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Marketing to/Producing for the Irrational

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Mod's note: Split from another thread. Feel free to suggest a better title for this one. - sN

Now that I've slightly embarrased myself by realizing that had I actually read this entire response before I opened my big mouth I would have known that my point about the Fed has already been raised (albeit, in a much less entertaining manner :P ), I would like to take issue with something that Dismuke has said. It is off-topic so I will be brief.

He said "Quite frankly, a lot of marketing these days is targeted to appeal to whim. This is not a criticism of marketers - that is a rational and normal response when one's marketplace is made up of a large number of whim worshipers."

Does this mean that Peter Keating's designs were rational aswell?

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He said "Quite frankly, a lot of marketing these days is targeted to appeal to whim. This is not a criticism of marketers - that is a rational and normal response when one's marketplace is made up of a large number of whim worshipers."

Does this mean that Peter Keating's designs were rational aswell?

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I would like to take issue with something that Dismuke has said. It is off-topic so I will be brief.

He said "Quite frankly, a lot of marketing these days is targeted to appeal to whim. This is not a criticism of marketers - that is a rational and normal response when one's marketplace is made up of a large number of whim worshipers."

Does this mean that Peter Keating's designs were rational aswell?

Maybe it is off topic - but I think it is a very interesting question.

Were Keating's designs rational? Well, assuming that you agree with Ayn Rand's views on architecture, the answer is: of course not.

But it does not follow that some company or developer who hired Keating over Roark was necessarily irrational to do so.

Let's say that some sort of retail or restaurant chain is going to expand and needs an architect to come up with a design for all of the new locations. Let's also say that this business primarily caters to a particular demographic that, by and large, is NOT receptive to Roark style buildings but does respond favorably to Keating style buildings. Let's say that the person in charge of making the decision personally actually prefers Roark style buildings and looks upon Peter Keating with contempt. Well, his primary job function is not to educate or elevate the aesthetic tastes of his employer's customers. His job is to make his employer as much money as possible by enticing as many people from the target demographic into those locations as he can so that they will spend money on the company's goods and services. If his employer would make more money by building aesthetically horrible looking stores that its customers would love, then it would be an entirely rational decision on his part to build such stores. Nor is such a decision a compromise of his own aesthetic integrity. It is no more appropriate for him to use his employer's business to crusade for his aesthetic values than it is for the checkout person at the local supermarket to use the time the customers have to spend in front of him as a platform for proselytizing in favor of religion, political candidates or even Objectivism.

If you are a mass merchandiser, you might think that contemporary tastes in clothing, furniture, books and magazines are utterly disgusting and degenerate. But if you are in such a business and you plan on staying in business, you had better carry the sort of clothing, furniture, books and magazines that your customers want or they will go elsewhere.

I can even come up with a personal example. Since I am the go-to person regarding my employer's phone system and since the call center reports to me, I am the one who makes the decisions regarding the hold music that customers hear when they call into the call center. Some while ago, I found myself having to shop around for new hold music. Well, I happen to have a very huge record collection of several thousand vintage 78 rpm records and it briefly occurred to me to turn the hold music into a sort of Radio Dismuke On Hold. I am sure some customers would have enjoyed it. But I am also sure that many more would, at the very least, regard it as a bit eccentric and some would actually have a very negative reaction to it. I ended up picking some music that I regard as utterly valueless and banal - a sort of bland, commercial "soft rock" style elevator music. I chose it because such music, unfortunately, is all over the place these days and is more or less what people expect from hold music. I doubt anyone will ever say how much they love the hold music - but I also doubt that anyone will complain about it either. This was not a compromise of my aesthetic integrity. It is not my job to use my employer's resources as a means of promoting my kind of music. Now, if I were to include such music on Radio Dismuke on the basis of a market survey that my doing so would attract more listeners - well, that would be a compromise of my aesthetic integrity because the very purpose of Radio Dismuke is to provide a platform for promoting my kind of music.

And, as for my comment about whim worship - well, whether a given purchase is a whim or a well-earned rational value is highly contextual. If you can barely make your house payment and your kids will need expensive new school clothes in a few months and you decide to blow the last few hundred dollars left in your bank account on a weekend trip to an expensive resort hotel, that is a whim. If you have been working hard and want to reward yourself and have been looking forward to taking such a trip and can easily afford it, well, that sounds pretty rational to me. If you are the travel agent, it is not your job to determine whether the customer's motives are whim driven or not. Your job is to sell as many trips as possible - and if some customers choose to put themselves in the poorhouse because of it, that is their problem, not yours.

