The Purpose of “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.” - Bruce Turkel

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I remember an example of the power of great copywriting, where adding one simple word doubled a product’s sales almost overnight.

The product was shampoo. The word was “repeat.” The new line that sold so much more shampoo was, “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.”

Of course we all know this isn’t true. After all, what that line really suggests is that the shampoo isn’t very good. If it was, you wouldn’t have to wash your hair twice, would you?

But look carefully; the story’s veracity is not even a matter of double rinses. Because if these instructions were taken literally, the result would be an endless loop of repeating the steps over and over and over – a mobius strip of washing and rinsing. There’s even a computer coding model called the Shampoo Algorithm that explores this phenomenon.

According to Wikipedia, this idea of “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.” is from a Benjamin Cheever novel titled The Plagiarist. In it, an advertising exec increases the sales of his client’s shampoo by adding the word “repeat” to its instructions.

So what is the purpose of “Lather, Rinse, Repeat.” then? To sell more shampoo, of course.

But despite all this, chances are good that when you wash your hair, you still follow these steps. Funny thing is I do, too. And I know better.

So what else do we do even though we know that our activities are unnecessary or wasteful and that our reasons for doing so are specious as well?

Don’t worry, you don’t have to embarrass yourself by answering out loud. Nor am I going to cop to a list of my own misdirected activities. Instead, the value of this example is that it can help us look a little more carefully at why we do what we do and use that knowledge to make our businesses—and our lives—better.

From the time we’re old enough to listen, we’re told what is expected of us. Our parents, friends, neighbors, teachers, as well as movie makers, advertisers, celebrities, politicians, and famous sales speakers tell us where to go to school, where to go to college, and maybe even where to live. They tell us to get a job, get married, have children, raise a family, and do all the other things that will fulfill their expectations, if not our own. 

These opinions of what we should do with our lives can include acceptable schools, acceptable careers, and even acceptable partners and lifestyles.

Are you still living the life your parents wanted for you? In 2017 the AARP reported that Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980) were no longer interested in the same things their Baby Boomer parents (born between 1946 and 1964) wanted. According to Patty David, consumer insights director, Gen Xers’ idea of the American Dream was to focus on “well-being, to be healthy and not worry about the big expensive things and having all the money.”

How can you achieve this?

Jim Collins wrote about Catalytic Mechanisms in the Harvard Business Review. He called it “a simple yet extremely powerful managerial tool that helps organizations turn goals into results.” 

Collins describes his catalytic mechanisms as having five distinct attributes:

1. It produces desired results in unpredictable ways.

2. It distributes power… to the great discomfort of those who traditionally hold power.

3. It has teeth.

4. It ejects values that don’t fit.

5. It produces an ongoing effect.

Collins is obviously talking about business. But his same points can also describe activities you can use to find purpose in your own life. 

Think about the catalytic mechanisms in your life. Think about how the things you have done, (or the things you failed to do) were initiated by activities outside your control. These occurrences (or catalytic mechanisms) often had an enormous influence on who you’ve become and who you spend your life with. Further, they influence what you do, what you are going to do, and how you are going to do those things. 

Kinda like a more complicated version of… Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

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