The Cost of Perceived Wisdom: how normalized thinking restricts Search and exposes us

In 1996 my sister called to say she’d made an online purchase. I was surprised: in those early days it was not only difficult to search for anything on the new internet, there wasn’t much to search for. Certainly, purchasing anything seemed illogical – we had no way of knowing if ‘secure lines’ were, well, secure. Curious, I asked my sister to explain her decision process.

J: I needed a simple Y connector, and decided to see what online purchasing was all about. This was my test case. I found three companies with the exact same product at the same price.

SD: How did you choose which company to buy from?

J: Since the price and products were identical, I decided I’d trust the company with the best customer service so I’d be cared for if I had a problem. Because none of the websites mentioned customer service, I decided to call them and ask. The first company kept me on hold for 23 minutes before I hung up. The second call put me straight through to a voice message. A sales rep answered my call in the third company, asking me if I had questions. So it was an obvious choice. There was only one company that took care of me.

I then realized there were three problems with the current (1996) search capability: 1. Site visitors had only a haphazard method of finding what they wanted; 2. People occasionally didn’t recognize their unconscious criteria for resolving their query, even if they could find what they initially thought they wanted; and 3. Sites could only meet the search criteria imagined by the site designers, sometimes overlooking criteria sought by visitors. In other words, if people were happy with the information a site offered, they were satisfied. For those folks not entirely clear, or had needs outside the obvious, there was a probability they couldn’t find what they really needed and would leave the site.

I decided to create a tool to help site visitors become aware of the unconscious criteria (i.e. not top-of-mind) they needed from a specific site, and be led directly to the page(s) that offered the exact answers they sought – with just a click!


Enter Hobbes. With a few sequenced facilitated questions, a simple backend tree, and carefully culled choices of criteria-based options, my search tool Hobbes could lead people to both their unconscious factors and intended take-away to the one or two site pages that fit their search. For those who chose to use Hobbes, this would keep them on the site and help them walk away buyers or satisfied visitors. It would also cause companies to do their homework to learn what visitors truly needed and add those responses to their sites. On my site I had a 54% use rate.

Specifics: Hobbes employs a sub screen which posed 3 or 4 Facilitative Questions (a new type of question I designed to elicit unconscious criteria for decision making in the sequence of brain change) focused on decision making criteria in each industry (i.e. in buying a car – price, color, etc. plus possibly Environmental Factors; in software – features, functions, etc. plus possibly Integration with Current Technology, etc.). Then site pages would be tagged to respond.

Here’s an example. Suppose you wanted to buy a red shirt online. In addition to searching for styles, price, etc., you could also be guided through your decision making with 3 Facilitative Questions representing types of choice criteria. You’d choose a category, then you’d answer 3 brief questions that linked you to the right (tagged) site page. For example, one selection might be:

What would you need to see from us to trust we can take care of your needs?

  1. An explanation of who makes our shirts and our fair trade practices;
  2. A selection of colors and materials with testimonials proving our quality;
  3. Customer service and return policies.
This would lead visitors directly to what they needed so long as the tagged menu items included visitor criteria beyond merely what the company naturally offered. Way outside of normal, especially for 24 years ago.

And therein lie the problem. My thinking, my models, my ideas, went outside Perceived Wisdom; few people understood why it was needed; everyone else just found it weird. Obviously, the Perceived Wisdom believed, people only need the facts.


Before I continue my story, let me stop for just a moment to give you a thumbnail sketch of who I am. When I was age 11, I recognized that I think differently than others – thinking, listening, and understanding in systems, seeing the world in beliefs, values, relationships, norms, and metamessages, in circles that gave me a wholistic understanding. So different from how conventional people experience the world – in content, with a linear understanding.

Wanting to show up as normal, I began what would become my life’s work: coding the systems involved with how brains cause us to make choices – the sequenced steps of decision making, the internal neuronal/synaptic connections in our brains that match our unconscious belief-based criteria, and cause us to do what we do and think what we think. Once I understood the foundational differences in thinking and assumptions between me and others, I used my ideas to teach myself to choose behaviors closer to the norm – a practice I use to this day.