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Were Keating's designs rational? Well, assuming that you agree with Ayn Rand's views on architecture, the answer is: of course not.

But it does not follow that some company or developer who hired Keating over Roark was necessarily irrational to do so.

If you mean that it was rational of Keating's employer to hire him, would you also say that similarly, it was not necessarily irrational of Keating to design buildings the way he did? Because this seems to imply that sometimes, it is rational to behave irrationally.

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Marking and producing to the Irrational, and the morality of that... That is a good question.

Whenever I see a word with various degrees, like "irrational", my first question is, "how irrational". Almost everyone has some degree of rationality in them, otherwise they wouldn't be able to work, and consume food. (Given the context of this thread, I am assuming this is what is being referred as "irrational").

I think most people do respond to rational-ness in advertising, marketing and product placement, if its done correctly.

All products must fill a need. People never buy a drill because its a drill, but they buy a drill because it produces good quality holes. People don't listen to "on hold" music because its music, they listen to "on hold" music to let them know the line is still alive and to put them in a more relax state of mind. A person who is able to communicate the needs the products or services will meet, will have to do so in a rational manner.

I am not qualified to talk about the designs of buildings, and if a design of building X meets the needs of people Y. However, the marketing of a product or service should be self-evident to most people (I hope, or at least to me).

As for the ethics of appealing to the irrational-ness in people. I don't exactly know how to appeal to to the irrational-ness in a person. I suppose by making a product, or a service, appeal to an irrational need, like "you need this to be popular" or "use this service to hide from reality" would be irrational, but sadly, I can't think of any examples of that.

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If you mean that it was rational of Keating's employer to hire him, would you also say that similarly, it was not necessarily irrational of Keating to design buildings the way he did? Because this seems to imply that sometimes, it is rational to behave irrationally.

Sorry - I only just now noticed your reply to my posting.

I think this is a great example of why context is so important when it comes to understanding and applying principles.

First - there is nothing intrinsically irrational about bad architecture. It simply does not follow that a person who fails to appreciate certain aesthetic principles - even if they can be demonstrated to be objectively rational and valid - is, therefore irrational. Rationality may have nothing at all to do with the issue. Perhaps the person is merely wrong. Being wrong is not the same thing as being irrational. Being wrong can be the result of being irrational - but it can also be because the person is simply ignorant or has errors in this thinking.

Things like this are especially tricky when one gets into to the realm of aesthetics where there does exist a great deal of room for optional values and personal taste and private preferences. As Ayn Rand pointed out, it is entirely possible for a person to say: That is a great work of art but I don't much care for it. Likewise, I would argue it is entirely possible for a rational person to be able to say: That is NOT a great work of art - but I actually like it. A good example is when Dr. Peikoff mentioned (I believe in his Understanding Objectivism lecture) how he, for a long time, really enjoyed certain types of horror movies despite the fact that such films are based on premises entirely at odds with many aspects of Objectivism. (If I recall correctly -it has been a few years so I may be wrong as to his specific reason - he enjoyed such films because he found the characters in such films to be interesting when compared to those in more conventional movies. )

Furthermore, "irrational" is a very strong word.

Ayn Rand's point regarding Peter Keating was not so much that he was irrational (there were minor characters in The Fountainhead who were much more irrational than Keating - for example Lois Cook and Gus Webb) but that he was a second-hander. And he wasn't presented as a second-hander merely because he put up certain types of buildings. His approach to every significant aspect of his life was second-handed - from the person and reason he chose to marry, to the sort of books that he read, to where he wanted his house to be located, etc.

It is certainly true that such an approach to life is anything but rational. But there are degrees of irrationality and I would argue that one should be careful before labeling all non-rational behavior as "irrational." Usually when people refer to someone or something as "irrational" they are talking about extreme instances of irrationality. For that reason, if one wishes to be properly understood, it is generally better to use a more narrow term to refer to the specific instance of irrational behavior that you have in mind - for example, evasive, dishonest, emotionalistic, mystical, nihilistic, second-handed, etc.

With this in mind, going back to your question: Is it rational to sometimes behave irrationally? Well, of course not. But not all behaviors we would properly consider to be undesirable or even irrational are the result of irrationality. Context is essential in making such a determination.

I think your question would be better rephrased as: "Is it sometimes rational to behave second-handedly?" because that is more essentially the issue involved when it comes to building Keating style buildings or attempting to adjust to mass market tastes.

Here, too, context is essential. In a division of labor economy, one must ask: from whose perspective is one asking the question - and what is the central purpose of the person we are talking about?

