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Explanations > Thinking > Homogenizing

Description | Example | Discussion | So what?



When thinking about different things, we tend to classify them, putting them into defined groups. Then we treat everything (or everyone) in each group as if they were exactly the same.

When considering a new thing, we seek to classify it into one of these existing categories rather than wonder if it is something separate.


Marketers segment their customers into similar groups using criteria such as socio-economics and age. Then they use the same promotions to everyone in a segment. If the segment is still highly varied, the marketing efforts will have limited effect.

People often assume teenagers are all the same, being rebellious, lazy and so on. In fact many tteenagers work very hard. 


Assuming groups we identify are homogeneous is a common error. This is particularly true when we have no disconfirming evidence, such as when we think of people from other countries which we have not visited or where our interactions with locals were limited.

The same applies to non-human things, ideas and so on. We likewise classify and consequently ignore or mistreat much of what we encounter, simply because of this thinking error.

Classifying things are the same can often be due to lazy thinking. It takes more effort to explore differences, so we short-cut to similarity to save time and effort.

When we treat things as homogeneous, there is always an error gap between our assumptions and reality which will vary for each item in the group. The larger this gap, the greater the potential for thinking errors.

Looking for similarity can be a personality characteristic. Some people do this, while others seek differences. People who are competent look for similarities so they can repeat a consistent process. People who find mastery do this by seeking differences by which they can deepen knowledge and identify continuous incremental improvement.

So what?

When thinking, consider how things are different, even when they seem the same. In persuading, to cloak subtle differences, frame things as the same rather than similar (which may provoke questions about the difference.

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