Sometimes doubt, not bad vision, is what gets in the way of us seeing things clearly.
In 1951 Psychologist Solomon Asch conducted a study involving a participant sitting in a room with confederates — people purporting to be a part of the study but who were actually working for Asch — to take a vision test.
The task was to look at a reference line (left box) and then pick out the line from a set of 3 (right box) that best matches the height of the reference line.
When left to our own devices, the matching line is obvious to our eyes. In the control group, where participants were asked to to write down which choice matched the reference line, 99% correctly identified the matching line.
In the experimental condition, where Asch instructed the confederates to unanimously state aloud the same incorrect answer (‘A’ or ‘B’), we didn’t see quite as well anymore. Under these conditions 75% of the participants picked the same incorrect option as the confederates at least once. Knowing we’re of the overwhelming minority opinion, it turns out, is really good at getting us to get in line and join the crowds.
We are all susceptible to being dissuaded from the vision we have of the world simply because it’s not widely shared. Different can be scary, being in the minority can be scary.
But it doesn’t mean we’re wrong.
Some of the best ideas we embrace today started as unpopular ideas: The British Parliament committee thought lightbulbs were a sham, in 1890 the Washington Post called bicycles a ‘hot fad’, and in 1985 the New York Times reported that laptops were well on their way out.
Big changes, the kind that create a fundamental shift in our culture, will sometimes require that we believe in and brave the path forward that we see even when no one else sees it.