Since then, I’ve developed several original facilitation models (some folks refer to me as a genius, but for me it’s just normal thinking) that teach influencers in several industries (in sales as Buying Facilitation®in leadership as change facilitation and choice, and in healthcare to help folks permanently change behaviors) to enable influencers to

And none of it uses information, storytelling, or any sort of push based on the information, needs or assumptions of the external influencer. It offers parents, sellers, coaches, and leaders the skills to facilitate others through the brain elements necessary for them to make their best change decisions based on their largely unconscious criteria. I’m happy to discuss this or send you further articles on it:

Note: I recognized decades ago that an outsider can never understand anyone else’s unconscious criteria, but they can – with an unbiased skill set – help others make their own best choices using their own hidden criteria.


To continue my story: Hobbes in hand, I went forth to raise funds. I created a one sheet for it and pitched wherever I could. Heidi Roisen, then at PeopleSoft and one of the only women VCs, offered $15,000,000 if someone else would put in $1,000,000. I couldn’t find that million. Why would anyone need such a tool? I was asked frequently.

And who was I pitching to? Men. The VCs in the tech boom were by and large men. It was only years later that I learned that in the internet boom, women received merely 2% of VC funding (Now women get about 6%!). I was a woman, ahead of a new curve that even then rewarded men instead of ideas. In the Perceived Wisdom of the new internet, with no/few women present, women weren’t perceived as smart, competent, innovative regardless of the importance of the ideas.

Btw there’s an addendum to the story that’s even sadder: several years ago, decades after I developed Hobbes, I spoke with Stefan Weitz, then head of Bing (a major search tool). He saw Hobbes and said, “Cool! Nothing else helps people sort for their criteria. We could have this up and running in days.” I spoke with him days later: his folks didn’t think anyone would use it – that no one sorted for criteria.

And Hobbes remains unused as site owners seek ‘questions’ to extract visitor data. Personally, I believe helping visitors/buyers trust them is a more potent sales ploy. But that’s just me: I do not welcome uninvited spam, I’ve never bought a single thing from spam, nor will I (and many people I know) ever fill out any form or answer those manipulative questions. And yet those fill-in forms, the questions, are part of the new normal – the Perceived Wisdom of the day seems to be get what you want from site visitors without giving anything back.


My Hobbes story provides a background for my newest grumble. This essay is meant to start a discussion about how the Perceived Wisdom (PW) of the internet restricts our worlds, rules our assumptions and restricts creativity.

I’ll begin with my definition of Perceived Wisdom. PW is another way of saying ‘the norm’, the accepted myths, practices, ideas that constitute the immediate assumptions we make without questioning them. It’s the accepted convention, the normal.

PW is perpetuated in every sphere of our lives. We learn it as infants and it permeates our education, cultures, religions, what we buy and wear, who we marry and where we live. Our thinking, our behaviors are often based on accepted norms that have become ubiquitous. * Do you avoid white after Labor Day? (Silly) * Do you feed a cold and starve a fever? (Wrong) * Do you avoid answering phone calls from numbers you don’t know? (What if some important tried to reach you?) Calories in determines weight (proven false). * Behavior Modification works to help you lose weight, exercise, change habits, yadayada. (There’s no scientific evidence anywhere that it does) * Do you fail to display a contact number on your site, seeking to collect names for marketing outreach – assuming people are happy to fill out your form and accept your spam? (Thereby turning away folks with real interest who refuse to fill out those things.) Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. I once asked my mother if she nursed me. ‘I would have, but everyone said it would harm you. So I didn’t. And now I’m sad about it.’

PW meets our foundational criteria of belonging: it offers comfort, safety, absence of uncertainty, and no risk of encountering scorn or derision. And because PW is aimed toward the middle (where, according to the late great, Molly Ivins, exists only yellow stripes and dead armadillos), we spend our lives unwittingly maintaining and recreating a specious status quo that causes us to lose our uniqueness.

PW keeps us locked in. Our language, our conventional assumptions, keep us like gerbils, going round and round the same ideas and conventions regardless of their success or failure. So in sales, a 5% success rate is acceptable, and the matching 95% failure rate is not even mentioned; in leadership and coaching, the assumption that the person ‘in charge’ has the knowledge that Others must conform to, and their resistance is something to be managed. Even great Harvard thinkers like Chris Argyris and Howard Gardner have written books on managing resistance, using the baseline assumption that all change involves resistance. Nonsense. Another faulty fact we’ve normalized.

