What do you believe to be true that just isn’t?
Answering that question immediately pits your perception of reality against the consensus of reality.
We believe things that are demonstrably true: The world is round, not flat (this isn’t up for debate), gravity exists, and so on. Some of us also believe in things (real or otherwise) that can’t be proven: There’s intelligent life on other planets, we have a destiny in life, etc. With these things, your truth is simply your belief.
But we often believe things to be true that can be proven to be false. Napoleon was short (he wasn’t). Bananas grow on trees (they don’t). Toads give us warts (nope).
These false beliefs create sub-optimal perceptions of a false reality. Gaining perspective on these perceptions can be empowering.
In business, false perceptions arise all the time. When I ask my clients questions about the possibility of a future strategy or the efficacy of an existing one, I’ll hear many perceived realities. “Our VP would never go for that.” Or, “The compliance and regulatory team are the problem.” Or, “We’re not good at creating compelling content.” Or, “We don’t have the technology to manage that.” Or “That’s the way we’ve always done things, and it will always be that way.”
I usually respond to these perceptions with a question: “Is that something we know to be true, or something we believe to be true?”
The answer “We know this to be true” is common. But in many cases, the answer is that they believe it to be true. And those perceptions create an alternate reality that defines the team’s behavior.
I once worked with a financial services company on content strategy. The leader of their marketing group told me they weren’t allowed to post content to a newsroom or on social media because their compliance team had disallowed it. So they had given up trying to launch that kind of initiative.
When we looked into it, we found that a former compliance leader had made that decree more than five years before and the team had since evolved their perspective on it. When I asked the new compliance team lead why they hadn’t communicated the change, they said, “No one has bothered to ask.”
Our perceptions help us decide what we want to believe, not necessarily what we should believe.
You may believe that you know something, but others may have another belief. It helps to be open to the possibility that you may not have the right perspective on your perceptions.
This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have convictions or that we should constantly doubt ourselves. But we should acknowledge that they are, indeed, perceptions. We should have the courage to test our beliefs, to question whether things we believe to be true aren’t.
The Roman orator and author Marcus Aurelius wrote “Today, I escaped anxiety. Or no, I discarded it, because it was within me, in my own perceptions – not outside.”
Occasionally, we should all go outside and get a little fresh air. New perspectives on old perceptions may not only change what you believe. But they may help you believe you can change.
It’s your story. Tell it well.