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Stupid Things Smart People Do

From Lee Semel on Quora answering “What are some stupid things that smart people do?

 

  • Ignoring the importance of design and style – When the iPod originally came out, technical people complained about its lack of features and perceived high price (“ooh, who cares about another MP3 player, I can go buy one at Best Buy for $50” http://forums.macrumors.com/show…).  In the meantime, it was so cool and easy to use that normal people went out in droves to buy it.
  • Using terrible tools, and taking pride in their awfulness – Especially common with programmers, who take pride in using programming languages and text editors that have been designed by programmers, not updated since the 1970s, and never touched by anyone with a modicum of design sense. They believe that mastering arcane, overcomplicated commands and processes are a mark of pride, rather than a waste of time.  I will refrain from singling out specific programming languages and tools here, because smart people also like to get caught up in pointless flame wars about this sort of thing.
  • Following the pack – Many smart people often seem to be followers, probably because they grow up spending so much time pleasing others via academic and extracurricular achievement that they never figure out what they really like to work on or try anything unique.  Smart people from top schools tend to flock into the same few elite fields, as they try to keep on achieving what other people think they should achieve, rather than figuring out whatever it is they intrinsically want to do.
  • Failing to develop social skills – Some smart people focus exclusively on their narrow area of interest and never realize that everything important in life is accomplished through other people.  They never try to improve their social skills, learn to network, or self promote, and often denigrate people who excel in these areas. If you are already a good engineer you are going to get 10x the return on time spent improving how you relate to other people compared to learning the next cool tool.
  • Focusing on being right above all else – Many smart people act as if being right trumps all else, and go around bluntly letting people know when they are wrong, as if this will somehow endear others to them.  They also believe that they can change other people’s minds through argument and facts, ignoring how emotional and irrational people actually are when it comes to making decisions or adopting beliefs.
  • Letting success in one area lead to overconfidence in others – Smart people sometimes think that just because they are expert in their field, they are automatically qualified in areas about which they know nothing.  For instance, doctors have a reputation as being bad investors:http://medicaleconomics.modernme….
  • Underrating effort and practice – For smart people, many things come easily without much effort.  They’re constantly praised for “being smart” whenever they do anything well.  The danger is that they become so reliant on feeling smart and having people praise them, that they avoid doing anything that they’re not immediately great at.  They start to believe that if you’re not good at something from the beginning, you’re destined to always be terrible at it, and the thing isn’t worth doing.  These smart people fail to further develop their natural talents and eventually fall behind others who, while less initially talented, weren’t as invested in “being smart” and instead spent more time practicing.  http://nymag.com/news/features/2…
  • Engaging in zero sum competitions with other smart people – Many smart people tend to flock to fields which are already saturated with other smart people.  Only a limited number of people can become a top investment banker, law partner, Fortune 500 CEO, humanities professor, or Jeopardy champion.  Yet smart people let themselves be funneled into these fields and relentlessly compete with each other for limited slots.  They all but ignore other areas where they could be successful, and that are less overrun by super-smart people.   Instead of thinking outside the box, smart people often think well within a box, a very competitive box that has been set up by other people and institutions to further someone else’s interests at the expense of the smart person.
  • Excessively focusing on comparing their achievements with others – Smart people who have been raised in a typical achievement-focused family or school can get anxious about achievement to the point of ridiculousness.  This leads to people earnestly asking questions like: Success: If I haven’t succeeded in my mid 20s, could I be successful in the rest of my life? andAre you a failure if you are not a billionaire by age 30? What about 40?
  • Ignoring diminishing returns on information – Smart people are often voracious readers and can absorb huge quantities of information on any subject.  They get caught up in reading every last bit of information on subjects that interest them, like investing, lifehacking, or tech specs of products they’re planning on buying.   While some information is useful in making a decision, poring through the vast amount of information available online can be a waste of time.  They end up spending a lot of time gathering information without taking action.
  • Elitism – Smart people often use smartness as measure of the entire worth of a person.  They fail to see the value in or even relate with people who are different.  This is illustrated by the Yale professor who doesn’t have the slightest idea what to say to his plumber: http://www.theamericanscholar.or….  And questions like Am I an elitist to think that most people are stupid?
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How to get an MBA from Eminem by James Altucher

January 18, 2014 Leave a comment

This recent Facebook post by James Altucher is amazing in the way he uses cognitive biases to break down the final rap battle in Eminem’s “8 Mile.” Enjoy.

