When you look at a picture or video of yourself taken moments ago, you’re overly self-critical. But, look at the same picture a few months after it’s taken, and that anguish has gone. You think, ‘it wasn’t as bad as I thought’. Why is that?
Stephen Merchant, co-writer of The Office and Extras, was on the James Altucher Show recently. Breaking down the structure of his comedy, he discussed the disconnect between reality and our perception of reality. This was the area where he found his best work. His shows focus on a lead character and their inaccurate perception of their standing and status in a certain area of life.
In The Office, David Brent believes he’s the alpha boss, adored and admired by his staff. The audience sees this isn’t the case. His staff clearly don’t view him as Alpha, and yet David Brent remains completely unaware. This is where the comedy lies, in those awkward moments where you’re watching, cringing through your fingers.
This continues until the series finale, when Brent’s vulnerabilities become exposed. He accepts and acknowledges the reality that the audience has seen all along. At this point, he becomes more endearing and the show is over because the tension that created the comedy has evaporated.
This disconnect is present in us all, though not to the extreme of David Brent. It’s difficult to view ourselves and our work through a lens other than our own. When you write an article or essay, you’re happy with it after an immediate draft, but you need a day or two away from the piece to gain the distance and objectivity to evaluate it as others will.
In their paper on ‘How to Seem Telepathic’, Epley and Eyal ran a series of experiments aimed at improving our perception. They conducted two experiments with groups of undergrads.
In the first experiment, participants were assigned to be targets or observers. The targets posed for a photo. They were told that members of the opposite sex (the observer) would score them on a scale of 1-9 on attractiveness either later that day or in a few months time. After the photo was taken, the participant was asked to write how they thought the observer would describe and score their photo.
In the second experiment, targets were asked to talk into a mic and describe themselves through a range of topics for 2.5 mins. The targets were informed that that an observer would listen to their presentation and make their impression of them later that day or some months in the future. After the presentation, the target was asked to predict the observer’s impression of them on a scale of -4 to 4+.
The results in both experiments showed that the targets’ predictions were more accurate of how observers would score them when they were told the observer would make the impression in the distant future. This manufactured distance allowed the target to give themselves some perspective on how they were viewed by others.
Time to manufacture some distance
The same is true for your marketing and your business. There is always a disconnect between how you view your product, and how others do. Whether you’re hyper critical or blind to some of its short comings. With entrepreneurs and marketers, it’s often the later.
If you can trick yourself into viewing the world from an outside perspective, you stand a much better chance of seeing your work as others see it. When you’re thinking up your next marketing campaign or product idea, ask yourself, “what will my ideal customers think of this product three months after they’ve made the purchase?” This question will probably get you closer to the truth of what they actually think of it now when you present it to them.