Author: Huxley
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THE CUCKOO’S CALLING: reputational` signals and self-fulfilling prophecies

THE CUCKOO'S CALLING: reputational` signals and self-fulfilling prophecies
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The expression “self-fulfilling prophecy” has been heard by many. But what is it really and how does it work? Let’s try to figure out together how perception affects our success and failure stories.




The term “self-fulfilling prophecy” was proposed in 1948 by the prominent American sociologist Robert Merton. Exploring the reasons for the difference in academic performance among American students, Merton found that African-American and Hispanic children study worse because they initially falsely identify the situation in which they are.

Summarizing his conclusions, we can say that it is not so important whether the situation in which a person finds himself is actually real. If it seems real to him, then its consequences will be real. Later, this position was brilliantly proved by an experiment conducted in one of the schools in San Francisco.

Children from first to sixth grade were asked to take a fake Harvard test. After that, the teachers were given a list of the supposedly top 20% of students, randomly selected regardless of the results. Paradoxically, a re-experiment conducted at the end of the year showed that students who were recognized as gifted actually began to demonstrate above-average results.

Why did it happen? The fact is that on the basis of falsified data, teachers changed their perception of the real abilities of students who did not even know about them. Teachers not only expected brilliant achievements from leaders, but also pushed kids to them. And the pupils really got it.




Is it possible, using the psychological mechanism of a self-fulfilling prophecy, to make the best out of the worst and vice versa? It turns out you can. Certain reputation signals shape our attitudes-to writers and their books, to song performers, to investment services, trademarks, and so on.

How popularity breeds popularity and success breeds success is illustrated by a story that happened to JK Rowling. Having received unprecedented worldwide fame thanks to the series of Harry Potter novels, Rowling, apparently, once questioned how much she deserved such fame.

Is it possible that she is random and does not match the magnitude of her talent? And then Rowling decided to conduct her own research and publish her next book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith.

Having got rid of the influence of the colossal popularity of the name of its author, The Cuckoo’s Calling received good reviews, but failed in sales. Although, it must be said, experts had suspicions of Rowling’s involvement in the novel.

The London Sunday Times decided to confirm or deny them with the help of the latest computer technology. And it revealed the ultimate linguistic similarity between Galbraith’s Cuckoo and Rowling’s texts.

Backed against the wall, Joanne had to admit that she was also Robert. Naturally, the same novel, 500 copies of which were sold yesterday with great difficulty, became an international bestseller the next day after recognition.


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Our perception is so arranged that we rely on the stable preferences of others to help us make choices. But does past success always rigidly predetermine future success? Google appeared rather late on the World Wide Web. At that time, search engines such as AltaVista and Inktomi from Yahoo already existed.

It would seem that the principle of joining the preferences of the majority gives advantages to those sites that appeared on the market earlier. However, in just three years, Google proved that this was not the case, becoming the absolute leader. How is this possible? It’s just that the company was better than others in helping users find the sites they needed and useful for them. A similar story happened with TM Ben & Jerry’s.

When, in 1977, hippie Ben Cohen decided to open an ice cream shop with a friend, he relied solely on his eyesight and taste: Ben had serious problems with his sense of smell. The problem was solved simply: by adding various pieces to the ice cream, which gave an unusual taste. To match them, unusual, funny names were invented for different varieties.

As a result, the smellless hippies have blown up the overstocked market for factory ice cream with boring standard flavors, chemicals and corn syrup. And the hand-drawn by friends sign Homemade Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream began to conquer state after state. Converted into a shop, the old gas station has turned into a company with billions in profits.




Physicist Albert-Laszlo Barabasi analyzed thousands of similar success stories in his book The Formula. He found that companies such as Google, Boeing, Sam Adams, etc., although late in entering the market, overcame the “priority affiliation principle” because they had growth potential – a proposal with unique characteristics. The physicist believes that potential is not equal to quality, although it depends on it.

For example, few literary connoisseurs would dare to say that Fifty Shades of Grey is a “quality” book. At the same time, its potential is undoubted – it is sorted out faster than the more high-quality literature standing next to it on the shelf.

Barabasi emphasizes that the time factor is very important for unlocking the potential: products, people and ideas have a chance to demonstrate their value in an incredibly short time – otherwise they will die.

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