Successive Approximations

Seth Godin on Placebos

Seth Godin on Placebos

This is an interesting short piece from Seth about placebos:

Ignoring the placebo effect won’t make it go away. Embracing it will help you do much better work, work that quite possibly is based on those skills and practices you’ve worked so hard to be good at. If it’s worth doing your work, it’s worth doing it in a way where placebos will help you do it better.

Reading this, I realized that I tend look at the placebo effect at work the way a scientist might look at it in an experiment: trying to separate placebo effects from treatment effects. You want to know if an experiment condition had a positive effect, was it due to the treatment or the placebo?

But distinguishing those two things takes extra time and effort, and for what?

Especially in client-facing interactions, if the placebo effect gives you a tailwind that leads to a good outcome for you and for the customer, how much effort is it worth trying to figure out what component was placebo and what was your work?

So, my takeaway is this: don't rely on placebos and don't intentionally use things that you know are meaningless because that quickly verges on deception. But at the same time, don't worry too much about how much of a good result is your own ingenuity vs a placebo. Just be satisfied that the result was successful and move on. You're not doing science in a lab, you're practicing a craft in the real world. Take breaks where you can get them and don't question them too much.

Ben Berry

I don't have comments on my posts, but if you want to reach me, email me at my first name at