You don’t understand something until you understand it more than one way.”

–Marvin Minsky


Question: Are there more words which begin with the letter “K” or which have “K” as their third letter?

With words such as kangaroo, kitchen and kite readily springing to mind it is easy to assume there are more words beginning with the letter. This is incorrect. Surprisingly, there are three times as many words with “K” as their third letter. The reason many people provide the wrong answer is because it is easy to think of words that begin with K.” It is far harder to conjure up words such as acknowledge, irksome, unknown and wake.

In this same way, it is easy to understand our own situation. It is more difficult to understand the plight of others. This bias is one reason why the grass often appears greener on the other side of the fence.

In fact, there is a scientific explanation for the “greener grass” phenomenon. From a person’s viewpoint atop a patch of grass it is easy to notice the bare spots. Just look down. When the grass in question is farther off in the distance, a person’s viewpoint will impose a slant on the grass and their angle will only enable them to observe the top blades of grass. (See image above.) The result is that bare spots remain obscured from their line of sight. Only as they draw nearer do the ugly blotches and spots become noticeable.

The same is true with other aspects of our lives. Obviously, a person has an up close view of the “bare spots” in their life—be it a lower balance in their checking account, mounting credit card debt, an aching back, family issues, etc. The view of a neighbor’s life—one who has a larger house, newer car, or perhaps a happier family—is more difficult to discern. Like spotting words with “K” as their third letter, it is trickier to assess their “bare spots”—be they in the form of the internal house repairs, larger car payments or well concealed dysfunctional family issues.

The problem runs deeper than misplaced envy. Many times people will feel as though their patch of grass is cursed. For example, have you ever noticed how the line you are standing in at the grocery store is always the slowest moving? Or perhaps you always select the slowest lane on the freeway. If you feel this way there is good news. You aren’t cursed. You simply notice such instances more often.

If you think about this for moment, this makes sense. Because you are waiting and since you don’t have much else to do in these situations it is easy to concentrate on those who don’t share your plight (i.e. the people in the quicker moving lanes). On the other hand when you are moving along you are less likely to consider your good fortune. Instead you just move ahead—oblivious to the envious glances of those poor souls in the slower moving lines and lanes.

All of this is not to deny that there are bald spots on your grass and that sometimes you have chosen the slow lane. The challenge, in such situations, is to view your situation from a new perspective.

Over the past few years a numbers of companies which have done exactly this. For instance, when Nintendo was getting beaten by Microsoft Xbox in the gaming industry they noticed a huge “bare spot” in their market demographics and decided to develop a new type of video console, the Wii, which could be played by anyone, including seniors. Today, the 55-65 year-old segment is their fastest growing market. Yellowtail, an Australian wine company, similarly recognized that many people were intimated by wine. They created and marketed a low-cost, quality wine that took the apprehension out of buying wine for many people who previously never purchased wine. In the process, they converted a “bare spot” into a lush green pasture of opportunity.

By unlearning the idea that the grass is always greener on the other side you will stop chasing an illusion. The extra time you save can then be used toward making the grass upon which you are standing greener.

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