Note: Links and bold emphasis are mine. — DD

8mile

In 2002 I was driving to a hedge fund manager’s house to hopefully raise money from him. I was two hours late. This was pre-GPS and I had no cell phone. I was totally lost.

I kept playing over and over again “Lose Yourself” by Eminem.

I was afraid this was my one shot and I was blowing it. I was even crying in my car. I was going broke and I felt this was my one chance. What a loser.

Finally I got there. The hedge fund manager was dressed all in pink. His house was enormous. Maybe 20,000 square feet. His cook served us a great meal. I had made him wait two hours to eat. And he had cancer at the time. I felt real bad.

Then we played chess and it was fun and he gave me a tour of the house. One room was just for toys made in 1848. He had a squash court inside the house.

Another room had weird artifacts like the handwritten notes when Lennon & McCartney were first writing down the lyrics for “Hey Jude”.

Another was the official signed statement by Ted Kennedy in the police station after he reported the Chappaquiddick accident that ultimately caused him to never be President.

Eventually I did raise money from this manager and it started a new life for me.

But that’s not why I bring up Eminem at all.

The song “Lose Yourself” is from the movie “8 Mile“. Although I recommend it, you don’t have to see it to understand what I am about to write. I’ll give you everything you need to know.

Eminem is a genius at sales and competition and he shows it in ONE scene in the movie.

A scene I will break down for you line by line so you will know everything there is to know about sales, cognitive bias, and defeating your competition.

First, here’s all you need to know about the movie.

Eminem is a poor, no-collar, white-trash guy living in a trailer park. He’s beaten on, works crappy jobs, gets betrayed, etc. But he lives to rap and break out somehow.

In the first scene he is having a “battle” against another rapper and he chokes. He gives up without saying a word. He’s known throughout the movie as someone who chokes under pressure and he seems doomed for failure.

Until he chooses himself.

The scene I will show you and then break down is the final battle in the movie. He’s the only white guy and the entire audience is black. He’s up against the reigning champion that the audience loves.

He wins the battle and I will show you how. With his techniques you can go up against any competition.

First off, watch the scene (with lyrics) before and after my explanation.

Here is the scene: 

Watch it right now.

Ok, let’s break it down. How did Eminem win so easily?

Setting aside his talent for a moment (assume both sides are equally talented), Eminem used a series of cognitive biases to win the battle.

The human brain was developed over the past 400,000 years. In fact, arguably, when the brain was used more to survive in nomadic situations, humans had higher IQs then they had today.

But one very important thing is that the brain developed many biases as short-cuts to survival.

For instance, a very common one is that we have a bias towards noticing negative news over positive news.

The reason is simple: if you were in the jungle and you saw a lion to your right and an apple tree to your left, you would best ignore the apple tree and run as fast as possible away from the lion.

This is called “negativity bias” and it’s the entire reasons newspapers still survive by very explicitly exploiting this bias in humans. .

We no longer need those short-cuts as much. There aren’t that many lions in the street. But the brain took 400,000 years to evolve and it’s only in the past 50 years maybe that we are relatively safe from most of the dangers that threatened earlier humans.

Our technology and ideas have evolved but our brains can’t evolve fast enough to keep up with them.

Consequently, these biases are used in almost every sales campaign, business, marketing campaign, movie, news, relationship, everything.

Almost all of your interactions are dominated by biases and understanding them is helpful when calling BS on your thoughts or the actions of others.

