Faustian bargains

Cynical as I am, I often forget that ‘you never get something for nothing’ when caught in the process of hunting for a bargain. I don’t know whether it is some inbuilt hunter-gatherer instinct, the thrill of the chase, but it is all too easy to think there are easy wins out there.

So I am trying to think of Faust when I see anything that seems like a bargain. It changes my perspective, making the downside in every deal more apparent, whether a buy 3 for the price of 2 in the supermarket, a free wine tasting, a wonder cure, a way technology can do it ‘better’…

I like to apply this cynicism to the popular SWOT analysis management tool. Too often I’ve seen a long list of strengths and a very short list of weaknesses. To break this over optimism, I’ve found it useful to force there to be a weakness or threat to correspond to every strength or opportunity – to see the flipside of every aspect. As with David and Goliath the big strengths can hide the crucial weaknesses.

Whether you are formally analysing options or just thinking about making a life change I’d keep that bit of cyncism in your back pocket: does that new iphone free you or just make you constanty at someone else’s beck and call; or – to return to Faust – is all the knowledge on the internet worth the diabolical distraction.


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