"We guess as we read, we create; everything starts from an initial error; those that follow (and this applies not only to the reading of letters and telegrams, not only to all reading), extraordinary as they may appear to a person who has not begun at the same starting-point, are all quite natural. A large part of what we believe to be true (and this applies even to our final conclusions) with an obstinacy equalled only by our good faith, springs from an original mistake in our premises.
--[my italics] The Fugitive, trans, Moncrieff, p. 671.
This passage made me think of a lot of things in our biz--broadly defined--from the challenges of having a debate/discussion with anyone who doesn't start with the same premise (E.g., See post below on the difficulty of articulating a distinction between two kinds of online experience) to a larger point about research companies who, because they are in the business of prediction, refuse to admit when they made a mistake (based on wrong or out-of-date premises) until they absolutely have to. I'm thinking of course of our pollsters in N.H. who are still scrambling to explain their failures. (race, the alphabet, weeping women, those contrarian NH'ers) Wouldn't the much more interesting and useful action be to admit that our old premises are no longer accurate and start working on adjusting the model accordingly?
I think I've posted before on this but maybe it's repeating: one of the questions I always ask researchers/testing companies/trend-spotters/insight-mavens is "Tell about a time when you were wrong and how you adjusted your model/premises to adjust to the new data?"
I haven't receive a good answer yet. Really, not one. It's one of the most annoying (and counter-productive) features of the business culture. You can never admit to being wrong without putting your livelihood at risk. Which means, of course, it's quite difficult to shed those old premises.