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​​EG60: the illusion of value

Written by Emanuel Martonca
on August 1, 2022

Which stick is longer in the image below?

If you think that the stick on the bottom is longer, look again at the image.

They are both the same length.


This effect is purely visual and it probably happens because of the ways in which we perceive perspective (search for the Muller-Lyer illusion).

Now consider the following list:

  • Estimations of work duration for software projects
  • Quality scores
  • Skill levels for technical people
  • Delivered value in contracts
  • Prices
  • Budgets

All of these are subject to the same illusion: items that are equal will seem to have different values in the mind of some people. And items that are different might look of equal value to some people.

The more complex the topic or the project, the more this effect will influence how people evaluate what is being presented to them.

To manipulate or not

The biggest problem with these types of effects is that they are not neutral.

You either use it, or you are being used. 

There is no middle ground.

Think about the latest project proposal you sent to a potential customer. They certainly compared it with other options and competitors.

Their perception of reality was influenced by this effect.

If you choose not to use them to your advantage, you are actively choosing to be at a disadvantage, because a “100% objective view of reality” doesn’t exist.

All reality is perceived reality.


It’s very important to create real value and to work on improving or maintaining the quality of your services.

Unfortunately, you also have to spend considerable effort and resources on how that real value is perceived by your customers.


I remember reading about the Muller-Lyer illusion many years ago.

I was reminded about it at the Museum of Illusions in Zagreb, which I visited while on vacation this summer.

This officially means I see pricing everywhere. Whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I leave it up to you to decide.

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