If you are a top Wal-mart executive your purpose is to make as large a return on the shareholders investment as possible by selling as much general merchandise items as possible as a result of using innovative distribution efficiencies and effectively flexing one's huge buying power to offer lower prices than one's major competitors. That is a highly rational and extremely productive goal. There is nothing second-handed about it - and even people who dislike shopping at Wal-mart's stores should be thankful to them because their relentless pursuit of efficiency has actually been a major force in the economic growth of recent years. Achieving such a purpose basically involves, among many other things, selling books, CDs and movies one knows are utter crap. If you look at Wal-mart's store buildings, most of them are butt ugly. One may properly take exception to the CDs, books, movies and the aesthetics of their stores - but it is not a reflection of the integrity of Wal-mart's executives. It is not their job to tell people what they should be reading or what sort of architecture they should admire.

If you are an architect - the question is why are you an architect? What do you wish to accomplish by being in the profession?

Let's say that there is someone who, ever since childhood, had a fascination with and an admiration for a particular historical style of architecture. There is nothing wrong with that. There are a lot of things worthy of admiration in historical architecture and much of it is very beautiful. Whether or not imitating historical styles in a modern context constitutes good architecture is an entirely different issue. Let's say this person loves classical buildings with such a passion that he decided to study architecture and become an architect just so he could build classical buildings. He opens a practice and builds up a business catering to moderns who wish to build new buildings in a classical style. One day, a client walks in and asks that he design a glass box type of building. He refuses the job on grounds that he dislikes glass boxes and has no interest in building them.

Is it fair to compare such an architect to Peter Keating? No, it is not. Does he lack integrity? No - and refusing to take commissions for buildings in styles he dislikes is a sign that he does have integrity. Are the buildings he designs second-handed in terms of aesthetics and style? Yes, they most certainly are - and such an architect would undoubtedly be the very first to tell you that such is the case. Does it follow, therefore, that the architect as a person is a second-hander? No, it does not. If his love and passion for classical architecture is genuine, then he is being true to his aesthetic values and is NOT a second-hander in that regard. Ayn Rand might take strong exception to his buildings and to his aesthetic vision. She might consider him to be a second-rate architect. But that is an entirely different issue than whether or not he is a second-hander and certainly a different issue as to whether or not he is irrational.

Now, let's take the example of an architect who will pretty much attempt to give his clients anything they want. If the client wants a classical house - no problem. If he wants a modernist office park - no problem. Is this architect necessarily a second hander? Again, it really comes down to context. Why did he become an architect and what value does he seek from being in the profession? Perhaps the stylistic aspects of the profession are secondary to him. Perhaps what he enjoys is the structural aspects. Perhaps what he enjoys is the challenge of accomplishing whatever goals his clients give him and being able to do so within the confines of a specific budget. If that is the value he seeks from his profession and the aesthetic aspects are secondary to him, it might be entirely appropriate for him to give people the sorts of facades they want in exchange for him being able to do the aspects of the job that he loves to do. He might not even care that someone like Ayn Rand might come along and comment that his buildings are third-rate. In fact, he might even agree with such an assessment and say that he has no desire to build only buildings which are first-rate aesthetically and that his primary objective is to create efficient floor plans or to find ways to maximize his clients' construction budget or even to simply get as much business as possible because he loves to remain busy. Such a person might even go so far as to say that he doesn't have the talent to be a Roark or a Wright or a Sullivan but that he gets a great deal of satisfaction out of being able to do a good job on the sort of projects that are within his sphere of competence. Nobody is ever likely to regard his buildings as examples of first hand aesthetic vision. But it does not follow that he is a second-hander and it certainly does not follow that he is irrational.

The message of The Fountainhead was NOT that every person should aspire to be the next Howard Roark of his profession or that all architects should build the sort of buildings that Ayn Rand would have approved of. The message is that people should live selfishly and remain true to their own values, visions and passions. Whether or not those particular values, visions and passions are rational and objectively valid is an important issue - but it is an entirely separate issue.

I have occasionally run across people new to Objectivism who felt a need to go through he motions of expressing an admiration for certain styles of architecture, certain styles of paintings, literature, movies, "tiddlywink" music, etc., because they think it is necessary to do so if they wish to "good Objectivists" - and, at the same time, they repress the passion for other styles of such things that they once felt before they discovered Objectivism. Doing this is very dangerous - and, ironically, it is a form of second-handedness in its own right. If you genuinely value something - never repress it simply because it seems to be contrary to Objectivism. There is a reason you value it - and if you give it up before you fully understand that reason, you are actually making the same mistake that a second-hander does. There are entirely legitimate reasons for valuing certain things which have nothing to do with their objective philosophical value. It is entirely possible to say: "this is a really third-rate building/novel/painting/movie - but I love it."

