Reality Distortion Fields

According to Andy Hertzfeld, notable Computer Scientist on the original Apple Machintosh team, the reality distortion field famously projected by Steve Jobs was an extension of Jobs’ “ability to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bravado, hyperbole, marketing, appeasement and persistence.” But outside of Silicon Valley folklore, do reality distortion fields really exist?

Behavioral economics say yes. In fact reality distortion fields generally follow three criteria for successful implementation:

1. Selection. The target of your reality distortion field needs to be carefully selected based on predetermined attributes. In the canonical Apple example, Jobs already hired super smart, technically inclined people that believed in the vision of Apple.

Just to present a different perspective – if I was putting together an orchestra band and I wanted to hire a tuba player, I could be very sexist and believe that only males are good tuba players. Therefore I could selectively filter out all female applicants and create a reality where there are no good female tuba players in my band. The proper selection of my target creates and reinforces the self-fulfilling prophecy of this specific attribute.

2. Your own actions must have an effect on others. In other words you must be in position of influence. Most commonly, this is in the form of a direct supervisor because in this situation your own actions constrain the target’s behavior and you directly control their situation.

3. Self concept change through internalization of others beliefs or awareness of others expectations. You can make your expectations known through explicit verbal cues, such as “Paul is brilliant” or also implicit cues, such as by creating a culture where stereotypes exist. In the example I presented above with no female tuba players, this would create the implicit cue that females cannot be tuba players and any new female that joined the band would be less inclined to pick up the instrument.

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