retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

There are few things more annoying than people who don’t agree with me. After all, who wants to waste time explaining things to people who for countless reasons don’t see what I see.

Only the truth is that dissent is incredibly important because I’m not always right.

That’s the reason we talk here on MNB about epistemic closure or the failure to accept any information that differs from what we already know. It’s why in nearly every presentation I urge audience members to seek out co-workers, trading partners and consumers who are different from them. Only that way can we see the other side of a story.

Diversity of opinions, experiences and ideas make us stronger and challenge us to see what’s new.

I offer up that sermon on dissent in large part because of the strange response I got to last week’s column. I used the example of irradiation to make the point that industry must learn how to explain complex topics to increasingly overwhelmed consumers to have any chance of acceptance.

(You can read it here.)

As I might have expected, I got responses that essentially fell into two different categories:

• Irradiation is fine, but the name is terrible so let’s change it. (Best suggestion: zapadoodle.)

• Are you nuts? Irradiation is horrible.

Which goes right back to the reason I wrote that column: there are complex issues that require educated and reasoned discussion in the marketplace and I don’t think either of the two kinds of responses I got understood that.

First, we should not ever change the name. Consumers have too many tools to see through such things these days. Transparency is what works; Orwellian name changing foments distrust.

If we want a new science to gain acceptance we need to demonstrate safety and benefit, not diversion. No matter how good a name Zapadoodle may be, it won’t work.

Second, I understand people have divergent views on irradiation as well as countless other topics. I also know that I am no expert in science. (A chemistry teacher in college made this very clear.) But I think those few comments told us an awful lot.

As those passionate folks demonstrate, there are many divergent feelings when it comes to new science. What one group says is a breakthrough another might see as an abomination and this happens on an increasing number of topics. Far too many of us don’t know enough to understand the difference between good and junk science.

We merely hope that others are doing the right thing or that someone more capable than us is checking.

And this is why education and good science matters. This is why we need to understand the importance of trying to talk about complex topics to shoppers because there is no lack of information out there - some right, some wrong. We need to demonstrate benefit and clearly address concerns.

Lastly, I want to thank those folks who said I had parted from reality with that last column because dissent and divergent views are what we welcome and champion here.

It’s been painful to witness the incredible array of graduation speakers uninvited from universities this year because various groups objected to their mere presence. It’s as if we can no longer even hear anyone who disagrees with us.

That’s what causes epistemic closure and that’s what leads to failure.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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