Lately, I have become slightly (more than slightly) obsessed with Manoush Zomorodi’s podcast “Note to Self” (“the tech show about being human”). I am catching up on everything I missed from late 2015 onward (I’m mid-2016 now, which becomes occasionally heartbreaking when Hillary Clinton and/or the upcoming election is mentioned). I highly recommend the episode entitled “What Happens to the Videos No One Watches,” which is exactly what it sounds like and features (as its total highlight) a video of a guy doing a karaoke version of “Semi-Charmed Life,” while his family in the background are having a party and completely ignoring him. Really, what’s best about this show is Manoush herself who is so down-to-earth and funny and never minds digging deeper into anything.
Which is why I was particularly struck by her four-part episode “Taking the Lead,” in which she follows two women as they try to create a start-up company that is a kind of Uber for working parents. Here’s the thing: the topic is fantastic and important (how technology might be able to help working mothers – and fathers – make their lives easier), but the part that struck me the most was that Manoush actually confronted the women about a mistake they had made. This was genuinely thrilling to me, very much like that scene in Annie Hall when Woody Allen brings out Marshall McLuhan to point out that the guy talking about Marshall McLuhan knows nothing about him, and I stopped whatever I was doing (driving?) to listen to the conclusion. This is the sort of thing I dream of doing, confronting someone for being wrong, and then having them say, My word! I was totally wrong! Thank you so much for pointing that out! Surely, this would happen to Manoush, right? I couldn’t wait.
Basically, here’s the gist of what happened: the two women had created this app and then joined a startup accelerator (yes, I had to look that up) to compete for a cash prize to help their app get, er, started. Manoush was all about the social implications of this app (finally a way to use technology to help working women with babysitters and deliveries and such!), so she was stunned to see that in their pitch all they talked about was the money they would make. One of the women (who’d been in advertising) kept saying that as women they had to prove their startup would make money, period. Manoush didn’t think so. So before the prizes were awarded she went to some of the judges and asked them what they thought of the two women. Most were vague. When Manoush pointed out that there were great social implications to this app, the judges said that the two women hadn’t made this point at all. Manoush asked the judges if they had made this point would it have made a difference. The judges said yes. Manoush was right!
When the prizes were finally awarded, the two women came in 9th out of 12 and got, comparatively, very little money. A product that worked as both a cellphone cover and something that would roll joints actually did better than their app. Manoush decided to, at a later date, play for them what the judges had said. (I was, at this point, totally riveted. This is the thing I dream of doing. She was going to pull out Marshall McLuhan!) It might seem like she was being smug, but she really just wanted to show them that they had possibly presented the wrong angle and that maybe they should make a note of this for the future (to her credit, Manoush never uses the phrase “note to self,” even though I am certain the temptation is strong).
Because they were so busy (working moms!), Manoush had to meet with them separately to play them what the judges had said. One of the women (who had decided to become more of a consultant because as a working mother she was unable to commit entirely to the project) (oh the irony!) said that yes, she always thought it was about the social cause. O..kay. Then, Manoush talked to the other woman, the now-CEO, the one who was more insistent on the fact that they needed to pitch the money-making angle. Manoush told this woman that the judges had said that actually investors would be more interested in the social cause angle. But the woman responded that she really didn’t agree. And went on to defend her position in the face of evidence to the contrary.
Should I have been surprised? Did I really expect her to say, My word! I was totally wrong! Thank you so much for pointing that out! I did. I honestly did. Or I hoped she would. She was smart, right? She could see the error of her ways. And yet, of course, what is obvious, what is so obvious that I hardly need to say it, but I do need to say it, is that if you have an opinion about something, you have come to that opinion for a reason. Perhaps you really did tons of research. Or perhaps you really cannot see another side because you have done no research at all. Both of these starting places seem to lead to the same conclusion: generally, people are not going to change their opinions even in the face of evidence. That isn’t to say that people don’t change their opinions, because there are many examples of just the opposite happening. But in the most basic of ways, we are committed to our opinions on things because they are what make us who we are.
Maybe this is because of evolution (I won’t eat that plant because I got sick the last time I did) or because humans need routine and security in their lives (I have never eaten that plant so I never will) and therefore not too many people are willing to take risks (if I just cut off those poisonous leaves could I eat this plant?). It’s rare in people, rarer still in politicians, but sometimes people and politicians do change their minds in the face of evidence. We often hear about it because (like child abductions and plane crashes) this is a rare instance. I wish it weren’t so rare. Note to self: do something about this. It’s rare, not impossible.