What Is Real?

Peering through the smoke…

Once, a few years ago, working on a radio project in New York city, I witnessed something incredible.

I’d arrived early at the office and was using the conference room to work, the site of that day’s research presentation.

The research company team came in, followed a few minutes later by the Radio Group’s VP of Programming. He wanted to see a 5-minute version of their presentation, including key slides.

It was immediately apparent that the conclusions based upon the research were at odds with the station’s direction, but rather than seeing that as helpful, the VP saw it as dangerous.

The first thing he said was that the entire presentation needed to be shorter. It needed to be distilled into about 5 slides. He claimed this was because anything longer would lose the interest of the Group’s president — the guy who would be making the ultimate decisions for this station, who would also be present that morning.

Then, unbelievably, he asked the research team to take out the parts that didn’t mesh with what the station was doing — and they agreed to.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that this station didn’t last long, and later, everyone seemed confused about why that happened.

We all understand confirmation bias: In psychology and cognitive science, confirmation bias (or confirmatory bias) is a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.

We all do that, including me, whether we’re always aware of it or not.

But what I had witnessed that day was more than confirmation bias. It was a willful unwillingness to accept reality, even when it was staring them right in the face, and a willful doctoring of the “facts” to reach a conclusion completely different from the one the research had found.

The scary thing is, I know this isn’t the only time that happened. I know this is still happening.

If you think it may be happening within your company, or your station, it may be time to think about the nature of reality, what reality means. Who better to comment on that than a scientist:

Reality is what we take to be true. What we take to be true is what we believe. What we believe is based upon our perceptions. What we perceive depends on what we look for. What we look for depends on what we think. What we think depends on what we perceive. What we perceive determines what we believe. What we believe determines what we take to be true. What we take to be true is our reality.​ ~ David Bohm, theoretical physicist​

One of the key reasons it’s good to have someone outside your station, outside your company, to provide perspective is that they are less likely to be protecting a naked emperor.

I’ve always considered it part of my job to be relentlessly honest. I was in that example I gave you in NYC. I told the GM and PD exactly what had happened. It didn’t change the outcome in that instance because the corporate execs wanted what they wanted.

Remember, it’s human nature to want to find “evidence” to support our (often unconscious) bias, to find what we’re looking for.

What we perceive depends on what we look for.

What we look for depends on what we think.

Read those two sentences again, out loud…

Each of us benefits when someone outside the circle challenges our reality.