Browse Definitions:

reality check

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

A reality check is a second opinion, either requested or provided voluntarily, about the status of some current situation. Reality checks are similar to fact checking but are less formal.

When a reality check is volunteered, it's typically because the person offering it believes the person or organization in question is significantly mistaken about something. In a situation where someone asks another person for a reality check, it may be because they're dealing with a complex issue and are aware of the potential for errors.

In content creation, for example, errors can include simple typos, misinformation and slanted arguments resulting from cognitive bias. The four eyes principle -- a requirement that two people review a document -- is a type of reality check designed  to detect such errors so they don't appear in the final version. For important matters, it may be advisable to seek expert advice.

Reality checks are particularly important in business, where overconfidence often leads to a lack of preparedness and an inability to deal with setbacks. In a recent study exploring the expectations of 2994 entrepreneurs, for example, 81 percent of respondents rated their startups' odds of success at better than 7 out of 10, while 33 percent rated their chances at 10 out of 10, with no possibility of failure. In actuality, a significant number of startups never get traction and only one in 10 of those that do launch is still in business after five years. In this scenario, a reality check could consist of having an analyst evaluate your business plan and suggest areas that need improvement.  


This was last updated in March 2017

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