Valid email addresses are required to post comments. If your comment is not posted, I will send you an email with an explanation.

Friday, April 15, 2016

See What You Believe

This is one piece of a continuing series of posts on school improvement reflecting my professional experience. I had prepared this manuscript for publication but time eluded me. The blog posts advance in time and concept in book-form beginning with the Blog post on March 21.

The Power of Perception

     This notion can be taken one step further as we explore the power of perception. Felix Cohen stated, “Facts we disbelieve, we call theory. Theories we believe we call facts.” (

     There’s nothing more futile looking than a dog unwittingly chasing its own tail. Nonetheless, school leaders often indulge in the same exercise when they fail to recognize the relationship between perception and reality. Many times perceptions and reality are perfectly correlated. Other times they are at odds with one another.

     Much of our responsibilities involve the dynamics of human interaction. The leader’s success in untangling the morass of opinions, beliefs, and values of multiple constituent groups is often dependent upon his/her social and emotional coordination. It is crucial, therefore, to understand that an individual’s perception can transform into their reality regardless of facts and data. And, in matters of importance, people can cling to misperceptions with the tenacity of a hungry dog clenching a bone in his teeth.

     The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard remains a classic study on advertising. (Packard. P. 16)  Clearly, advertising firms live or die on their ability to shape perceptions and convert them to wants and needs. Among the many studies supplied in his book, one jumps to mind.

     This study, performed under the auspices of the National Color Institute, involved women (Packard assembled his work in the 1950’s which may account for a sexist slant) who were provided three different boxes of laundry detergent to sample as part of a study. One cleaner was packaged in a bright, eye-catching yellow box. The next one was clad in a box of blue. The third was mostly blue with splashes of yellow. After months of testing the products the group of volunteers was polled on the performance of the three detergents.

     The vast majority of women claimed that the detergent in the blue/yellow box proved superior. Adjectives such as “wonderful” and “fine” were used to describe their judgement. This detergent produced brighter brights, and more colorful colors. The blue box was considered unimpressive. They claimed that detergent left their clothes dirty looking. In contrast, the women were severely critical of the yellow box detergent, stating it was too strong and even accusing its contents of producing stains and discoloration.

     Although the advertising company conducting the study informed the women that all three boxes had contained the very same detergent, the conviction of the women did not waver. They were unconvinced and reaffirmed their contention that the blue/yellow box harbored the better cleaner.

     Another study examined during a college psychology class escapes me now but the point remains. It also involves women and wash. An advertising firm tested the opinions of women with respect to the performance of washing machines from two different manufacturers. The participants were surveyed after months of using the two machines. The administrators of the study were amazed that the women overwhelmingly chose one brand over another despite the fact that the machine they chose experienced breakdowns while the competing brand had none.

     Confused by the women selecting the brand that required repair over the brand without such maintenance needs, they interviewed the subjects. The collective opinion asserted that even though the one brand demonstrated more problems they were confident that the company’s repairman would show up and do a great job. In other words, they trusted the company’s repairman whereas they could not be assured that the repairman of the brand lacking break downs would be timely in responding or skillful in his repair work. In effect, they overlooked the disparity in maintenance records and the superior performance of the better washing machine and instead placed their faith in the ability of the serviceman.    

     Finally, as an exclamation point to this issue, Peters describes another example of the power of perception in his book, A Passion for Excellence. (Peters and Austin, p. 75)  He shares an incident involving a customer’s complaint during a focus group meeting conducted by a supermarket intent on responding to the needs and wants of consumers.

     It seems that a woman accused the store of not providing fresh fish. It didn’t matter that the head of the seafood department could prove that he obtained the fish daily. The woman did not perceive the fish to be fresh because it was wrapped in plastic and encased in Styrofoam.

     Rather than refute the customer’s allegation, the store divided it’s fish into two different packages – half the fish remained under plastic for those customers who felt the fish was “cleaner,” and the other half were placed on a bed of ice for those people who equated this presentation as “fresher.” (note, following this decision to split the way the fish was presented, the sale of fish at the store rose considerably)  

     So there you have it. Opinions are borne out of our perceptions and shaped by our values. That’s hardly a novel thought. But, too few people recognize that injecting logic and/or statistics may prove a worthless waste of time in attempts to dislodge an individual’s construct of reality.

No comments:

Post a Comment