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Hmm Dismuke, you offer a lot to think about--I enjoy your posts very much for that reason. However--in this case I do not understand the point you're making.

If Walmart had a choice between Roark and Keating for a total redesign of their stores, are you saying there is possible context that would make Keating the better choice? That his secondhandedness would be a value for a Walmart-type business?

If so, I don't agree. First-handed thinking will always be better, even if the market for your product is the lowest common denominator.

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Hmm Dismuke, you offer a lot to think about--I enjoy your posts very much for that reason.

Gee - thanks! :)

However--in this case I do not understand the point you're making.

If Walmart had a choice between Roark and Keating for a total redesign of their stores, are you saying there is possible context that would make Keating the better choice? That his secondhandedness would be a value for a Walmart-type business?

No, his secondhandedness would not be a value to Wal-mart and would actually be a disvalue.

I was merely saying that there might be a reason for a business such as Wal-mart to decide to construct buildings with traditional and conventional looking facades rather than ones with unconventional and highly original facades. If so, it would be entirely justified in putting up buildings with aesthetic features which Roark would refuse to build and would regard as an aesthetic abomination.

Wal-mart's primary focus is and should be on one thing only: selling as much general merchandise items as possible and as profitably as possible. Everything the company does ought to be integrated and subordinated to that one purpose - and from what I have observed of Wal-mart, they do a great job of doing just that. A company such as Wal-mart would properly regard its store buildings as nothing more than a tool and a means towards that end. If Wal-mart had reason to believe that stores that had design elements reminiscent of Roman temples or medieval castles would make them more appealing to customers and bring in additional customers - well, why not build stores that look like that? So what if it isn't great architecture? They are in business to sell merchandise. Elevating the public's aesthetic taste, while certainly desirable, is not Wal-mart's job.

Now, as to the issue of secondhandedness, no, it would NOT be of value to Wal-mart. Even if Wal-mart demanded that the facades on its stores imitate some or a variety of historical styles, there is still a great deal of room for innovation for any architect who decided to take the job - and, for that reason, Wal-mart would not be well served by a second-hander.

For example, one of the primary concerns for a company like Wal-mart is cost. An architect who was able to come up with an innovative way that would shave 20% off the cost of conventional design methods would be a highly desirable thing. One of the things companies such as Wal-mart are always looking for is ways to make it possible and cost effective for big box retail stores to locate in dense urban areas where real estate prices are high and lots sizes are small and hard to come by. An architect who could find a way to fit an entire Wal-mart Supercenter on a small lot in Brooklyn or Queens by having the store be multi-storied with a self-contained parking garage that would be both friendly to shoppers wheeling around large shopping carts and which could be built at a cost low enough to make such a store viable and profitable for Wal-mart - well, such an architect would be worth his weight in gold and so would such a building even if its exterior did look like a circus tent or a Turkish market.

And even with regard to an exterior design which imitates earlier styles there is room for innovation. One can incorporate historical styles in an attractive way or one can do so in such a way that it looks like utter crap.

For example, very near where I live is an upscale shopping center that was built a few years ago and was touted by its developer as having an "Old World" look. That's fine - and if it actually looked like something from the Old World at least it could be pretty on its own terms. Instead, the thing looks horrible. The entire shopping center is made out of standard cheap tilt wall pre-fabricated concrete panels and to give it the "Old World" look, they cut out arched openings in the concrete and decorated the edges of windows and doorways with expensive materials, nice tiles, granite columns etc. - and the result is an incongruous mess. The fact that the walls of the buildings are nothing more than cheap concrete pre-fab panels is very obvious no matter how much money they spent on granite columns and such. For example, here is an image that I found on the web: http://www.grahammarcus.com/images/content...apel_hill_1.JPG

The top of the tower was well done in that it looks authentic and is attractive in an "Old World" sense. But, in real life with a broader perspective than the picture is able to offer, the walls to its right and left look totally fake - which they are. Somebody on a local architectural forum referred to the place as being an example of "lick and stick" architecture - and I think that is the perfect term for the place. Ironically, the shopping center is named after a chapel that overlooks it and which was designed by one of Frank Lloyd Wright's students. I am not much of a fan of most post Depression era modernist buildings but I think this particular chapel is very nice. Here is an image that really doesn't do it much justice: http://www.fortwortharchitecture.com/west/leonardchapel.jpg

Personally, had I built the shopping center, I would have instructed the architect to come up with something that would compliment and play off the chapel which totally dominates its surroundings. But even granted the owner's wish for an "Old World" look to the shopping center, someone could have pulled it off much more successfully even if the budget only allowed for tilt wall pre-fab. Sure, one can say that imitating Old World buildings is second-handed - but doing so in a way that fits the building's purpose, is economical and takes advantages of modern construction methods such as concrete pre-fab and is attractive does require a large degree of first-handed ingenuity, innovation and, above all good taste which the designer of that shopping center was clearly in need of.

