Don’t judge a book by its cover

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover

It’s the kind of thing indoctrinated into us from an early age. A staple of Primary School curriculums. The kind of lesson learned at the feet of Grandparents, a truism handed down from generation to generation.

It never made that much sense to me when I was young, to be honest. Choosing a book from the school library, I did exactly what I was warned against — picked the book with the most pleasing cover.

Even now, marketing gurus and publishing houses know that people buy with their eyes. When I call into WH Smith at Heathrow, I’ll instinctively lift the book cover that is most pleasing to my eye, have a quick glance at the blurb, then stick it in the basket. I’ve no doubt missed a few classic books over the years, but broadly, I am content with my choices.

It is, of course, a metaphor which has real value in today’s world. It means getting to know someone before making a value judgement. Sidestepping unconscious bias and preconceived ideas generated by appearance, and not making the instinctive judgements that are in-built.

Let’s look at some hypothetical misconceptions that are driven by appearance;

- If I got into a fight with Floyd Mayweather over the last pair of Nike trainers in the shop, I would fancy my chances of getting the better of him — if I didn’t recognise him. After all, I’m much bigger than him and would assume we hold the same number of flyweight boxing titles. This mistake would cost me my life.

- At my university debating society, I encounter Stephen Hawking. I assume that the greatest thinker of our era is profoundly disabled, and I adopt a tone of pleasant condescension. I lose the debate.

And, finally, a real-world example.

- I met Rory McIlroy in a nightclub a few years ago. Before he was famous. He was wearing ripped jeans and one of those t-shirts that are a staple of the student wardrobe. I, on the other hand, held a student job and fancied myself as an affluent sort. I struck up a conversation with this promising young golfer which was fascinating. Seeing his attire, and knowing the struggles of young golfers, I assumed he was broke and bought all the drinks. How wrong I was — he still owes me £40.

I guess it holds very true in the world of employment too. First impressions count. It’s why we wear smart clothes for job interviews — but why?

Looking smart is very different from having the level of proficiency required to excel at a job. No job description, except, seemingly, air hostesses, list an attractive appearance as a pre-requisite criterion point.

It’s crucial to suspend initial instinctive reaction and make qualified value judgements on a persona based on a sustained period of interaction.

However, I have found an excellent way of judging a book by its cover and all it entails is going to a shop.

I will look at my fellow shoppers and categorise them accordingly.

Wearing a mask? A thoughtful, wise and responsible sort. A solid citizen.

No mask? A dickhead.

Simple. No more nuanced than that. An easy visual assessment.

Wearing a piece of cloth across your face is not a massive imposition. It is not a herculean task, nor a Christ-like sacrifice. No one is in a shop for very long, so just wear the damn thing.

I’ve even had a great bear embroidered upon mine which I am delighted about. My little niece has named said bear, Furry (pictured), and I feel resplendent in my mask.

I don’t care that the science isn’t rock solid. I don’t care that the politicians flip-flopped on mask-wearing. Covid-19 is transmitted through the air we breathe — so stopping droplets that emanate from an unexpected cough or sneeze travelling as far, by wearing a mask, makes total sense to me.

It’s the kind of thing that, across a population, might just reduce infections by 3%. That might not seem much but given over 1 million people globally have died of Covid-19, that still equates to saving 30,000 lives.

Rocket science, it is not.

Now, I know some people cannot wear one for perfectly valid reasons. Existing respiratory conditions, anxiety and other reasons. Fair enough.

Mask wearing, though, has become symbolic when it doesn’t need to be. It provides a visual representation of those who are empathetically behind the Government strategy of coping with this pandemic, and those who aren’t.

It’s also may be symbolic of a bigger class divide. Conspiracy theories have emerged about the virus and an army of people who are discontented by the perceived infringements upon civil liberties. On the other hand, those that are content with their lot in life, who are ready and willing to adhere to guidelines in the hope that it might save some lives.

The next time you are in Asda, just have a glance around. You will quickly learn who your friends are.



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Phil Patterson

Phil Patterson


Founder of —Former VC and Startup Guy…I write for fun. About things I like, and some things I hate.