Your Own Personal Reality

A developer is someone who wants to build a house in the woods. An environmentalist is someone who already has a house in the woods.
— Dennis Miller

We think everyone else sees what we see. How could they not?

And we think everyone would believe what we believe if only we could explain it clearly.

But this is almost never true.

Two people stand shoulder-to-shoulder observing a scene.
One person sees pain and injustice and despair.
The other sees opportunity and purpose and adventure.

The first person sees the second as an impractical dreamer.
The second sees the first as a complaining pessimist.

Every person has a schema, a belief system about how the world works. Your schema is the lens through which you see and feel the world around you. It dictates your perceptual reality. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying your schema changes the facts. It just changes how you interpret them.

Twice a week for the past several weeks, Ray Bard has been sending out clusters of about 20 quotes to more than 1,000 quote judges so that we might help him score their impact. Last week, Ray told us something every ad writer knows.

There’s always some surprises about which quotes score the highest. But there’s one thing that doesn’t surprise me anymore. It’s the range of opinions. For example, in the last Collection someone said: ‘Seems like you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel for quotes,’ and the very next person commenting said: ‘So many great quotes. All winners for me.’

If your message has the power to move people, you can be certain that it won’t move everyone in the hoped-for direction. If you’re not prepared to smile your way through negative backlash from well-meaning friends, employees and associates, you’re never going to craft a message that will pierce the clutter of this over-communicated world.

Ninety percent of all the books published each year are non-fiction. But the fiction books – the 10 percent –  comprise 90 percent of all book sales. In the words of Tom Robbins, “People write memoirs because they lack the imagination to make things up.”

Fictional characters in movies, novels and TV shows seem real even when we know they are not. We know fiction to be untrue, yet we treat it for a time as if it were true. We are simultaneously naïve, believing what we are told, and savvy, aware of the deception.

Seven weeks ago I told you about a persuasion researcher, Maria Konnikova, whose work is being funded by two universities, Harvard and Columbia. Maria says the more a story transports us into its world, the more likely we are to believe it. The sweep of a story overcomes the facts of logic. When we are entertained by a story, we are likely to agree with the beliefs the story implies.

In short: a story can reshape your schema.

It is no accident that Jesus taught in parables.

Most of us enjoy being pulled into a story. But some people have no taste for fiction or whimsy or wit.

What you’re about to read is real and it happens all the time. My friend Jerry received this voicemail just last week:

I am embarrassed for you because of your turning your business over to such a young person that has such a voice that I have to turn off the commercial. I have to go to my radio and turn it off. It hurts my ears. And the commercials are just childish. They are not professional. No, they are not professional. I would not use your company for anything. I am regretful I have used you forever. I told the world to use you. I’ve gotten you a million customers. I’m embarrassed and ashamed. And I’m sorry I have to make this phone call.

Would you like to know what triggered such heartfelt concern?

[SFX – crickets, trucks driving past]
ANNCR: Two people wait for the telephone to ring in an Allbritten Heating and Air Conditioning truck.

JERRY: Uhhhh, Andrea?

ANDREA: Yes Dad?

JERRY: I know I’ve been encouraging you to start making bigger, owner-type decisions for Allbritten….

ANDREA: Yep, and I’m rockin’ it, Dad.

JERRY: [doubtful] Yes… well this new company slogan…

ANDREA: Isn’t it great! “Our customers come first!”

JERRY: Well, yes, but it’s a little bit misleading.


JERRY: You’ve got to have happy employees before you can have happy customers.

ANDREA: I know. But it doesn’t make a very good slogan to say, “Allbritten, where customers come second,” or “Allbritten, where customers are number Two.”

JERRY: Keep thinking. You’re a smart girl.

ANDREA: Care to give me some hints?

JERRY: Nope.

ANDREA: Pleeease?

JERRY: Nope.

ANDREA: [SFX – telephone ring and answer]
Thanks for calling Allbritten, where happy employees make happy customers.

JERRY: By golly, I think she’s got it.

DEVIN: Allbritten Heating and Air Conditioning.

ANDREA: Two nine two

JERRY: Forty-nine nineteen

This successful and light-hearted campaign lets you get to know the owners of the company through a series of comic, coming-of-age conversations.  At a recent Home and Garden Show, Jerry and Andrea were the accidental main attraction as word spread throughout the convention center that they were personally in attendance. Countless people came by, quoted their ads and asked if they could have a photo made with them. “Is Andrea really your daughter?” “Yes.” “And she’s really taking over the company?” “Yes.”

The conversations in the ads are fictional but the people are real.

And they had an extremely, very good year.

Roy H. Williams