While we think our personal beliefs are specific to us, they are invaded by the PW in the customs we live in. It’s where we get our racial biases, our assumptions about education, class, age, history. We’re so hamstrung by PW we’ve become tribes, where our politics and beliefs keep our ‘team’ on the good side and we hate everyone else, like sports fans.

And since it’s endemic we find no reason to reject it, even going so far as passing down these baseless concepts through generations and unquestioningly resisting anything that’s different. But worst of all, it restricts our creativity. Indeed, from health, to sex, to climate change and politics and relationships, almost every area of life is circumscribed by PW. It’s pernicious.


This is a huge topic, involving our health and healthcare system, our financial system, the environment, education, privacy – the list goes on. I’m going to limit this article to a narrow discussion how PW has kept our search use hamstrung to monetize our news and restrict data. PW assumes, even expects, our personal data will be extracted to send spam.

PW assumes our search will be restricted and monetized. It didn’t start out that way, but as monetization and demographic compartments became ubiquitous, we didn’t even notice. Most of our online interactions are now suspect: even simple searches lead us to knowledge selected by algorithms that contain us to the demographic we’ve been thrust into, causing facts to seem like fake news.

Our use of Google as a search engine is ubiquitous. This company, more than any, determines what we read, the information we have access to (the full range of data available only after dedicated search and rescue), the news in other countries. Even scientific facts are fed to us according to where we live, who we vote for, what we read.

And here’s the worst part. Google’s standard monetizing procedures tag us into a demographic and sends us what it can make money on. Rarely do we find the full range of possible solutions, answers, or ideas. I recently was led to a site that seemingly had the data I needed only to receive a phone call WHILE I WAS STILL LOOKING AT THE SITE from a sales person FROM THAT SITE who wanted to sell me something!

Surely we should care about accurately nourishing our curiosity without fear of spam and Robo calls. Surely it’s time to change our criteria.


We’d like to believe that the internet and social media are the glue that stimulates the flow of information around the world. Yet we don’t have full access to it and it’s vulnerable to manipulation. Why have we come to accept this? Why is it ok to have our curiosity monetized? Why is PW so deep-seated that we sit back and allow it? Where are the voices that scream in the empty space where new ideas and creativity and innovation once lived? Are we all that lazy? Or don’t we care?

I can’t believe that people with terrific ideas aren’t grousing as I am. Yet none of us are doing anything about it. Why do we put up with this? Is our criteria for belonging so fierce that we’re willing to give up our personal criteria to be all we can be?

I wonder how search would have been different if Hobbes (or something like it) were one of the search tools we all had at our disposal – the ability to freely search for what we wanted to know, plus the ability to make sure our criteria were being met on each site we visited.

And I wonder why companies aren’t putting service before data extraction. Site designers are now inundated with requests to add ‘questions’ to their sites that allow them to grab data to send out god-knows-what. Always trying to push, to sell, to influence; always outside-in, using the criteria of the sites about pushing data enough times to instigate a buy.

What if our companies shifted their criteria toward excellence, and sought to make money the old way, by offering great solutions and service. Why wouldn’t sites want to spend their time/energy proving to site visitors they’re trustworthy, creating companies people want to engage with – facilitating user service instead of data extraction? What if the company criteria were integrity: to help visitors be served. I, for one, immediately disengage from sites trying to pull data from me.

Our Perceived Wisdom is faulty. And until we begin thinking differently and stop acting as if PW is true, it cannot change.


One other aspect of PW bugs the hell out of me, and that might supply answers to my ‘whys’: Have you realized that men – the male human of our species – designed, developed, and generated the internet and social media – and continue to do so? The Perceived Wisdom is the male view of the internet; we use it (and it abuses us) by the requirements, the criteria, of men. And we all buy into it.

How different would it be if women’s voices and ideas – currently a tiny fraction of the design of the internet – had been involved in the creation of our technology? Has the male viewpoint become so much a part of our culture that we all just assume that’s the way it is and should be (PW), and never stop to consider the results if women played their representative percentage in designing it?

Seriously: how would the internet or social media be different if it had been designed by women? Or designed by 50% women? Or designed in equal measure by people of color, people from different cultures, people of different levels of education. We’ll never know. What we do know is that the internet is the Perceived Wisdom of White Men in Silicon Valley. And we’ve normalized it as being The Way It Is.