You have to learn how to reach past the signals from the brain and develop intuition and mastery over these biases.

1) INGROUP BIAS

Notice Eminem’s first line: “Now everybody from the 313, put your mother-f&cking hands up and follow me”.

The 313 is the area code for Detroit. And not just Detroit. It’s for blue-collar Detroit where the entire audience, and Eminem, is from.

So he wipes away the outgroup bias that might be associated with his race and he changes the conversation to “who is in 313 and who is NOT in 313”.

2) HERD BEHAVIOR

He said, “put your hands up and follow me”. Everyone starts putting their hands up without thinking. So their brain tells them that they are doing this for rational reasons.

For instance, they are now following Eminem.

3) AVAILABILITY CASCADE

The brain has a tendency to believe things if they are repeated, regardless of whether or not they are true. This is called Availability Cascade.

Notice Eminem repeats his first line. After he does that he no longer needs to say “follow me”. He says, “Look, look.”

He is setting up the next cognitive bias.

4) DISTINCTION BIAS OR OUTGROUP BIAS.

Brains have a tendency to view two things as very different if they are evaluated at the same time as opposed to if they were evaluated separately.

Eminem wants his opponent “Papa Doc” to be evaluated right then as someone different from the group, even though the reality is they are all in the same group of friends with similar interests, etc.

Eminem says: “Now while he stands tough, notice that this man did not have his hands up”.

In other words, even though Papa Doc is black, like everyone in the audience, he is no longer “in the group” that Eminem has defined and commanded: the 313 group.

He has completely CHANGED THE CONVERSATION from race to area code.

5) AMBIGUITY BIAS

He doesn’t refer to Papa Doc by name. He says “this man”. In other words, there’s “the 313 group” which we are all a part of in the audience and now there is this ambiguous man who is attempting to invade us.

Watch Presidential campaign debates. A candidate will rarely refer to another candidate by name. Instead, he might say, “All of my opponents might think X, but we here know that Y is better”.

When the brain starts to view a person with ambiguity it gets confused and CAN’T MAKE CHOICES involving that ambiguity. So the person without ambiguity wins.

6) CREDENTIAL BIAS

Because the brain wants to take short cuts, it will look for information more from people with credentials or lineage than from people who come out of nowhere.

So, for instance, if one person was from Harvard and told you it was going to rain today and another random person told you it was going to be sunny today you might be more inclined to believe the person from Harvard.

Eminem does this subtly two lines later. He says, “one, two, three, and to the four”.

This is a direct line from Snoop Doggy Dogg’s first song with Dr. Dre, “Ain’t Nothin But a G Thing“. It is the first line in the song and perhaps one of the most well-known rap lines ever.

Eminem directly associates himself with well-known successful rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop when he uses that line.

He then use Availability Cascade again by saying, “one Pac, two Pac, three Pac, four.” First, he’s using that one, two, three, and to the four again but this time with Pac, which refers to the rapper Tupac. So now he’s associated himself in this little battle in Detroit with three of the greatest rappers ever.

7) INGROUP / OUTGROUP

Eminem points to random people in the audience and says “You’re Pac, He’s Pac,” including them with him in associating their lineages with these great rappers.

But then he points to his opponent, Papa Doc, makes a gesture like his head is being sliced off and says, “You’re Pac, NONE”. Meaning that Papa Doc has no lineage, no credibility, unlike Eminem and the audience.

8) BASIC DIRECT MARKETING: LIST THE OBJECTIONS UP FRONT. Any direct marketer or salesperson knows the next technique Eminem uses.

When you are selling a product, or yourself, or even going on a debate or convincing your kids to clean up their room, the person or group you are selling to is going to have easy objections.

They know those objections and you know those objections. If you don’t bring them up and they don’t bring them up then they will not buy your product.

If they bring it up before you, then it looks like you were hiding something and you just wasted a little of their time by forcing them to bring it up.

So a great sales technique is to address all of the objections in advance.