So, for that reason, I completely agree with you when you say: "first-handed thinking will always be better, even if the market for your product is the lowest common denominator." That is so true - and it is true even if certain aspects of one's project include elements which are necessarily and unapologetically imitative.

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I am not much of a fan of most post Depression era modernist buildings but I think this particular chapel is very nice. Here is an image that really doesn't do it much justice: http://www.fortwortharchitecture.com/west/leonardchapel.jpg

Wow--this is really beautiful! The image looks wonderful to me--if it doesn't do it justice, it must really be gorgeous in real life.

Sure, one can say that imitating Old World buildings is second-handed - but doing so in a way that fits the building's purpose, is economical and takes advantages of modern construction methods such as concrete pre-fab and is attractive does require a large degree of first-handed ingenuity, innovation and, above all good taste....

Do you know of attractive and elegant buildings that imitate an older style, using modern construction materials and methods? I would love to see an example if you know of one. I can't imagine that kind of building being anything except incongruous (and ugly) because the older style was invented to make the most of materials used at the time, and isn't really suited to things like concrete pre-fab, etc.

(I think you probably know a great deal more about architecture than I do, but that is my understanding of it.)

Sigh...I wrote a lot more about Walmart the first time I tried to post this, but somehow the post disappeared and I can't remember the great, insightful things I wrote. I'd better go to sleep now... ;) I'll try to remember the rest of what I meant to say and post it later.

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I don't know how relevant this fact is to the discussion, but it appears to me stores who design their buildings irrationally make far less per square foot (an important number in retail) then those who design their buildings rationally with a sense of purpose. As fact, let me run some numbers, according to Redherring (1):

Neiman Marcus: $611 per sq/ft

Best Buy: $930

Tiffany & Co: $2,666

Apple Computer: $4,032

In this entire list, Apple Computer's stores have the most logically, and rationally designed stores. They are also making the most sales per square foot. Coincidence? Your input please.

(1) http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=2...ector=Computing

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Neiman Marcus: $611 per sq/ft

Best Buy: $930

Tiffany & Co: $2,666

Apple Computer: $4,032

In this entire list, Apple Computer's stores have the most logically, and rationally designed stores. They are also making the most sales per square foot. Coincidence? Your input please.

(1) http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=2...ector=Computing

Where are you getting that Apple stores are the most logically and rationally designed? I am not disputing it - I have never been in an Apple store and it is very rare for me to go to Neiman's and I think I have only been in Tiffany once. I am just curious as to the basis for your claim?

As to sales per squre foot, while it is, no doubt a very important number, I don't think this sort of comparison between stores which cater to very different markets necessarily means a whole lot and certainly is not a fair basis on which to judge the rationality of their management or the architects/designers they hire. For example, the article you linked to states the following:

"Apple stores, on average under 6,000 square feet, each bring in more than $23 million in annual sales, according to the Bernstein report. That compares with annual sales per store of $38 million at Best Buy, which has stores about seven times larger."

What is key here is that Best Buy's stores are seven times larger - and they carry a MUCH wider range of products than does Apple's. Many of the products that Best Buy carries are inexpensive and probably have relatively low markups. Some of the boxes for the Mr. Coffee coffee makers you can buy at Best Buy probably take up nearly as much space as does the box which contains a brand new Mac desktop and certainly more than a laptop. But the sales price and, most likely the profit, on the desktop and laptop I assure you is significantly higher than that of a coffee maker. And the same amount of shelf and storage space that Best Buy has to devote to its inexpensive $5 CD storage crates is enough to store and display several ipods which of which sells for signifincantly more than $5 each. Best Buy also devotes a significant amount of its store to CDs which it sells as a loss leader to encourage people to come into the store with the expectation that some of them will browse and make impulse buys on their more profitable merchandise.

