Thursday, December 14, 2006

Plumbing and Purple Cows

As I've gotten a little older and a little wiser (I hope), I've learned, as most do over time, not to jump to conclusions too readily. And yet it's something that everyone does at times. I suppose this reflects what Edward de Bono and others have noticed about the human tendency to recognise patterns and trends, even when they're not really there.

So it was with some amusement that I read one blogger's reaction to another person's blog.
Ed Kohler's entry on Technology Evangelist:
I was at Yahoo! HQ earlier this week and noticed that the sprinkler heads are purple.
It turns out that a LOT of stuff is purple at Yahoo, including a cow at the reception desk. While purple is apparently a Yahoo color and a color they take some pride in...
Over at Chuqui 3.0:
It's because purple in plumbing indicates that the water in that system is recycled. They're irrigating their landscape with water recovered from the wrong end (or maybe the right end!) of the sewage treatment plant...

Ed was trying to make a valid point about colours and corporate branding, and thought he'd spotted a relevant example, except the pattern he'd recognised wasn't really there. I chuckled over this, right up to the point when I realised that we all make this type of mistake, and more often then we may even realise. The human brain is wired to search out patterns. And sometimes it finds pseudo-patterns. The result is conspiracy theories, most political debate, religion vs. science, Windows vs. Mac, the inability of English cricketers to handle Australian wickets, and so on. It actually requires some effort to not draw conclusions too readily.

Interestingly, I think we most often make this sort of error in evaluating the behaviour of others. We see someone act in a certain way, associate that with someone else we've seen behave the same way, and conclude that the underlying reasons are the same, or that other aspects of that person will be the same. This can lead to some very unhappy outcomes.

Of course, none of this explains why Yahoo have a purple cow at the reception desk.