JoAnna Bennett

JoAnna Bennett, O’Brien Communications Group

5 October 2017

The human brain creates generalizations to protect our species. Our brains, much like many other species, use previous experiences to learn and flourish. For example, if you get a stomach ache from eating a red berry, you may think twice before you eat another red berry. Or if you run into a scary situation in a dark alley, you may avoid dark alleys in the future. Both of those responses help our species thrive. The problem comes in when you have different people with different experiences and, therefore, different generalizations that may be contradicting.

In Marketing, we constantly generalize target audiences by data or percentages. If 80 percent of a specific demographic ignores banner advertising, we would tend to shy away from that medium. We are certainly ignoring the 20 percent that may engage, but we feel safe in knowing the data supports our recommendations. We also generalize by generation (say that ten times fast). We create buckets of people and place them in categories that may not always be accurate. If we meet twenty millennials who seem to be risk takers and spend frivolously, we assume all millennials are that way. It is what our brain trains us to do after all!

In today’s social media driven society, it gets even easier to generalize our peers and colleagues. We judge people on what they post or what they don’t post. All people are complex beings made up of different experiences, driven by their brains’ generalizations, and trying to prosper in a sometimes-senseless world. Yet, we find a way to simplify their existences and assume we know why they do what they do. In generations past, you didn’t know what your high school peers were doing until you had a reunion. And in that one point of contact, you better believe they were not always telling the truth. But with social media, we are able to find out way more than we ever needed to, which leads to more generalizing.



As Kurt Gödel once said:

All generalizations, with the possible exception of this one, are false.

I couldn’t agree more; although, I am unsure how to get my brain on board with that one. Maybe with a little more evolution, my grandchildren might be able to get a handle on it. Until then, I will just try my hardest to hold off on judging and generalizing when it comes to others of my species. You are all people, and I will try to judge you solely on our personal experiences.