Do you remember seeing the Sharper Image stores that were found in nearly two hundred malls around the country? After thirty years of retailing innovative gadgets, it failed and folded in 2008.
Entering a Sharper Image store was a visual extravaganza. Brushed stainless steel, colorful glowing lights, gently oscillating fans and air-purifiers, irresistible massager chairs in elegant leather, and a cornucopia of gadgets overwhelmed the eye. I found it almost impossible to stroll by that store without entering. Though I confess that I seldom bought anything.
It turns out that I wasn’t alone. In the 80s and 90s, cutting edge technological innovation for better living was usually found in specialty stores like Sharper Image. However, within a few years one could obtain the same advanced functionality from gadgets sold at Office Depot and Best Buy. Sharper Image lost its competitive edge. Richard Thalheimer, its founder, confesses to having become complacent.
Obviously, complacency is just as lethal to a business professional as it is to an Olympic competitor. What complacency sank Sharper Image? It was mostly failure to recognize that once the novelty faded, high-tech gadgetry would eventually become commoditized. Once that happened, customers were no longer lured by spectacularly eye-catching displays. They now shop for features not flashiness.
As merchants and retailers realize, customers are seduced by their eyes. This is why companies that market fluffy merchandise know to advertise on television and not radio. If their customer sees their product, they stand a far better chance of selling than if the customer merely hears about the product.
And it behooves us all to realize the extent to which we can also be seduced by our eyes into making bad decisions.
Consider these words:
You shall not pervert judgment…nor take a bribe; for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise…
Ancient Jewish wisdom declares that if two litigants stand before the bench in a civil trial, one wearing the clothing of the successful and well-to-do, while the other is dressed in a way suggesting financial hardship, the judge is required to send them away. He must instruct them to return only when they are dressed similarly for fear he might favor the richer of the two.
One of my great teachers said to me, “But what’s the point? Even if he returns in rags, the judge already knows he is the richer litigant?” I remember being baffled until he continued speaking. “He might well know in his head but not in his heart.” A judge can combat the evil tendency to favor the successful as long as it is in his head. But if it goes to the heart, it becomes much tougher.
As Woody Allen notoriously said in explanation for his immoral behavior, “The heart wants what the heart wants.” If the judge sees a rich person versus a poor person, his heart will want to favor the one more likely to help him in the future. But if he knows in his head which is poor and which is rich he can better win that moral struggle with himself. Having the two litigants appear in similar clothing removes the dangerous emotional appeal.
It is valuable to understand that when Scripture talks of a ‘judge’ it doesn’t mean only an official of the judiciary. Scripture is talking to each one of us. After all, there is hardly an hour of the day when we are not acting as a judge. Perhaps you are choosing one brand of breakfast cereal over another for your family. One is less expensive while the other claims unique benefits. You’re the judge. Perhaps you are choosing one candidate for employment over another. You’re the judge. Perhaps you are deciding which of your children was the aggressor in a recent argument. You’re the judge. No matter the circumstances, it always pays to remember how easy it is for a ‘bribe’ to blind the eyes of the wise.
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