Performance Management Blog

Snobbery and the Perception of Competence – Thinking about Thinking

It’s not too often that I go off-tangent but I really liked this article by Alex Mayyasi at and the research it offered on how we evaluate things. I would be sure that a lot of it will apply to how we evaluate ideas for innovation and impact a lot of executive decision making. To that, I will ask my readers to comment and embellish.

The research discussed was found in two threads, the inability of people to evaluate wine and the lack of correlation in results between price and taste — as Mayyasi says,

“…Priceonomics had recently posted an article investigating The Price of Wine, part of which reviewed research that cast doubt on both consumers’ and wine experts’ ability to distinguish between quality wine and table wine or identify different wines and their flavors. It seemed a slippery slope to the conclusion that wine culture is nothing more than actors performing a snobbish play.”

So, he started looking at the research on how people evaluate classical music and whether the same kind of results might be found.

Chia-Jung Tsay was an extremely talented young pianist. But she is now a psychologist and an Assistant Professor in Management Science and Innovation at University College London, so she set up an experiment to examine the role of visual cues in judging musical performances.


The article and the research are about decision-making and how people judge “performances” of all kinds. It is not simple.

In a famous experiment, participants viewed 30 second silent video clips of a college professor teaching a class and asked them to rate the effectiveness of the professor. When these ratings were compared to the end of semester ratings of real students, participants had done astoundingly well at rating the professor off an initial impression – there was an extremely strong correlation of 0.76.

Participants were just as effective when watching 6-second video clips and when comparing their ratings to ratings of teacher effectiveness as measured by actual student test performance. SIX SECONDS!!

The power of intuitive first impressions has been demonstrated in many other contexts. One study found that people predicted the outcome of political elections remarkably well based on silent 10 second video clips of debates – significantly outperforming political pundits and predictions made based on economic indicators.

Mayyasi also cites a real world case where a number of art experts successfully identified a 6th century Greek statue as a fraud, even though the statue had survived a 14 month investigation by a respected museum that included the probings of a geologist/ The experts instantly recognized something was off but they just couldn’t explain how they knew.

But this is also to say that these impressions can also be WRONG, such as in the experiments cited by Daniel Kahneman in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow. (You can see my thoughts on it here. You can find Lucy Freedman’s thoughts on thinking here.)

Square Wheels image of Daniel Kahneman

Cases like this represent the thinking behind the idea of the “adaptive unconscious,” a concept made famous by journalist Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink. The basic idea is that we constantly, quickly, and unconsciously do the equivalent of judging a book by its cover. After all, a cover provides a lot of relevant information in a world in which we don’t have time to read every page. Watch how people select books to read from the New Release shelf at your public library!

I find this stuff really interesting. Hope you do, too.

Your comments and thoughts about how these themes might affect engagement and involvement and teamwork in your organization would be most interesting.

For the FUN of It!

scott tiny casual

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at

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Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

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Dr. Scott Simmerman

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of the amazing Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine team building game and the Square Wheels facilitation and engagement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced global presenter. -- You can reach Scott at and a detailed profile is here: -- Scott is the original designer of The Search for The Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine teambuilding game and the Square Wheels® images for organizational development.

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