Of course, going outside the box is hazardous. After recognizing the craziness of PW in several industries, I find myself writing articles yelling “But seriously! You have no clothes on!” and getting beat-up on, ridiculed, ignored and made stupid. But disputing PW is vital:

  1. Obviously, there’s nothing in the middle of the road except yellow lines and dead armadillos. Who would want to be there anyway?
  2. New ideas can’t come from the middle. New ideas always come from the ends.
  3. There’s no debate, curiosity, creativity, free expression in Perceived Wisdom.
  4. Things change. Time, ideas, technology culture. Wisdom must change too or we stagnate.
  5. Perceived wisdom is linear. Real life occurs in systems.
  6. Perceived wisdom is what u get when everything is thrown into the middle and becomes moderate enough to please most. Vanilla.

New ideas come from the ends – ends that are loud enough, insistent enough, and interesting enough to push into the middle, eventually change, and become part of, the PW. But getting there – the journey – is the creative part. And those of us willing to take on the job must have very tough skins. Instead of our criteria being comfort, we must shift our criteria to truth and integrity, collaboration and serving.

What, exactly, is so powerful about Perceived Wisdom that whole industries (healthcare, sales, coaching, leadership) prefer to suffer failed strategies rather than add anything new to ensure success? What would we need to believe differently to be willing to question our long held assumptions? How can we tell if a long held assumption is wrong, or incomplete, or could be expanded, or worth thinking of something different? And how would each of us need to be different to be willing to hear fresh ideas and new voices that seemingly conflict with all we think we hold dear?

The good bit is that going against the norm is fabulous. I’ve been doing it for many decades, and the rewards make up for the pitfalls. I urge anyone with original ideas, passion for truth, and a hunger for diversity, creativity, and integrity, to shout that the perceived wisdom is wrong, and put forth

  • Diversity of ideas,
  • Fresh ideas from different cultures, ethnicity, countries, educational backgrounds,
  • True creative thinking that pushes industries (sales, coaching, leadership, listening, change) to new vocabulary and (slowly slowly) new thinking,
  • Expanded possibilities for innovation,
  • Ideas that inspire other ideas that wouldn’t have otherwise been stimulated.

The internet and search are now normalized, locked in place by our groupthink, maintained by the needs of Silicon Valley. But there must be a way we can find solutions that are both ethical AND make money. The internet, search, can be used for problem solving, not divisive rhetoric or monetization, for collaboration instead of discord. And yet we shame people who tell the truth because they don’t follow PW.

If our criteria is for better, more authentic ideas, for equality and integrity, we must go outside PW where innovation comes from. PW is merely the group/tribe acceptance of the status quo that has been standardized by the masses. Let’s all be innovators; let’s all shout out new truths and challenge the norm. And let’s all listen to the dissenters because they may be shedding light on new truths.

Let’s discuss this. I’m happy to discuss should anyone want to contact me. or 512 771 1117.


Sharon-Drew Morgen is an original thinker, visionary, inventor, and genius of note. She has developed new models for sales (Buying Facilitation®, how to lead people through their change management issues as they become buyers); listening (closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard); leadership and coaching (enabling followers to develop their own path to change); change and healthcare (generating new behaviors consciously by creating new neural pathways in the brain that replace old habits).

Sharon-Drew is the author of many books, one of which (Selling with Integrity) was on the NYTimes Business Bestseller’s list, and two of which were on the Amazon bestseller’s list (Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell, and What? Did you really say what I think I heard?). Her award winning blog, is populated with 6 original articles/essays a way that illustrate new ideas that go against the perceived wisdom. Sharon-Drew is available as a trainer, coach, sales strategist, and keynote speaker.

6 thoughts on “The Cost of Perceived Wisdom: how normalized thinking restricts Search and exposes us”

  1. Pingback: Sharon-Drew Morgen » Conscious Failing

  2. Pingback: Sharon-Drew Morgen » The Noise of Subjectivity: how our personal biases shape and restrict our worlds

  3. Pingback: Sharon-Drew Morgen » Practical Decision Making: a route to enhanced effectiveness

  4. Pingback: Practical Decision Making: a route to enhanced effectiveness | What? Did You Really Say What I Think I Heard?

  5. Pingback: Sharon-Drew Morgen » What If Our Jobs Were To Serve?

  6. Pingback: Sharon-Drew Morgen » Authenticity in Business: differentiating yourself in these uncertain times

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top