give something back. Even more so if it is an unexpected gift from a stranger. So much so that you are willing to overcompensate by giving back something of higher value. 

I quickly did an inventory of my stuff in my head. I didn’t have small change and I didn’t have a spare present. 

I said, “I’m sorry, John, I don’t have anything for you. I don’t give money away as a principle and I don’t have a gift for you. If you want your gift back, you can take it back.”

He looked me in the eyes and saw I was not bluffing. Then said: “No. No, that is ok.” Then he left.

I enjoyed watching John’s performance first hand. He really did deserve a coin or two for his efforts. Well, I’m sure he found another tourist that day that compensated him for his time.

Making smart decisions

My encounter with John made me think back to a course I attended years ago called Influence Strategies for Developers. The course was presented by Linda Rising, co-author of Fearless Change and More Fearless Change. The course sought to teach developers how to influence stakeholders to make smart decisions. As a developer you need more than facts to sell your ideas, even if they are great ideas. You need to influence people.

In spite of all this technology we surround ourselves with, when it comes to decision making, we are all hard wired to fundamental rules ingrained in us from times past. We follow people who look like us. We stick with decisions we have already made (sunk cost fallacy). We like when people give us presents and feel a need to pay back (principle of reciprocity). We part with our money when we are scared (fear sells). We want what (we think) everyone else want (principle of scarcity).

Everyone is biased and can be influenced. The tricks work. Even if you know them.

Making smart decisions is hard.

Now available

If you need a technology specialist that help organisations take smart decisions with respect for people involved, get in touch. I’m available for new assignments within the Stockholm area. I help organisations execute on complex IT deliveries. This could be in a role as Technical Project Manager, Business Analyst, Solution Architect. Get in touch and let’s find out. Hire me before your neighbour.