I watched a new program last night on the Food Network. It is called Hungry Games and it is based on the premise that we build up perceptions of what things should taste like and either accept or reject them based on our own paradigms. For instance, they used ice cream. We all know ice cream is supposed to taste sweet. It has always tasted sweet. So they created a new ice cream flavor that looked like strawberry, but in fact contained small flecks of smoked salmon. Then they gave away free samples and asked the recipients what they thought. Virtually all disliked it noting that it had a fishy taste or that it was not sweet. No one finished their sample. However, they then spread it on crackers and gave away samples of what they called “salmon mousse”. Those that sampled it were generally in agreement that it had a nice flavor and texture and that they would probably buy it. The conclusion was that a lot of what we choose to eat has a lot to do with how we expect it to taste.
I think that the premise transcends our epicurean choices. It is mired in our psyche and drives a lot of our choices, decisions, and opinions. We approach most things with a recollection of prior interfaces during which we formed an opinion, so we begin by judging how they live up to what we think they should be, good or bad. If we didn’t like something the first time, we are probably going to be a lot more judgmental the next time. We expect to be disappointed.
I am reminded of an incident that happened several years ago. My years in business had educated me to the fact that employees, any employees, from the staff to management, share a degree of disdain, or at least distrust for their company. In this particular case, it was nearing Christmas. My wife, who has always been skilled at crafts, had seen a pattern for home made Christmas ornaments that she liked. As such, she decided to make 20 of them, one for each of the members of my team. Admittedly, they were homespun and would not match everyone’s taste, but they were well made and I was not ashamed to give them. So one morning I arrived a little earlier and placed one on each of the desks. As people began arriving, I saw them examining the ornaments and commenting among themselves. I overheard such things as “is this the best the company can afford” and “I wonder if this is in lieu of a Christmas party”. As the morning wore on and some of them began to compare notes with members of the other teams, they began to realize that not everybody got one. This of course gave rise to additional conferences and considered opinions as to where they came from. It was looking like their original conclusion was suspect. It took until about mid morning before one of them was elected to approach me with the burning question “do you know where these came from?”
“Yes” I said. “My wife made one for each of you. I hope you like them, but if not, feel free to give yours to someone who may want it”. Then I waited.
After about a half hour, the first person appeared at my door asking me to thank my wife for the nice ornament. Then others slowly began showing up to tell me how cute they thought they were and how much they appreciated the gesture. I am sure some of them were sincere and I am equally as sure that some of them were blowing smoke. But the bottom line was in their progression of thought based on their perception of the source. They say perception is reality. I guess they are right.