Eminem’s next set of lines does this brilliantly.

He says, “I know everything he’s got to say against me”.

And then he just lists them one by one:

“I am white”
“I am a fuckin bum”
“I do live in a trailer with my mom”
“My boy, Future, is an Uncle Tom”
“I do have a dumb friend named Cheddar Bob who shot himself with his own gun”.
“I did get jumped by all six of you chumps”

And so on. He lists several more.

But at the end of the list, there’s no more criticism you can make of him. He’s addressed everything and dismissed them. In a rap battle, (or a sales pitch), if you address everything your opponent can say, he’s left with nothing to say.

When he has nothing to say, the audience, or the sales prospect, your date, your kids, whoever, will buy from you or listen to what you have to say.

Look at direct marketing letters you get in email. They all spend pages and pages addressing your concerns. This is one of the most important techniques in direct marketing.

9) HUMOR BIAS

Eminem saves his best for last. “But I know Something About You” he says while staring at Papa Doc.

He sings it playfully, making it stand out and almost humorous. There is something called Humor Bias. People remember things that are stated humorously more than they remember serious things.

10) EXTREME OUTGROUP

“You went to Cranbook.” And then Eminem turns to his “313 group” for emphasis as he explains what Cranbook is. “That’s a private school.”

BAM!

There’s no way now the audience can be on Papa Doc’s side but Eminem makes the outgroup even larger. “His real name’s Clarence. And his parents have a real good marriage.”

BAM and BAM! Two more things that separate Papa Doc out from the crowd. He’s a nerdy guy, who goes to a rich school, and his parents are together.

Unlike probably everyone in the audience including Eminem. No wonder Papa Doc doesn’t live in the 313, which was originally stated somewhat humorously but is now proven without a doubt.

11) CREDENTIAL BIAS (again)

Eminmen says, “There ain’t no such thing as”… and the audience chants with him because they know exactly what he is quoting from “Halfway Crooks!” a line from a song by Mobb Deep (I did their website back in 1998), another huge East Coast rap group (so now Eminem has established lineage between himself and both the West Coast and the East Coast).

And by using the audience to say “Halfway Crooks” we’re all in the same group again while “Clarence” goes back to his home with his parents at the end of the show.

12) SCARCITY

The music stops, which means Eminem has to stop and let Papa Doc have his turn. But he doesn’t. He basically says “F*ck everybody”, “F*ck y’all if you doubt me”. “I don’t wanna win. I’m outtie”.

He makes himself scarce. After establishing total credibility with the audience he basically says he doesn’t want what they have to offer.

He reduces the supply of himself by saying he’s out of there. Maybe he will never come back. Reduce the supply of yourself while demand is going up and what happens? Basic economics. Value goes up.

He’s so thoroughly dominated the battle that now, in reversal to the beginning of the movie, Papa Doc chokes. He doesn’t quite choke, though. There’s nothing left to say. Eminem has said it all for him.

There’s no way Papa Doc can raise any “objections” because Eminem has already addressed them all. All he can do is defend himself, which will give him the appearance of being weak. And he’s so thoroughly not in the “313 Group” that there is no way to get back in there.

There’s simply nothing left to say. So Eminem wins the battle.

And what does Eminem do with his victory? He can do anything.

But he walks away from the entire subculture. He walks off at the end of the movie with no connection to what he fought for.

He’s going to Choose Himself to be successful and not rely on the small-time thinking in battles in Detroit.

He’s sold 220 million records worldwide. He discovered and produced 50 Cent who has sold hundreds of millions more (and is another example of “Choose Yourself” as Robert Greene so aptly describes in his book “The 50th Law“).

Doesn’t it seem silly to analyze a rap song for ideas how to be better at sales and communicating? I don’t know. You tell me.

I’ve exposed myself so much in my blog posts. I’ve been really embarrassed. In fact, I don’t hit “Publish” on something unless I’m afraid of how people will react.

