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Book Review – Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

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influenceA lot of the time in my position as Product Manager is invested in convincing people (mainly developers, but also managers, and sometimes even customers) of my ideas. So being persuasive is an trait that I need to master to do my job well (at least from my point of view). Because of this, Influence was a must-read for me, which I did a couple of years ago, and I decided to re-read it recently after Scott Adams referenced him so much in his blogs. Good decision.

As many previous books about behavior show, we (a.k.a humans) are easy to manipulate. Way too easy. And in his book, Cialdini gives a number simple and straightforward of techniques to use in our everyday life, both to convince others of our ideas, and to identify when others are using these techniques to make us do things we should (probably) not be doing. And don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to manipulate my co-workers to do my bidding so I can do whatever I want. But if you can convince someone of something in 15 minutes instead of an hour, time is saved. And when I’m wrong I don’t try to convince others that I’m right. So disclaimer over, let’s talk about the book :-).

One of the first and most impressive examples of persuasion is the use of a reason when asking for something. For example “I need to do X because Y”. The word “because” is very powerful because “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we give a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do[my emphasys]”. Take the example in the book, where an experimenter wants to cut in line to use a Xerox machine. In the control group, the experimenter asked the person in the machine “Excuse me, I have five pages, May I use the Xerox machine?” In this case, only 60% of people complied. After this, the experimenter asked “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?” A startling 94% of those asked complied. But it doesn’t stop here, you don’t need a real reason, you just need to have a reason. The sentence “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?” An impressive 93% of those asked complied (!!!). Incredible.

There are many other examples like this, some using the scarcity principle, the principle of social proof, anchoring, consistency, authority, and many others.

So why do all of these “cheat sheets” work? As the author writes in the book’s epilogue: “Very often in making a decision… we don’t use all the relevant available information; we use, instead, only a single, highly representative piece of the total. [and] Despite the susceptibility to stupid decisions that accompanies a reliance on a single feature of the available data, the pace of modern life demands that we frequently use this shortcut”. But thanks to him, we now know better.

Written by vainolo

September 12th, 2016 at 7:39 am

Book Review – And Then I Thought I Was a Fish

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41q7rNZEWkLThis book is the amazing story of a guy (who from his writing seems very smart) that went for an acid trip, and almost never came back. It’s a story about how you can go crazy little by little without the people around you noticing, and suddenly it happens – and in most cases there is no way back. The current psychological/psychiatric system is not built to treat patients – it’s main (and sometimes only) job is to keep them nice and quiet so they don’t bother society:

It’s amazing how long you can run around doing crazy things before people catch up to you. The only people I fear in this world are psychopaths, because society has no defense against them. The famous ones kill dozens, sometimes hundreds of people, and these are just the sub-par psychos who need to be up close for the kill and have childhood issues. The rest of them are running nations and armies and businesses [my emphasis]. Psychopaths are better at all these things because they don’t care what happens to anyone around them

The author does a lot of introspection on what happened to him, and why it happened, creating enthralling tales of how the brain works, how it adapts. How loss of sleep can bring your consciousness out of control and make you believe anything. How belief is so ephemeral. And our brains are simply ill-equipped to handle so many things:

… many of the greatest minds in history have been working on mysteries like consciousness for millennia with no progress.. [and] we’re no more equipped to solve them than a rat is equipped to learn calculus – Given that the mind is a product of natural selection… it should have a mere ability to solve problems that are sufficiently similar to the mundane survival challenges of our ancestors. According to the saying, if you give a boy a hammer, the whole world becomes a nail. If you give a species an elementary grasp of biology, and psychology, the whole world becomes a machine, a jungle, a society. I will suggest that religion and philosophy are in part the application of mental tools to problems they were not designed to solve

Simply awesome. Go and read it.

Written by vainolo

September 4th, 2016 at 10:32 pm

Book Review – Thinking, Fast and Slow

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51oXKWrcYYLContinuing on the subject of human behavior (started with this book), I finished reading Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman. What a great book!


His main idea is that our cognitive functions are executed by two different systems: The first one (system 1) is automatic, fast, doesn’t require much energy, and isn’t very exact (to say the least). The second one (System 2) has to be called explicitly, takes a lot of energy, and its results are much more accurate than those of system 1. This by itself is very interesting, but on top of that, we are limited by the amount of time System 2 can be used until it becomes tired and starts making mistakes. And system 2 can concentrate on only one thing at a time, as is shown by the “Invisible Gorilla” experiment. Are we really that dumb???

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Written by vainolo

February 14th, 2016 at 9:08 pm

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