When J. K. Rowling wrote the novel The Cuckoo’s Calling (2013) and published it under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, she sold less than 1,500 copies in print in three months. When word got out that J. K. Rowling had written the book, The Cuckoo’s Calling immediately jumped to the top of the best-seller lists. In just a few months, the book had sold 1.1 million copies.
When the internationally-acclaimed violinist Joshua Bell played his famous 300-year-old, $3.5 million Stradivarius violin at a Washington, D.C. metro station in 2007, only seven out of the 1,097 people who walked past him during his 45-minute performance stopped to listen. Dressed in street clothes, Bell made just $32.17 in tips tossed into the open violin case at his feet—plus $20 from one person who actually recognized him. People otherwise pay hundreds of dollars to hear him perform at fancy concert halls around the world.
When we get pleasure from something, it’s not merely based on what we see or what we hear or what we feel. Rather, it’s based on what we believe that thing to be.
And so, someone listening to the music of Joshua Bell is going to hear it differently and like it more if they believe it’s from Joshua Bell. If you hear the same music and think it’s from some scruffy, anonymous street performer, it doesn’t sound so good.
And I think that’s a more general fact about pleasure. I think wine doesn’t taste as good if you don’t know it’s expensive or special wine. A painting is going to look different to you, and you’re going to value it differently, depending on who you think created it.
Bloom has explained how our minds shape the way a thing will be—because we behave in proportion to our expectations:
We don’t just respond to things as we see, feel, or hear them. Rather, our response is conditioned by our beliefs of where things come from, what they’re made of, or what their hidden nature is. This is true, not just for how we think about things, but how we react to things.
Idea for Impact: Perception is Reality
Expectations color people’s perceptions, and satisfaction with any experience depends on their perceptions going into it.
What you make others think you’re offering them—your skills, your services, your products—profoundly affects their experience. The right expectations can alter anything from valueless to priceless.
However, as Dr. Johnson has warned, “we ought not to raise expectations which it is not in our power to satisfy.—It is more pleasing to see smoke brightening into flame, than flame sinking into smoke.”