To take another example, Wal-mart's Supercenter stores can be as large as 260,000 square feet. Wal-mart sells those "cup of soup" raman noodles for about 25 cents each and each cup takes up approximately about the same amount of space that an ipod does. Wal-mart would have to sell A LOT of raman noodles for the particular square feet of shelf space it devotes to them to even approach the sort of numbers that are quoted in that article.

According to a site I found via a quick google search, Wal-mart makes about $375 per square foot - much less than any of the stores mentioned in that article. Yet Wal-mart is the most successful retailer in the world and its management is certainly far from being irrational. Here is where I got that number from, and other chains are mentioned there as well: http://www.bizstats.com/realworld.htm

Observe that Barnes& Noble has the lowest sales per square foot of any of those listed. I doubt this that this is because their stores are badly designed but rather it is the nature of their business model. Barnes & Noble devotes a great deal of their store space to providing comfortable seating and gathering areas and actively encourages people to use them to browse through books and magazines they have no intention of buying and even to do things such as play cards and chess. There used to be a local book chain here in Fort Worth/Dallas called Taylors which resisted offering such unprofitable amenities in its stores - all of its store space was strictly devoted to merchandise only. I have no doubt that their sales per square foot when they had the market to themselves was much higher than Barnes & Noble or Borders. Yet as soon as Barnes & Noble and Borders came to town, Taylors went out of business (and made a big public whine fest about how "unfair" it was and threatened anti-trust lawsuites as well).

Edited by Dismuke
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Another factor with regard to sales per square foot also occurred to me. Apple Stores cater to a much more specialized crowd and are, therefore, able to draw from a much wider market area.

For example, in the entire Fort Worth/Dallas metro area, there are only 4 Apple Store locations - all of them located in very well-to-do sections of town. By contrast, there are 23 Best Buy locations. In the entire state of Texas there are only 10 Apple stores and, like the ones in Fort Worth/Dallas, they are all in well-to-do neighborhoods and are in major metro areas. Best Buy has stores in even the smaller cities such as Waco, Sherman, Wichita Falls, Killeen, Tyler, Longview etc. High-end stores of any variety rarely locate in such small cities simply because there is not a large enough population base to support them. So people in those cities with the interest and means to shop in high-end and highly specialized stores generally make periodic trips to the major metro areas to buy the sorts of items that the local stores do not sell - and I have no doubt that there are people from those cities who end up shopping at the Apple Stores when they make such trips to Fort Worth/Dallas. On the other hand, few people will drive to the other side of town, let alone a hundred miles, to shop at a mass market electronics store such as Best Buy - there are simply too many other places where they can get more or less the same experience closer to home.

On the link that I put up, Costco had the highest sales per square foot on the list. I have read quite a lot about their stores having a higher sales volume than rival Sams Club, owned by Wal-mart. But, here too, a similar principle operates. Costco carries somewhat more upscale merchandise than does Sams and people are willing to drive further for it as a result. Plus, there are some people whose pseudo self-esteem would be all shot to hell if they were seen shopping with all of the proles at Wal-mart or Sams - but, for whatever, reason, going to Target or Costco is, among that crowd of people, a more socially acceptable way of "slumming" (I have come across people on a different, non-Objectivist forum who actually have that sort of mindset) and will think nothing of driving past 2 Sams Club locations to buy the same case of Diet Coke at Costco that they could have picked up closer to home far easier and perhaps even for a little less.

Bottom line, sales per square foot between different companies selling different goods and services and catering to different markets are not an accurate apples to apples comparison by which one can judge either the success of the companies or the quality and rationality of management.

Edited by Dismuke
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There are entirely legitimate reasons for valuing certain things which have nothing to do with their objective philosophical value. It is entirely possible to say: "this is a really third-rate building/novel/painting/movie - but I love it."

If you acknowledge that something is crap how can you love it?

I'm a bit confused :(

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I don't know how relevant this fact is to the discussion, but it appears to me stores who design their buildings irrationally make far less per square foot (an important number in retail) then those who design their buildings rationally with a sense of purpose. As fact, let me run some numbers, according to Redherring (1):

Neiman Marcus: $611 per sq/ft

Best Buy: $930

Tiffany & Co: $2,666

Apple Computer: $4,032

In this entire list, Apple Computer's stores have the most logically, and rationally designed stores. They are also making the most sales per square foot. Coincidence? Your input please.

(1) http://www.redherring.com/Article.aspx?a=2...ector=Computing

Sales/ft2 is a rule of thumb that assumes that the product and profit distribution amongst the stores is roughly the same. if that is true then Rev/area is an interesting, and possibly valid comparison. It is most valid when you compare 2 pure play retailers roughly selling the same sorts of stuff to the same clients.

