Collective Hallucination

Perception is reality, right? If everyone has the same thought or belief in their heads at the same time, does it make it real?

Back in the 80’s my Flock of Seagulls haircut and Don Johnson jacket were a hit. I know this because everyone told me. But these days, the same look gets an entirely different reaction.

How can this be? 

It certainly felt real at the time, but at some point, the collective reality changed. So, far from being robust and absolute like something that is physically, tangibly real, shared beliefs and wisdom are more fragile, fluid and more vulnerable to changes in the accepted general view of what is and isn’t good or on-trend.

But this is not a phenomenon restricted only to fashion and popular culture. There are often times when I observe a similar fragility in the accepted wisdom that surrounds marketing and business growth.

Take marketing trends, PR and ‘social buzz’ for example. They’re funny things. They are real in the sense that there are whole industries built around them, but much of the shared wisdom and advice is less so. Instead it’s about perception, what people think, feel and imagine.

If everyone is told their website is lame without video, or that CONTENT IS EVERYTHING!!! or, that print is over, or that any medium or industry is dead or dying; does it make it true?

I’m not convinced.

Video is just a medium. A dull or irrelevant message is still that, even on video. For it to have any influence, the message must have value and engagement. Otherwise it’s simply noise.

Likewise, content without some outcome or call to action is no more than altruism. It’s very kind you’ve produced this useful material, but why do you keep doing it? Don’t you have a business to run?

And there are so many exciting examples of supposed anachronisms, which have in fact re-found their audience and come back stronger than ever with massive followings – think: cinemas, home brew, LPs, cycling, cardigans (or is that just me?), and of course the powerful personal impact you can create by taking the time to send a quality piece of print or even hand-write a note to a key contact.

Maybe collective wisdom isn’t quite what’s it’s cracked up to be?

In fact, on that track, let’s consider something else: If you talk hard enough about your passion and mission and how you really, really care about all your clients, will business automatically flood in?

Again, I’m not convinced. Yes, passion and mission are great, but is anyone going to hand over their hard-earned cash just because you’re really passionate about your field or industry, or because you care about the uniqueness of each customer?

No, it takes more than that.

How do these Collective Hallucinations arise?

Sometimes hallucinations result from misinformation like the whole ‘build it and they will come’ myth around websites, content, mobile apps… Other times they are the product of commercial agendas – you remember the Google Plus profiles we were all encouraged to have, which were supposedly vital to be an authority in our fields, and then Google changed their minds and dropped them like they’re hot?

And as much as we don’t want to admit it, occasionally it’s down to our own lack of due diligence, even laziness – the times when we didn’t question the advice of so-called experts, or conduct our own research; we just accepted their truths.

The authentic, no BS approach

So what do you need to do?

Well, people may read and enjoy what you do, they may love your mission and relate to your passion. But unless you can offer them something real in return, unless you can get to the tangible real-world outcome you’re delivering, and why it’s of use to them – even though they might buy into what you do – they aren’t actually going to buy what you do. (And that by the way is the real-world outcome that you’re looking for).

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