Reality doesn’t exist

If anyone hasn’t already come across the Radio Labs podcasts, then I’m genuinely delighted to be the person who introduces them to you (I get a similar buzz when I introduce someone to TED). They are truly brilliant. They set a new bar for how radio and audio documentaries should be done. One of my all time favourites is the show on memory.

Memory, you probably know, is extremely subjective. What you might not know, like I didn’t, is that every time we access a memory, it reprints itself over the last version. Like opening a word document and being asked to “save as” when you’re exiting it. And we all know that when we’re asked to “save as”, it means some changes were made to the document, whether or not you realise you made them. So the memories you go back to all the time, the ones you remember so clearly because you revisit them frequently, are the most reprinted and therefore likely to be the most inaccurate. Your favourite memories could be the most false ones you hold. Our perception of our own past, changes every time we remember it.

Surely our present though, what we’re observing right now, is objective? No. We interpret everything. We give meaning to what we’re seeing, which shapes how we see it. Which is why two people can experience the same event and have completely different views on what happened – and neither is lying. And it’s why if you tell someone that they are drinking an expensive wine, they will enjoy it more than if you tell them they are drinking a cheap wine. They’re not just saying they enjoy it more. The fMRI scan will show that they are physically experiencing more activity in the pleasure centres of their brain.

So what does all this actually mean? Other than being a bit of a mindfuck.

It means that perception is more important than reality. It means that it doesn’t matter how objectively good an individual is at their job, what matters is how good they are perceived to be by coworkers. It doesn’t matter how creative an agency is in producing ideas, what matters is their perceived credibility in the marketplace. And it doesn’t matter how brilliant your product performance is, what matters is the perception of your product performance – which is a different thing altogether.

We usually put far too much of our focus into trying to change objective reality. Whereas often it’s more effective to change subjective perceptions. Which are influenced by context, framing and how we weave our stories. This insight is at the heart of what marketing does. We direct perception. Because we recognise how much more potent it is than reality.

  1. A great post and so ‘true.’ I just have to make a point. Radio Lab is an NPR production, and the US Congress has deemed in all their infinite wisdom that all government funding to NPR be cut in the new budget. Their perception is that NPR is frivolous which, for most of us who listen, is absurd.

  1. August 19th, 2011

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