If not, then what you need to tranlate them into is Profit / $ invested or Return on Investment which factors in the margin made on that revenue, and the cost in fixed and inventory investments of the relative floor area. This may or may not hold the comparison true. Additionally, it woudl be worth comparing the enterprises as a whole, i.e. $ generated by retail as a percent of operations. What you may find is that Apple retail is only a small fraction of Apple's bus model and depends on other Apple business models as a base with much different returns. In other words if Apple couldn't have the same productivity out of its retail stores without it's other distribution operations, or without its investment in its brands, etc, then you may not be factoring all the relevant measures.

In general I agree that he more rational you are, the better off you will be, but in some ways that is a circular argument, because what is rational is highly contextual and has your end success factored into it.

Part of the issue here is that marketing in a lot of ways involves catering to the customers needs, which may or may not be based upon whim. There is a lot of stuff for which whim is just fine (Do I want a blue laptop or a red one). Maybe the toughest dilemma is is it proper to specifically market to the irrational (whim) when the irrational is immoral as well, and your customer audience is purely buying your product based upon that basis. i.e. marketing gambling to the "gambling addicted".

Edited by KendallJ
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If you acknowledge that something is crap how can you love it?

I'm a bit confused :dough:

The answer is: selectivity of focus.

Just because something such as a work of art or a building may not be worthy of praise as a whole, that doesn't mean that there can't be certain aspects of it that are well done and/or enjoyable.

For example, there are certain very early movie musicals from around 1929 that I really enjoy - but by any valid philosophical measure the movies are, at best, mediocre. Oftentimes the so-called "plot" is utterly banal and the acting......well, one begins to seriously think of the term "casting couch." Nevertheless, I still love the movies because I LOVE the incredibly upbeat, happy and highly entertaining music of that era and such movies sometimes featured a lot of it. They also featured dance numbers which, by the early 1930s were breathtaking both in terms of the choreography and the cinematography. Some of dance scenes in the old Busby Berkely musicals are like watching a kaleidoscope set to music - with the beautiful designs being made up of chorus girls. Plus, in some of those movies, one can get a glimpse of the wonderful spirit of that area which was so refreshingly absent of the cynicism and nihilism of today's pop culture and, for a brief moment, experience a world where people in their 20s looked like and acted like grown ups as opposed to today's world where lots of people in their 50s go around acting like and trying to look like overgrown teenagers. All of those things make such movies a great value to me - and I don't even worry about the bad acting or the dumb plots because I can always fast-forward over the scenes that I don't like.

My reasons for enjoying those particular aspects of such films are certainly valid and rational. But if I were to proclaim the films to be somehow "great movies" on that basis - well, that wouldn't be valid and would be a form of subjectivism. There are certain standards and criteria by which one must properly judge the objective merit of a movie - and the positive aspects that I mentioned constitute only a limited part of such criteria (cinematography) or are criteria that is utterly non-essential (the fact that people in the 1920s dressed well and acted like adults). So the only thing I can properly conclude about such a movie is: the movie is mediocre - but I LOVE it because everything about it is so 1920s.

Now, imagine for a moment if I suffered from the fallacy of rationalism and responded to such movies accordingly. As I watch the move, I REALLY enjoy the song and dance numbers but I find the acting and "plot" to be pathetic. Afterwards, I go through the checklist of objective criteria for judging movies and am forced to conclude that that movie is mediocre. Being a hard-core rationalist, I conclude that, if I take my explicit aesthetic and philosophical views seriously, my emotional response to such movies, must therefore, be consistent with my objective evaluation of it. Otherwise, there would be a dichotomy between my views and my values, that something would be wrong with me and that I obviously would have premises somewhere that need to be changed. So when I think back about the particular scenes and aspects of the movie that I enjoyed, I would be inclined to dismiss the significance of those scenes to me personally and to repress my enjoyment of them. And, if I still found myself wanting to watch those movies over and over again, I would find myself feeling guilty especially knowing that there are other movies out there that, by any objective measure, I would have to classify as being "great" that I don't get such emotional satisfaction from.

Think of all that I would have lost had I taken such an approach to those old movies - I would not only have missed out on the full enjoyment I get from watching them, I would have repressed and dismissed as "irrational" emotional responses which are perfectly valid and are rational. And if I did so in the name of some alleged fidelity towards "Objectivism" - well, I would not only have grossly misunderstood and misapplied the philosophy, I would have done so in such a way as to seemingly turn Objectivism against my values - values which mean a lot to me and which are perfectly valid within the context in which they are held.

