What are you willing to trade for convenience? A marinated steak sure beats a McRib in my opinion, but that drive-thru and the exchange of $2 versus a couple of $20s is very handy. The truth is, according to journalist and author Kevin Maney’s latest book, Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t, most of us are willing to trade the quality of almost any experience for the ease of getting it. He calls it the ‘fidelity swap,’ a swap that could be the key to countless business successes and failures.

    Fidelity is the ‘here and now,’ the experience of seeing Bruce Springsteen perform live at Madison Square Garden, watching Albert Pujols approach home plate from a seat in Busch Stadium, or meeting someone for a cup of coffee instead of talking to them on the phone. It’s the total experience and all that goes into it. 

    Convenience, on the other hand, boils down to just how easy or how hard it is to get what you want. In play with convenience is everything from ease to cost. Maney, who gained prominence as a writer for USA Today, uses music as an example. “A downloaded song from iTunes is tremendously convenient,” he writes. “It’s available anytime, easy to use and inexpensive.” The downside to the download, Maney continues, is its quality or relatively low fidelity since it typically has ten times less audio information than the same song on that performer’s CD.

    Added to the fidelity-convenience equation are several other things the author has discovered.  First, nothing about the fidelity swap stays fixed. Why? Technology is consistently taking us to the next level in both fidelity and convenience. For good or bad, we, as a society, are advancing with every innovation. Second, there is a risk that a product or service ends up neither high fidelity nor high convenience. The result is failure, what the author calls the ‘fidelity belly’ with all the other also-rans that didn’t keep up with technology or improve their services over time. Third, you can’t have both high fidelity/high convenience. According to Maney, the companies who try to have it all end up losing it all.

    The author makes it clear that the ultimate decision on how good you really are is made by the customer and how they perceive you. Are you about fidelity or convenience? And if you find that you are neither, perhaps it’s time to have a candid conversation within your organization. 

    Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t is a great read full of countless examples of businesses finding their way through the strategic thinking that goes on every day in the marketplace. As good as the book is the candor by which author Keith Maney answered my questions during an exclusive interview. I invite you to listen to it at webster.edu/wsbt/bookclub. It’s a high fidelity choice!  LN

Benjamin Ola.  Akande is Dean of the George Herbert Walker School of Business and Technology and chief of corporate partnerships at Webster University. Follow him on Twitter: @Benjamin_Akande