The Rashomon Effect

The renowned Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa, made a 1950 film that explores variations of truth. Rashomon tells the story of four eyewitness accounts of the same crime; each account is plausible and contradicts the other. The different interpretations of the story are motivated by self-interest. The film led to the evolution of the term, “Rashomon Effect,” or contradictory interpretations of the same event. This happens all the time in everyday life. How many times has someone told you a story of something that happened, only to later hear someone else tell you about the same event but with a decidedly different twist?

Growing up in my family, we would call this the “Daniel Effect,” for my oldest brother’s propensity to reinterpret events from our childhood that, mysteriously enough, only he can recall.

Few people, I believe, intentionally reinterpret events to benefit themselves. Instead, people naturally filter events through their own experiences and beliefs.

So, who is right, and how do you know? And when does it matter?

When I lead workshops in corporations, I often ask participants a simple question: “How is your business doing?” I get a wide range of responses, from “We’re doing really well!” to “I don’t think we can make it.” It’s not uncommon for two people sitting next to each other to voice such disparate thoughts.

Then I ask the group, “Who’s right?” It leads to a great dialogue that uncovers assumptions, facts, opinions, and life experiences that shape what each of us believes to be true.

So the next time you experience the Rashomon Effect—or the Daniel Effect—ask yourself what assumptions and beliefs you hold that led you to your conclusion. Ask others the same: “Hmmm, what led you to that conclusion?”

Perhaps who is right matters less than the conversation to learn about another person's perspective. Chances are you are both a little bit wrong--and a little bit right, too.