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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Dod

The Eyes Have It: Are You Sure You See Reality Correctly?

You can’t tell from my profile photo, but I have two different colored eyes. One is brown and the other blue. In fact, the brown eye is blue in one portion. It’s just the way they are. Yes, just like a Husky dog, which is what most people say I look like. I’m used to the comparison, and it no longer offends me to be compared to a dog...or to David Bowie, a dead cat, a stoplight, or any of a hundred other names for that matter. In truth, I only harbor nightmares when I recall the DMV clerk’s loud shout to his colleague when he examined my first driver’s license application: “Hey Vinny, come check out this freak.” Don’t ever let anyone tell you therapy doesn’t work.

Growing up, a few of my classmates picked on me because I was different, but most thankfully just thought my eyes were unique. At least to my face. These days, I never really think about my eyes until I see a stranger notice them. Usually, it’s the check-out person at the grocery store. The reactions typically involve a double take and then a turn of the head as if they’ve just set their sights on something weird. Most of the time, the individual will ask a simple question – do you know you have two different colored eyes? In my teens, I would act as if this was shocking news and pretend that I only had a few hours to live, joking that my doctors had warned me of this end-of-life event. No sadist, I would quickly laugh and talk them down off the edge. Yes, I know I have two different colored eyes. How silly to even ask.

Inevitably, the next question is - do you see blue out of one eye and brown out of the other? To this question I would always shake my head and wonder what the heck people were thinking. After all, do people with brown eyes only see brown and people with blue eyes only see blue? How silly. That’s like saying all photographs before 1960 were black and white, because the world was black and white. Of course, I don’t see brown out of one eye and blue out of the other. The eyes work the same way regardless of their color. Science is science. We take in images that are processed by our brains and, voila, we see stuff. What you see and what I see is the same. Again, how silly to think otherwise.

And then, the dress happened. You know, the famous dress. The dress that caused the Internet to melt down, families to divide, husbands and wives to cancel date nights, and friends to toss buffalo chicken wings at each other. Yes, that dress. Was it blue and black or gold and white? The debate was on. Truth and facts were on trial. To me, it was blue and black and anyone who said otherwise was clearly deficient, mistaken, or simply a contrarian trying to get a guest gig on cable news. It was so obvious. No reasonable person could see otherwise. Just look at it. Black and blue. Period.

So how was it that millions upon millions of people across the world “just looked at it” and saw a gold and white dress? Scientists tell us that light and our own interpretation of it has an impact on what we see. By definition, it also has an impact on what we don’t see. Like the image below. While they appear different in color, the two stones are actually the same. To underscore the role light plays in shaping our perception, place your finger over where the two stones connect. Now, you can see how both stones are the same color. Amazing, isn’t it?

The dress and similar optical illusions made me question my own conclusions in the realm of marketing. What, in fact, was I seeing and not seeing when developing a strategy? Were my own biases and perspectives clouding or illuminating truth, impinging or aiding the development of accurate plans? What actions must I take to ensure that what I was seeing was actually what was there? And how could I as a senior executive help my team members reflect on their own views, re-consider their own conclusions, and contemplate how their biases impacted their contributions? In short, how could I prevent “group-see” (the precursor to “group-think”) from impeding our view of reality.

As marketers and strategists, we are required to make assumptions based upon the information at our disposal. Normally, the more information we have, the better our decision making should be. This holds true only if we are able to sift through the information in such a way that we see everything that exists and that doesn’t exist. Unless we question our initial observations and look at data from various perspectives, we are bound to make incorrect assumptions that beget improper conclusions.

Like me, you may have participated in meetings where others have contributed comments or perspectives that were new to you. Informative on one level and illuminating on others, these perspectives added to your view of the situation and perhaps impacted the plans or actions you took after the fact. These differing perspectives can only be elicited from team members if those doing the eliciting are willing to consider alternative views, different inputs, and contributions colored by different hues. Emphatic beings who dominate meetings, demean contributions, and control exchanges require reprogramming to encourage others to speak freely, argue robustly, and participate fully.

The lesson I take from having two different color eyes is to remind myself constantly that what I am seeing may or may not be a complete and full truth. My eyes are a reminder to question my perspective and to solicit the views of others both to validate basic assumptions and to question their accuracy at the same time. It’s easy to form definitive opinions; much harder to solicit and elicit challenges to those opinions.

When people ask me if I see blue out of one eye and brown out of another now, I no longer laugh at its absurdity. It just makes me think about how differently we all see, absorbing, processing, and reflecting upon what is before us. Perspective and personal experience matters greatly. Anyone involved in marketing and strategy would do well to embrace this lesson for themselves.

Market well.


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