Change Blindness: Great for Magicians, Tough on Business

May’s issue of Wired contains a fascinating interview with Raymond Joseph Teller of the post-modern magical duo Penn and Teller.  First off, it’s fascinating to learn that this sublimely hysterical performer who remains mute on stage actually can speak at length, but the truly amazing part is how thoughtfully he approaches his craft.  Teller immerses himself in history, psychology and particularly neuralscience in pursuit of ever-more remarkable illusions, all to exploit what he calls the ‘fraud of perception.’

Teller’s entire professional career hinges on how lousy we all are at noticing stuff.  In particular, he is interested in Change Blindness, a phenomenon that’s perhaps best explained in this video by British psychologist Dr. Richard Wiseman.  Again and again, people fail to notice that when a person stops to ask them for directions and temporarily disappears behind a passing distraction, they reappear as someone else entirely.  The neurological basis for this remarkable lack of perception centers on our limited capacity for attention, which becomes totally unreliable when a moving object distracts the eye.  When we focus on one thing, we become oblivious of all but that one thing.

limited-visionAnd that provides the perfect metaphor for the state of marketing today.  In our ever-expanding world of paid and earned media with the hyper-kinetic change rate of new web technologies, the relentless economic squeeze demands we continually provide more for less.  And faster.  As marketing disciplines continue to collapse and converge, we all struggle to keep our eyes on the forest amidst all the trees.  

Steeped in the shifting demands of the day, how do we plan for tomorrow?  More importantly, how do we avoid our own frauds of perception?  Do we accept reactive short term grabs for business (“We’re now your social media/direct marketing/interactive/full-service marketing resource!  Because we say so!”)?  Do we accept facile but wrongheaded tactics (P&G’s ill-considered production vendor powergrab, anyone?)?  Hardly, because neither is particularly sustainable.

In this business of ideas, planning for the future will demand our best thinking.

by Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79