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You know nothing


This post was originally sent out as an email to my now-defunct mailing list. You can read all such posts here, if you like.

Hey, happy Friday. This whole email is about the limits of knowledge and being wrong about stuff.

​I hope your takeaway is “Wow my accomplishments are truly amazing given how I’m drowning in disinformation.” You’re doing great!

He never said it and he was wrong anyway

You know that awesome Henry Ford quote about not listening to your customers?

> If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.

_​_Genius! This badboy maverick founder had a vision, refused to listen to the ignorant masses, and invented the car.

​Except … it’s doubtful that he actually said that. And regardless of who coined it, the statement doesn’t even stand up to mild scrutiny.

​(The “mild scrutiny” link is a Twitter thread with pictures of horses)

Product-market fit is a lie

According to my boy Rand Fishkin, it’s a useful but overly crude framework for describing how a product’s doing, and what its potential is.

Useful to potential investors who get to invoke it—despite the fact that there’s no actual definition—as a reason not to invest.

​It’s liberating to shake off this concept and think in more nuanced terms. What definable group of customers really loves your product? Is your next move to find more of them, or to try and win over an adjacent group?

The jam test: lie

You’re a smart marketer, so you know that people get overwhelmed with too many choices. It’s even been proven scientifically!

​If you’re not familiar, here’s a quick summary I stole from some sort of thought leadership slide deck:

Reference to Iyengar and Lepper's "Jam Test" study where consumers were more likely to purchase from a small selection of jams

​If this is true, the experiment (and results) should be easily repeatable. Except …

> An attempt to replicate the jam study failed, and a meta-analysis of 50 related empirical studies failed to find the “too-many-choices” effect

(source)

​This whole pattern of “interesting scientific finding ➡️ conclusion permeates pop culture ➡️ oops it’s not really a thing lol” is rampant.

The marshmallows, the prisoners, all lies

You know the “marshmallow test,” where researchers determined that the ability to delay gratification as a small child was a predictor of academic success later in life? Debunked.

​How about the Stanford Prison Experiment, which taught us that humans quickly lapse into monstrousness the moment we acquire a little power? Well …

> Variants of the experiment have been performed by other researchers, but none of these attempts have replicated the results of the SPE

(Frickin Wikipedia says this)

Okay so everything’s a lie, wtf do we do?

As I suggested at the top, pat yourself on the back. Seriously. You’re surrounded by bogus claims, bad science, and grifters. The fact that you’ve made it to where you are is a tribute to your instincts, judgement, and cognitive capacity. Maybe have a marshmallow this weekend.

​If you want to do more, hit Reply and let me know. I’m working on a project to (a) identify all the phony marketing concepts that hold us back and (b) replace them with something reproducible.

​I could definitely use your help.

© 2022 Brian David Hall