It's possible to know too much

Tim Harford‘s current BBC2 series ‘Trust Me I’m An Economist’ can be occasionally infuriating – but I guess that’s the nature of economics. After several years studying it at university, I still saw it more as an art than a science. Too many ‘if’s.

Although he doesn’t refer to it in his write-up, this week’s episode made some interesting points about asynchronous information – where one side in a negotiation knows more than the other. He used the example of a second-hand car salesman: he knows the whole truth about that car you’re looking at, but you’ll never know if he’s telling you the whole truth (unless you negotiate some kind of no-strings cooling-off period).

Then, reading an equally challenging piece by Seth Godin about the futility of job interviews, I recalled an incident that happened to me recently. I went to speak to someone pretty well-known in the UK new media industry about a possible job opportunity. I already read his blog on a daily basis, so I knew a surprising amount about his interests and opinions. When he asked a question, I knew what answer he was looking for.

It was a very uncomfortable experience. One side did know more than the other… but this time, it was the buyer (me) rather than the seller (him). I suppose I could have just repeated his opinions back to him; he would have thought ‘wow! what a great guy!’ Instead I tried to ‘explore the situation’ a bit; I realised we were breaking new ground in post-blogging etiquette, and I wanted to see where it would go.

It didn’t go anywhere.