Unfortunately, I have seen people who are new to the philosophy do just that - which is one of the reasons that this is such an important topic. In most cases, they fortunately grow out of it. But if they don't, in the long run the end up either being transformed into walking "randroids" or, more often, their inner worm finally rebels and they turn against Objectivism and frequently go around loudly denouncing the philosophy as some sort of dogmatic cult. Of course, Objectivism wasn't dogmatic - as rationalists, they were. And Objectivism isn't a cult - but as rationalists, they were looking for it to be one and, when things did not work out like they had hoped for, they turned against it blaming Objectivism and not themselves.

If you really enjoy something and you cannot see how it will cause you any sort of harm and it does not violate anyone's rights - well, the proper approach should be innocent until proven guilty and someone had better give you a damn good reason and back it up with LOTS of very concrete evidence before you will even consider giving it up.

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Wow, that was an excellent reply Dismuke.

I understand what you are saying, but I have difficulty in believing that this is what Objectivism actually holds to be true. If you are right then I need to vastly change my view of Objectivism! This could entirely be the case since I have only been studying it lightly for a couple of years.

If you genuinely value something - never repress it simply because it seems to be contrary to Objectivism. There is a reason you value it - and if you give it up before you fully understand that reason, you are actually making the same mistake that a second-hander does.

What if I value promiscuous sex? I look at a girl and objectively identify her as bad looking, but there are some aspects of her (namely the parts between her legs) that I can value therefore I go ahead and do it. There are other threads on this; the only reason I bring it up is because it is an extreme example that should help me in understanding this.

Now, imagine for a moment if I suffered from the fallacy of rationalism and responded to such movies accordingly. As I watch the move, I REALLY enjoy the song and dance numbers but I find the acting and "plot" to be pathetic. Afterwards, I go through the checklist of objective criteria for judging movies and am forced to conclude that that movie is mediocre. Being a hard-core rationalist, I conclude that, if I take my explicit aesthetic and philosophical views seriously, my emotional response to such movies, must therefore, be consistent with my objective evaluation of it..............

.................And, if I still found myself wanting to watch those movies over and over again, I would find myself feeling guilty especially knowing that there are other movies out there that, by any objective measure, I would have to classify as being "great" that I don't get such emotional satisfaction from.

If we replace "watching a movie" to "having sex with a girl", and things such as "acting", "plot", etc, to be aspects of that girl's physical appearance or personality, then we basically arrive at the conclusion that casual sex with girls who might not be up to standard, while not being objectively best, is still OK and one should not feel guilty about doing this.

Is my analogy valid?

If so, are my conclusions valid?

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  • 3 weeks later...
Now, let's take the example of an architect who will pretty much attempt to give his clients anything they want. If the client wants a classical house - no problem. If he wants a modernist office park - no problem. Is this architect necessarily a second hander? Again, it really comes down to context. Why did he become an architect and what value does he seek from being in the profession? Perhaps the stylistic aspects of the profession are secondary to him. Perhaps what he enjoys is the structural aspects. Perhaps what he enjoys is the challenge of accomplishing whatever goals his clients give him and being able to do so within the confines of a specific budget. If that is the value he seeks from his profession and the aesthetic aspects are secondary to him, it might be entirely appropriate for him to give people the sorts of facades they want in exchange for him being able to do the aspects of the job that he loves to do. He might not even care that someone like Ayn Rand might come along and comment that his buildings are third-rate. In fact, he might even agree with such an assessment and say that he has no desire to build only buildings which are first-rate aesthetically and that his primary objective is to create efficient floor plans or to find ways to maximize his clients' construction budget or even to simply get as much business as possible because he loves to remain busy. Such a person might even go so far as to say that he doesn't have the talent to be a Roark or a Wright or a Sullivan but that he gets a great deal of satisfaction out of being able to do a good job on the sort of projects that are within his sphere of competence. Nobody is ever likely to regard his buildings as examples of first hand aesthetic vision. But it does not follow that he is a second-hander and it certainly does not follow that he is irrational.

This is the only case where I would approve of doing what one would consider sub-par work: if the aspect that makes it sub-par is not what you derive value from.

It took me a few business classes before I realized that, in a world where businesses are focused on pleasing the customer at any cost, I will either not be successful, or will not enjoy what I'm doing. So I dropped that major. I think this mostly applies to the retail side of the business world, where the consumer wants the store to be pretty, etc. If you're selling industrial air conditioners for apartment buildings, you probably won't run into this problem as much.

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