“Perception is reality”, is a prevalent claim in business. It’s akin to “the customer is always right” or “I give it 110%”. Everyone knows it’s a bogus claim. Even the true believers – “No, that’s really true! That’s the truth! You’re just misunderstanding it!” – don’t live that way consistently. After all, I perceive them as makers of bad business mythology. Is that reality? But that’s not what they mean at all, is it?
Perception isn’t reality; perception is perception. It’s important, but it isn’t everything. So what is really meant by such statements? Depends. It’s fairly flexible, but it’s usually some version of:
- I have something indefensible to say, but I expect you to accept it anyway.
- I don’t need reasons, only preferences. (Incidentally, preferences have reasons, too.)
- The truth is what I think it is, as long as I have the power to inflict some penalty or else enough people agree with me.
- The views of others are more important than truth.
- Popularity matters more than reality.
- People can hurt you if you don’t treat their ideas as real, no matter how flaky or irrational. So you should be concerned enough (afraid enough) to go along. Go along.
Where you can master perception, it’s when you’re making it agree with reality. If that’s not an option, choose reality, and let the chips fall where they may.Well, you can’t say much to people who think this way. It’s like someone insisting, ardently and wide-eyed, that the comet is coming, they’ll go live with the aliens, and brother so and so is really a great guy. They’re sure that you just don’t see it, and all the evidence backs them, and if you’ll just get four other people to go out and spread that message for you, you can run your own something, or score the magic power points.
In such cases, perception isn’t reality. It’s in contradistinction to reality. It’s a mockery of reality. A denial of the truth.
I was on the panel of a targeted selection interview once and, after the candidate left, one panel member said she just had a “check in her spirit” about the candidate. She just felt something telling her this is the wrong one. But she acknowledged that the candidate was fully qualified, handled the questions well, and was acceptable in all other ways. That particular panel member was an influential person, and it would have been considered unwise to confront her about the inappropriateness of such an approach to candidate selection.
Was perception reality? You true believers are still saying, “yes”. I know, and this blog post isn’t really for you. We hired the girl, and she became the only member of her training class to remain with the company, meet all the standards, and was the singular success of her group hire. Perception was wrong. Perception was myth. In fact, had perception been taken seriously, it would have created more myth: “so and so is really good at spotting people that won’t be successful with our company.” Perception was dangerous to the organization’s health.
I know that perception is important. Sometimes. Really, it can’t be all-important. Is perception more important than who you are? I mean, really, do you want to let everyone but you modify your identity? That’s certainly a recipe for therapy! And what about you? Don’t you get a say?
Screw perception; stick with what’s real – at least where there’s a contradiction. Where you can master perception, it’s when you’re making it agree with reality. If that’s not an option, choose reality, and let the chips fall where they may. In marketing, this means not claiming a sow’s ear is a silk purse; instead, it’s selling the benefits of a sow’s ear over those expensive, sweatshop-made imports.
There’s nothing as refreshing as reality. “Do you offer a guarantee?” I sometimes get asked. “I guarantee I’ll do certain things. I don’t guarantee you’ll get rich off of it. And neither should anyone else.” My sow’s ear kicks arse over a silk purse, and I let them know it. If they still want the silk purse, I don’t pretend – I give them a lead and move on. A lot of them come back for the sow’s ear later.
How’s that for avoiding the word “widget”?
Most of all, perception cannot be allowed to be the reality of your identity. You’ll never be sorry on your deathbed for being yourself; you’ll be sorry if you tried to be everything everyone else wanted you to be, and even sorrier if you succeeded. Never base your personality on consensus. Quotation of the day: “It’s better to apologize than ask permission.” When it comes to who you are, do neither.