A Consumer Mindset: the 'prison-cell' of the poor

2013-04-03 04:59

The gap between the rich and the poor can ultimately be attributed to: on which side of the fence are you – that of a consumer or that of a supplier/ provider. It starts with the mindset. Allow me…

The Consumer Mindset believes that there is someone who will provide the goods and services that I am prepared to consume and I stand prepared to pay. The mindset finds joy in assessing  whether the offering is good enough or not, and constantly complains when what is offered is substandard. The Consumer Mindset does not spare a thought of what has happened throughout the value chain before the product/ service ultimately reached him. People with a Consumer Mindset take pride in their consumer status as a way of defining ‘success’ or the illusion thereof.

On the other side of the fence is the Mindset of a Supplier/ Provider of Service. Unlike the Consumer Mindset, the satiation point on this side of the fence is defined by how many consumers are there for the product/ service. This mindset is concerned about what else can I offer to the Consumers or how can I make more Consumers.

Naturally, we are all consumers in one way or the other. But, we become consumers because someone chose to go the other side of the fence and be a provider/ supplier. If I were to thumb-suck statistics, I would say the split is more like 10/90. 10% produce and supply all the products and services required by the 90%.

And this is primarily how the rich get richer, and the poor poorer. Being on either side starts with the mindset. More often than not, our upbringing, education, culture and environment play a pivotal role in instilling a particular mindset.

When my son was about 2 years old, he asked me and his mother “why do you have to go work all the time”, and we proudly explained to him that we go to work so that we will have money and be able to buy him stuff. Being at an age of loving money already, he was happy with the reason and always understood why we have to leave him behind and go to work. Recently - he’s now 4 and goes to a crèche - he asked another question: “why do I have to go school everyday?”. Again, proud parents of an inquisitive mind, we explained to him: “you have to go school so that when you grow up you will work and have money”. Again, that was a perfect answer for him – he now looks forward to going to school, with the aspiration of working and having his own money to buy what he wants.

In retrospect, I think I could have done much better. What we actually gave him is a seed towards a ‘consumer mindset’. There is a Zulu saying that goes “lugotshwa lusemanzi” (meaning: you can bend a branch while it’s still young and supple). I could have imparted a different seed, gave him a different mindset. How about “you go to school so that you will be able to run your own toy-shop and sell toys to other kids one day” or “if you go to school, you will be able to have your own ice-cream truck and sell ice-cream to other kids”. It may have been too much for his little brain to comprehend at the time, but if that is the only explanation he had, he would spend the next few years of growing up trying to grasp this - and hopefully make it his reality.

Every time I buy him ice-cream, he would always look at himself from the other side of the fence, as the seller of the ice-cream. Whenever I buy him toys, he will look forward to being the one on the other side, having all the toys and selling to other kids.

And this is the diagnosis for the majority of us young people: we have too much of a consumer mindset – yet we aspire for economic freedom. We always look at things from the perspective of a consumer, rather than the supplier, or service provider. Something is ‘good’ only if it appeals to our tastes and preferences. People on the other side of the fence, define something as ‘good’ if it there are enough ‘consumers’ to take it up.

It doesn’t even have to be the majority; a simple minority is enough to make a business case to move across.

For a simple example, look at the soapie, Generations, on SABC1. Most ‘urban’ young adults consider it a sub-par show and they never bother watching it (or rather, watch it but secretly). As far as most are concerned, it should be scrapped altogether and replaced with a new show that will appeal to their audience. This is looking at it from a consumer perspective.

Let’s look at it from the other side of the fence, the ‘supplier’ perspective. Generations is the most watched TV show on local TV – TAMS Rating put the viewership at about 7 million, compared to the other favourite ‘Isidingo’ at 1.3 million. Per the SABC rate card, the ad slot during Generations is still the most expensive and lucrative, at R140,000 per 30 seconds, Isidingo’s ad slots on the other hand go for about R53,000 per 30sec. While from your perspective, it does not make sense to keep it on air, from a ‘business’ perspective it does not make sense to scrap it? Out of a population of 50 million, only 7 million watch the show, and that is more than enough. That’s looking at things from the other perspective. Who is on the other side? The SABC, the producers, the cast, crew, dressers, editors, advertisers, etc – from their perspective, Generations is a success. Which mindset do you have? How does that mindset limit your thinking? Does it blind you from seeing potential opportunities?

Every time you spend money on something, try look at it from the other perspective, that of the ‘supplier’ or ‘provider’. Could you have been the one on other side? Look at the entire value-chain before it reached you – could you have been involved somewhere, somehow in the process? Or you just want to ‘judge’ the final product according to your taste as a consumer?

When the government announces plans to spend R800 billion on infrastructure, the ‘consumer mindset’ thinks: “oh there’s gonna be corruption”, “the same old guys will get the tender”, “can’t wait till they finish the construction, so I can consume” or even “I want to get a job in the Gautrain consortium”. But someone on the other side is concerned with “where can I get involved to get even a 0.01% of this spending”, “what can I supply”, “what can I provide”? What can you do that you can put you on the other side of the fence? Don’t just be a consumer.

You may be saying, but I have a job and I’m ‘supplying’ my skill in this job. Well done for availing your skill to the other side of the fence – they appreciate it. But, working for Vodacom does not make you a ‘communications services provider’. Working for FNB does not necessarily make you a ‘financial services provider’ nor does it make you ‘the most innovative person in the world’. You are well paid, I agree – which makes you a good consumer for those services. Remember, the house always wins. The house pays you after it’s paid itself. Don’t you aspire to be the ‘house’ for something, anything?

Are you a great communicator? It’s not only meant to help you charm ladies or entertain your friends with your curatorship – you have in your hands something for which there is a consumer on the other side. But you won’t see that as long as you have a consumer mindset too.

If you are a good writer, that could be your offering, if you have the right mindset. Instead of having a ‘way with words’ on twitter or facebook, why don’t you think higher than that – there is a consumer out there for someone who has ‘a way with words’. Move.

You page through your favourite magazine and complain about how substandard it is. Or you could think about how you can involve yourself in the process of that very magazine. It could be you who wrote that pay-off line on that ad; or modelling that dress you saw there and liked. It could be you who provided logistics for the distribution of the mag. But hey, it’s easier to just sit back and complain because somehow the magazine is no longer to your tastes as a ‘consumer’. The guys on the other side (printers, advertisers, editors, writers, logistics, etc), are smiling on yet another successful publication made possible.

When you drive that fancy car, or page through your favourite CAR magazine, what goes through your mind the most? That ‘this is my dream car’? or ‘I would like to work for BMW one day’? Do you ever think about actually owning a BMW or Audi dealership one day? Does that ever cross your mind? Or that kind of thinking is reserved for certain individuals, not you, the loyal consumer. What’s your thinking like?

The Book of Proverbs says “as a man thinks, so is he…” - so, what of thinkest thou that maketh thee? Whatever is out of the ordinary, whatever is daring, whatever is potentially economically liberating – think about such things.

Young people, we’re in the 2nd quarter of the year – touch, let’s go!

Gayton McKenzie calls it ‘Hustling’. DjSbu calls it ‘ghubuluzing’. Whatever you call it, just do it.

A similarly toned article I wrote a while ago – Black people, let us READ a bit more… you check it out too.

Until next time, you can follow me on twitter @xolanik

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