Societal musings

Biased Impressions and Energy Management

A work colleague mentioned “This bank presentation has the page numbers wrong on the table of contents. They can’t even do the little things right, can I trust them on the content?”

This is the typical way people judge other people’s work. For example, if your formatting does not look right, they may assume your work is wrong and start analyzing your work with a negative bias attached to their impressions. If you do not speak in a polished way, they will not pay attention to your content. If you are not dressed for the role, they will assume you are not the correct person for it.

But let’s analyze such behavior from the opposite lens.

Perhaps because you focus a lot on the difficult and important things that actually matter, you have no energy left to care about the mundane boring tasks such as getting page numbers correct? What if, because I have spent so much time and mental energy on the rationale of the points I want to articulate that I didn’t get a chance to think about the best ways to present my content? Something like this is pretty noticeable in a lot of smart people who spend so much time on the difficult work, that they don’t bother to care about their appearance. 

The other day a friend asked me this question, “Why am I good at tasks considered to be difficult and so bad at tasks that are considered easy?” It’s likely that my friend has no energy left to care for these easy tasks, which require less mental focus, and hence makes it easy to get distracted. After focusing on activities that require thinking, it is indeed boring to dedicate even a few minutes to menial tasks that don’t require much thinking.

So if you notice that someone got the little things wrong, might the content / underlying substance actually be very impressive? This hypothesis may or may not hold true, but all I’m saying is that forming your impressions based on the superficial matter is not correct. I do think presentation matters a lot, and it cannot be ignored completely at the expense of stellar content. It’s just not the first and only thing that matters. It should always (or in most situations) come after content / underlying work / underlying character.

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