Locksmith Paradox

“Faster value is perceived as worse.”

I once slept in a Walmart parking lot in West Virginia. Late that night, I arose to use the restroom and locked myself out of my car, sealing my keys, phone, and wallet inside. I wandered into the store, and a cashier was kind enough to call me a locksmith. Fifteen minutes later, Steve Locksmith (this was his actual name, according to his business card) showed up in a rusty truck, smoking a cigar. With a metal stick and a wedge of wood, he opened my door in under a minute. I paid him $40, and he was on his way. Immediately, I felt like a fool—I could’ve done this myself if I had a doorstop and a stick!

Here’s the paradox: A locksmith who quickly and smoothly fixes a troublesome lock makes you value their work less. Steve Locksmith saved me both time and money (he didn’t break my door, spurring more repairs), yet I perceived his value as lower. If he had sweat and swore and taken thirty minutes, I would’ve felt $40 was a steal, even though that was objectively lower value.

This paradox applies to many areas. For instance, I’m considering spending $5000 on corrective eye surgery that finishes in 17 seconds per eye. I’m happy that the surgery is so short, but I can’t help but devalue the benefit (unassisted perfect vision forever) due to the shortness of the operation.

Don’t assume great things require time. Sometimes, the best value is delivered quickly and simply.