I once read about a psychological study designed to see how people would react to flawed reasoning, even when it flew in the face of their own very sensible judgment. It was quite revealing.
In the study two people, A and B, were seated on opposite sides of a dividing wall, looking at a screen. Each person was instructed to learn by trial and error how to recognize the difference between slides of healthy cells and sick cells.
For each slide, they had to push one of two buttons in front of them, “Healthy” or “Sick,” at which point one of two lamps, labeled “Right” and “Wrong,” would light up.
Person A received true feedback, meaning that his “Right” lamp would light up when he was correct and his “Wrong” lamp would light up when he was incorrect. These people--the As--learned to tell the difference between healthy and sick cells with a high level of accuracy.
Person B’s situation was quite different. His right or wrong lamps lit up based not on his own guesses but on Person A’s guesses. He didn’t know it, but he was searching for an order where none could possibly exist.
A and B were then asked to work together to establish the rules for determining healthy vs. sick cells.
The As told the Bs what they had learned and what simple characteristics they had looked for to tell the difference. Bs’ explanations, by necessity, were subtle and quite complex--and completely bogus.
Here’s the amazing part. After their collaboration, all Bs and nearly all As came to believe that the delusional B had a much better understanding of healthy vs. sick cells.
In fact, As were impressed with Bs' sophisticated brilliance, and felt inferior because of the pedestrian simplicity of their assumptions.
In a follow-up test, the Bs showed almost no improvement, but the As' scores dropped because the As had incorporated some of Bs' completely baseless ideas.
This study teaches us two important aspects with regards to branding or, for that matter, any business concept.
First, once an explanation for something has taken hold of our minds, information that should refute that explanation may produce not an appropriate change of mind but rather an elaboration of the flawed explanation.
It also teaches us to beware (be aware) of abstruse ideas, no matter how convincing the presentation or how brilliant the so-called expert.
The signal-to-noise ratio in the fields of branding and marketing is becoming dangerously low as the level of background noise becomes more and more obtrusive. If you're an A in this environment, you should be very, very careful. And try like hell to stay away from the growing number of Bs.
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