Caveat Venditor (Seller Beware)

Anyone who has ever bought a used car (or any used item for that matter) knows the fear of buying a lemon. “What do they know that I don’t?”

In economics-speak, we call this asymmetric information. It means one party has more information than the other. If the seller that has more information than the buyer, “caveat emptor.” That’s Latin for “let the buyer beware” and Brooklyn for “sucker.” If, however, the buyer has more information than the seller, “caveat venditor.” That’s Latin for “let the seller beware” and SNL for “really!?!”

The internet changed the balance of information.  Google searches, Amazon and Yelp reviews collectively have done more to increase the risk of selling lemons than anyone likely imagined. By increasing the availability of information alongside the stakes of public reputation, we’ve greatly altered the balance from sellers to buyers in a relatively short amount of time.

The stakes are highest in the more technical (traditionally “white collar”) professions. How so? Ask a friendly doctor what they think of WebMD. Not all information should be assessed equally. A Yelp review for poor food or service at a restaurant may be a good flag to raise when you’re figuring out where to eat in a new neighborhood, but a complex diagnosis or anything that can be answered with “it depends” probably shouldn’t be so easily summarized within Google’s top search results.

The opportunity is in recognizing that not everybody has accepted the realities of our current environment. For smart professionals in the technical fields of medicine, law, finance, etc., the objective is to embrace the fact that buyers currently have too much information. I’m not arguing that we should weaponize the noise, but I am arguing that there is power in developing our strategy to curate information for people in a way that they can understand and use to their advantage – with our help.

You may be thinking that this is no different from how it’s always been, that curation has always been king. That’s true to a degree. The difference is how many ideas (including other well-communicated ideas) that people can put into their own heads before we get a shot at our first interaction with them. If we don’t know how to navigate this modern noise, they’ll never find their way to our shores.

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