THE PYGMALION Effect…

06/07/2012 § Leave a comment

CLipped version of picture of George Bernard S...

George Bernard Shaw

Self-fulfilling prophecy is a phenomenon by which expectations about a future event leads to behaviour that causes the event to occur. People tend to find what they are looking for. More than that, they can unwittingly create what they expect. In other words, once an expectation is set, even if it isn’t accurate, we tend to act in ways that are consistent with that expectation. Surprisingly often, the result is that the expectation, as if by magic, comes true. An example of this would be a stock market crash – you expect a crash, so you get your money out as quickly as possible along with everyone else and, hey presto, there’s a crash.

A similar pattern can be seen when expectations are applied to  people. The Pygmalion effect, or Rosenthal effect, refers to the phenomenon in which the greater the expectation placed upon people, often children or students and employees, the better they perform. Likewise, if we expect less of a person, they will often under-deliver, just as expected…

In George Bernard Shaw‘s play, Pygmalion, Professor Higgins succeeds in passing off a flower girl as a duchess. Though he wins his bet, it is Eliza Doolittle who points out the irony of this deceit:

“You see, the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.”

The problem with all this is that, for some reason, many of us tend to expect the worst and this seems to be written into our conditioning. So when we approach a marketing or business issue in search of a insightful solution, we don’t actually believe we will find one.

Self-fulfilling prophecy has a profound effect on the ability to identify insights. We tend to get what we wish for and these prejudices too often cloud our ability to see new solutions. When looking for insight it’s obviously best to have an open mind, but also important that we approach the exercise feeling optimistic that there’s a strong chance of finding something completely new, unforeseen and positive.

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