This is a bit of an indulgent post today, but it made me chuckle a little, and I thought there was an interesting lesson in all of this, so here’s hoping you enjoy the somewhat tangential journey.

For starters, I’m a fan of a broad cross section of music. I love lots of different styles, and lots of different genres. I especially like music I can dance to because, well, I like to dance. Thus, when Daft Punk came out with the highly electronic and variable album “Discovery” in 2001, buoyed by its auto-tune pioneering track “One More Time”, I thought it was a fun, quirky and danceable house album. From there, I just let it recede into my memory of everyday music.

Move forward to the end of 2003. Daft Punk and Japanese animation legend Leiji Matsumoto (he of “Space Battleship Yamato” fame), collaborated on several music videos for the tracks on Discovery. In fact, all of them. The net result of this collaboration was the fun, quirky and memorable Anime film “Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem“.

My daughters love this movie! they have watched it several times, and know all of the key points to it, they know the story of the abduction of the blue band from their home-world, of Shep and his determination to rescue them, and all of the songs that go with the saga of the Creschendolls as they make their way through the story.

I had some fun asking them about various songs and why they liked them. Invariably, they didn’t say anything about the beat, or about the structure of the song, or the melodic elements. They mentioned what was happening in the actual movie. In other words, to my kids, Daft Punk’s work is incidental. It’s the images that make the experience. To me, it’s the other way around. The music is what fascinates me, and the imagery adds a layer of fun candy to the experience, but it’s not the experience. Why? Because I experienced “Discovery” away from the context of “Interstella 5555”. My daughters never have. To them, Discovery is Interstella 5555!

For years, I’ve been interested in how we associate memories, emotions, and feelings with our first experiences with something. It’s why changes can be traumatic to some people, even if the changes are arguable for the better. Likewise, if our first experience is with something that came later, we may have less sympathy with those extolling what used to be. I explained to my daughter when I was a teenager there used to be a common argument among Iron Maiden fans. Who was the better vocalist? Paul Di’Anno or Bruce Dickinson? To me, on a purely aesthetic level, Bruce Dickinson is the more accomplished vocalist. On a purely emotional level, he doesn’t hold a candle to Paul Di’Anno. How can I say that? Because it was Paul who emotionally connected with me as a singer when I was a young teenager. Bruce came later, and because he was not part of the initial experience, he was always looked as as an “after element”. I didn’t associated Bruce with Iron Maiden the same way I associated Paul.

What does this all have to do with testing? We talk a mean game about context and switching context when it’s needed, but we have a very large problem to overcome with many people, and that is the fact that it is often difficult for their brains to make  contextual jumps. Associations are powerful things. We often don’t realize that our contexts are built based on associations. Those associations can be physical, auditory, tactile, emotional, psychological. They can be good or bad based on our immediate experiences, and sometimes, we have a hard time seeing one association as being more or less relevant than another. the trick to overcoming and changing contexts is being willing and able to mentally break with associations.

So the next time you find yourself wondering why someone might be looking at a product or a feature a certain way, or with a certain bias or slant, ask yourself if there are any lingering associations with the feature or element in question. The more effectively you can determine the associations, the more likely you are to be able to figure out how to get beyond them and look at them differently.