Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Perception vs. Reality

Why does it infuriate people to learn that "perception" is as important to the solution to a problem as reality? My guess is it makes the person affected feel like the problem isn’t being taken seriously.

But the fact is perception fueled by word of mouth is as powerful as, or more powerful than, the reality, and perception is anything but equitable or fair. To me perception is an impression, and reality is the fact. Perception can be accurate, or it can be a myth and urban legend.

Fixing "reality" never eliminates misperceptions. We’ve learned that by tracking changes in public opinion polls before and after big developments that create a lot of buzz. Misperception is fueled by stereotyping, unbalanced media coverage and the fact that people like hearing about "bad" stuff as long as it isn’t "their" bad stuff.

However, it's not either/or. Evidence shows that both the reality and the perception must be addressed simultaneously…create awareness to fix the problem and address misperception by confronting inaccuracies and giving people the tools and information necessary to address "water cooler" talk.

We all learned this watching political campaigns. It's fine to talk about being "above it all," but it's been proven repeatedly that, if a maligned candidate doesn’t respond with equal intensity, it is assumed the charges are true. Silence is interpreted as assent, and it's true with the reputations of communities as well.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Cognitive Distance Friction

There is a consumer behavior to which we all can relate. It’s called by various names including "cognitive distance friction." It is what we all experience when it seems like it takes forever to get somewhere but time of travel seems much shorter on the way back.

It greatly impacts visitors to a community because, as researchers in Australia have discovered, a mile when we are traveling at home or in familiar surroundings seems like 20 miles when we’re away from home and in unfamiliar surroundings.

People who develop shopping malls adapted research on this behavior years ago to help determine how far malls need to be apart before it makes sense for a department store to have multiple locations without cannibalizing itself. I remember, in the early days, that it was something like 15 minutes or 15 miles, because after that point, it took a very exclusive product or an incredible sale to pull people any further.

Lots of things intensify or exaggerate distance friction, and Durham has them all… e.g., irregular road patterns, hills and dales with no dominant geographic features, heavily wooded etc. The Internet has also intensified the effects of distance friction. Consumers now have the option, for a small shipping fee and a brief delay, of avoiding the logistics of a trip to the store or to a store in another community.

Distance friction is why so few people visit "regions" unless they happen to be centered around one dominant place. It’s definitely why so many traveling to either Durham or Raleigh elect not to combine a visit to both communities on the same trip.

Destinations like Durham with ample things to see and do over several days are also learning that it irritates visitors when they encounter distance friction, and the best way to overcome it is to simplify their itineraries… better directions and easier-to-read, accurate maps, the ability to select things to see and do within 10 miles, a distinct sense of place with good way-finding (road signs, banners, markers, gateways, corridors etc.) and most of all, very informed residents and frontline staff in hospitality businesses.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Principles or Personalities

There’s an old law school bromide that has been humorously adapted over the years:

"When lawyers don’t have the law behind them, they argue the facts; when they don’t have the facts behind them, they argue the law… but when folks don’t have the support of either, they usually attack personality, style or character, call names, pound the table and then change the subject."

So I guess it's kind of a compliment when someone begins to deflect attention from the issues to attack your style or personality. It’s embarrassing that many of us fall into this trap and get distracted in the drama and theater that ensue.

Don’t get me wrong. There are times when personalities don’t mesh for a number of reasons. It’s nice when they do, but doing our jobs isn’t dependent on being chums or buddies.

There are three ways to make decisions: (1) go along to get along, don’t rock the boat, don’t make waves, (2) rigid policies (the approach that made the word bureaucrat a pejorative) or (3) principle-based.

Principles are, by most definitions, the ethical foundation, guiding light or closely held values and beliefs of and underlying foundation of an organization or society.

David Camner, Senior Partner at Performance Management, Inc., defines "policies, processes, plans, programs and so on as the mechanical means of achieving principles. When the mechanics fail, then principles rule. " Another example David often uses is that lawyers deal with the laws or policies and judges are meant to deal with the principles, e.g., interpret the Constitution.

But as former Mayor Nick Tennyson used to say, "There’s often only room for one person at a time to stand on principle."

To me, people and groups may have different principles, but if truly principle-based, they respect the roles and limitations and objectives of others. They work for the common good without pushing and shoving. They respect the law even when no one will ever know.