How Real Is Perception?

Larry Galler

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Recently I was talking to a businessperson about the relative popularity of competing products when there may not be much, if any, difference in the effectiveness but there is a large difference in the sales volume. She stated, with a roll of the eyes, “Well, I guess perception is reality” and I smiled as I agreed with her. Later, curious about our conversation, I looked up the definition of the word “perceive” and found the following, “to become aware of through the senses. ” Then I went into that mental state of pondering, considering, and analyzing our conversation with the knowledge gleaned from my trusty dictionary.

There are some products or services (or some parts of a product or service) that we can measure various attributes such as size, weight, speed, volume, price, etc. If we are talking about a product or service that is measurable then the measurement is actually the reality. There are other attributes that we measure emotionally or intuitively where the measurement is done by our senses such as the way we feel or perceive quality; where our perception is the only measurable reality.

It would probably take scientific equipment to discover the relative cleaning qualities of competing hand soaps but some people feel that their hands are cleaner when they use one brand over another because their sense of smell makes them perceive a difference and therefore create more value in the brand that, to them, has a more pleasing fragrance. The addition of fragrance does nothing for the cleaning qualities of the soap but makes a huge difference in the perception of quality and value.

Which leads me to ask a number of questions about which attributes of the products or services you sell are actually measurable, which are perceived and what can you do to increase the perceived quality, the perceived value, and the perceived preference for your products, services, and company. Figure that out and you won’t have to roll your eyes when the topic of reality vs. perception comes up because both reality and perception are real.

Larry Galler coaches and consults with high-performance executives, professionals, and small businesses since 1993. He is the writer of the long-running (every Sunday since November 2001) business column, “Front Lines with Larry Galler" Sign up for his free newsletter at Questions??? Send an email to


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