REALITY IS IRRELEVANT

I recently watched a TED talk by a professor from The Columbia Business School.
I wasn’t expecting much.
I was wrong.
An elegant Asian woman with a long white cane walks to the podium.
She’s obviously blind.
She reads from her notes, in Braille.
Her name is Sheena Iyegur and her lecture is about choice, and the assumptions we make about it.
1) We think choice is a good thing.
2) We think the more choice the better.
3) We think we should always choose for ourselves.
She begins challenging those assumptions, one by one.
One by one she shows that our assumptions aren’t infallible.
1) Choice isn’t always a good thing.
2) More choice isn’t always better.
3) Sometimes we’re better off not choosing for ourselves.
In fact, choice itself can be an illusion.
Not a fact at all.
She said sometimes the most interesting examples of choice happen to her because she’s blind.
This makes her an outsider in a sighted world.
Which makes her better able to observe it.
She was at a cosmetics counter trying to choose a shade of nail varnish.
She asked two sighted women which shade of red they thought went best with her skin tone.
One said she thought a colour called ‘Adorable’ was best
The other said she preferred a colour called ‘Ballet Shoes’.
The blind professor asked them to describe the difference.
Both women agreed they’d describe ‘Adorable’ as more glamorous and ‘Ballet Shoes’ as more elegant.
So it would depend on what mood she was in, what clothes she was wearing, whether it was evening or daytime, and what sort of occasion she was wearing it to.
The professor found this intriguing.
Because she couldn’t see either of the colours, she found herself being influenced by the names.
She wondered if that was true of sighted people, too.
She decided to conduct an experiment.
She got her team, at Columbia University, to recruit a group of women.
They removed the labels from the nail varnish and asked the women which they preferred.
An interesting thing happened.
Straight away fifty per cent of the women accused her of asking them a trick question.
They were convinced the bottles were the identical nail varnish.
So she got her team to reattach the labels to the bottles.
When they brought them back, roughly half the women chose ‘Adorable’ and the other half chose ‘Ballet Shoes’.
So she got her team to take them out, switch the labels and bring them back.
This time the same women chose the same name, even though it was now attached to the other bottle.
The interesting thing for me is what it shows us about how the mind works.
Not just the consumers’ minds, our minds.
We already know that, in a parity situation, brand can influence choice.
We know, everything else being equal, brand is often the only differentiator.
We know. when there’s nothing to choose between two products, consumers will choose brand.
We all know that.
But the three key phrases there are “in a parity situation”, “everything else being equal”, and “when there’s nothing to choose”.
That’s usually when the name (the brand) makes a difference.
In our business we have a prejudice that people always, and only ever, buy brands.
That nothing else is ever important.
We don’t even need to look at the product being sold, just the brand.
Just like the ladies in those groups, we don’t bother looking at reality.
We don’t question reality the way the blind professor could.
Lack of eyesight made her use her brain instead.
Because she couldn’t see what the others saw, she couldn’t be complacent.
And she saw something much deeper.

She saw that people, and that means us, choose what’s in their head not what’s in reality.

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    Apparently Double double chocolate cake always tastes better than Double chocolate cake, even when it’s the same cake.

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    it’s the same with crits. people/we can crit what we think we see i.e. what’s in our heads, not what’s in front of us. it’s very hard for anyone to be completely objective.

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    Fascinating Dave – makes u wonder does the imagination become more vivid when the eyes cannot see + paradoxically, do u actually see a lot more?

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    Sheena is….a think rocker

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    Policemen see better. Blind people see better. What next? One thing you’re right about though. I’d be better off not choosing bf’s for myself I can tell you that much. I think I would choose better if I was blind. It can’t be worse. Or maybe they should be blind ’cause I can tell you what’s driving their choice and it aint the label.

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    It’s called proprioception.
    When you close your eyes and ears,
    your brain can still tell your muscles exactly where to go
    even down to the ability of selecting one object from a
    group of different ones on a table.

    Until reading this I believed touch must be the ultimate
    in basic senses but it is not.

    The ability to calculate the force required to move an
    object a certain distance far outweighs touch as a sense
    if we are devoid of all other senses.

    However, both require judgement whereas most people
    rarely question what they see or hear.

    People often judge on face value, or to put it another way:-
    Contempt prior to investigation.

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    Jesus Dave, at least get her name right.

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    Fair point, her name is Sheens Iyengar and this is the link: http://blog.singhanuvrat.com/miscel/ted-talks-sheena-iyengar-on-the-art-of-choosing

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    Thanks for the link Dave.
    That’s very powerful stuff.
    Fascinating how one culture will consider their choice to be successful by peer pressure whilst another culture considers the unlimited individual right to choose as key.
    What this tells me is self and origin of society are innately one.
    And that means we all have no choice at all because we do not choose the society to which we are born into but simply react according to our preconditioning through culture, era and events beyond our control.

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    Hi Kevin,
    I agree, it’s true we don’t have a choice.
    Until we realise we don’t have a choice, then we have a choice.
    In realising we are mentally shackled, we are at least in a better position to do something about the shackles.
    As Lao Tzu said “The wise man knows he doesn’t know. The fool doesn’t know he doesn’t know.”

  • Ant Melder

    Hi Steve. The writer Julie Burchill has a great maxim along these lines: “If it ain’t broke – break it.” 

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