Monday, April 17, 2006

Perception vs. Perception 

I was helping my neighbor do a repair yesterday. He's a VP of marketing at a large firm in Manhattan, and a bit of a merry fellow. At one point when I was fitting a handmade part into a large patio umbrella I was fixing for him, he commented that it was going to work perfectly. I looked at him and said one should not be so sure. He said in return he was always optimistic about such things. I responded, "That's why you're in marketing, and I'm in PR."

He was right, by the way. The part is apparently working well. But, I walked away and thought about my remark. There was some truth in it, although there are many marketing-oriented PR people who are by nature optimistic. However, most PR people I know have a cautious view. They have seen Murphy's Law in action and cleaned up too many messes to believe life works according to plan. Perhaps that is one reason why former news people do well in PR. News people report less on what works and more on what has failed.

It dawned on me that after all these years in PR, I might have missed a truth at the root of it. I prefer to think of myself as a realist, as someone who looks at life the way it is and not the way I want it to be. My neighbor prefers to look at life the way it could be and to work hard to get it there. Who's right?

In the end, my neighbor is more right than I am because he is better fitted for the spirit that drives companies forward. He's not one who sits in meetings and says, "Yes, but..." He assumes he will win -- and he does more often than not. On the other hand, such people are prone to rationalize failures into success because their perception of events is always turned to the positive. I, on the other hand, fail to see success when it occurs because I'm always worried about the failure.

In the end, it takes both perceptual states to balance communications toward what is more likely to be the truth of events, but that is never easy because we never see things the same way. It requires tolerance and willingness to admit error.

Or, you could be in public opinion polling. In that case, you'd say the part will work perfectly 19 times out of 20, with a margin of error of 3.2%.

Your other neighbour the mobster would say it would be a shame if the part was to suddenly stop working perfectly. An occurrence you could prevent with a simple payment.

You're right. Our perceptions have a big influence on how we approach a project, and I'd rather have a gung-ho type around to balance my inclination to perceive disaster behind every door.

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