When you expose yourself there are many many ways for people to attack you. People will stab you and hurt you. But you can’t create art unless you show how unique you are while being inclusive with others who share your problems.

I’m still scared when I hit publish. But I love that final feeling of risk and fear. The rush. The carriage return. Click.

Why Taking Action Isn’t Always The Best Move

December 30, 2013 Leave a comment

From Nassim Taleb’s Facebook page:

A standard mistake is to do something to avoid criticism (as opposed to doing something because it is *right*), and, what’s worse, show it. This seems trivial but smart people make the mistake all the time, not realizing the hormetic effect: critics will now have the stimulating challenge to find something else.

If you are ever told “your critics will attack you for this”, you should 1) answer: fuck them, 2) do more of it.

Have You Ever Seen a Duckrabbit?

From Wikipedia:

“Aspect seeing is the ability to see one thing in multiple ways.

Just as we can see the “duckrabbit” as either a duck or a rabbit…One of the great dangers we face in making use of our minds is getting trapped in only being able to see the world in one way.”

Duck-Rabbit_illusion

h/t Digital Tonto – Stupid Strategy

What Is The Internet Doing To Our Brains?

Are you one of the many people struggling with information overload in our attention economy?

If so, what effect is the Internet, with all of its interruptions and distractions, having on the way your brain processes information?

Here’s a great video summary of Nicholas Carr’s 2011 Pulitzer Prize nominated book, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” that I discovered on the excellent Farnam Street Blog.

 

 

Along the same vein, I highly recommend Dolf Robelli’s white paper, “Avoid News” and Tim Ferriss’ Change This Manifesto,”The Low-Information Diet: How to Eliminate Email Overload and Triple Productivity in 24 Hours

 

Motivation in the Workplace

December 10, 2012 Leave a comment

If you want to motivate your employees, how do you do it? Do you focus on traditional incentives, like more money?

That’s one of the questions career analyst and author Daniel Pink (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us) tackles in his TED Talk on workplace motivation. He says,

“There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does. And here is what science knows.

One: Those 20th century rewards, those motivators we think are a natural part of business, do work, but only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances.

Two: Those if-then rewards often destroy creativity.

Three: The secret to high performance isn’t rewards and punishments, but that unseen intrinsic drive — the drive to do things for their own sake. The drive to do things cause they matter.”

So what’s the best way to help your employees to get the job done? Pink distills his research down to 3 areas:

  1. Autonomy – The urge to direct our own lives
  2. Mastery – The desire to get better and better at something that matters
  3. Purpose – The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves

Watch the entire 18 min TED Talk in the video below.

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, I would also suggest checking out the Deutsch LA report done in collaboration with the 4A’s that explored why people leave agencies. I think the findings are complementary to Pink’s research.

DeutschLA_4As

Are Latinos Struggling With Depression?

February 18, 2011 Leave a comment

Image credit here

DISCLOSURE: This post was originally published Feb. 17th. See the original + follow up comments on the Casanova Pendrill blog.

A recent article on HuffingtonPost.com about depression in Latinos really surprised me, since the data I’ve seen generally describes Latinos as positive or optimistic. Some other findings were:

  • Mental illness, such as depression, often carries a stigma in the Hispanic community because of cultural and socioeconomic factors – “Even more so than American culture as a whole, Latino culture values self-reliance, which can discourage people from talking about their problems…”
  • There’s a major shortage of Spanish-speaking health professionals
  • Cultural barriers –  “Many physicians, psychiatrists, therapists are well-trained…but they aren’t trained in understanding culture and how they’re impacting someone’s world.”
  • 16 million Latinos – about 1 in 3,  are presently uninsured in the U.S.

Maybe marketers need to take a second look. I don’t really have any answers, but I do have a lot of questions:

How many U.S. Latinos are currently battling depression?

How does depression vary based on level of acculturation?

Does country of origin play a role?

Parents, teens, recent arrivals adjusting to life in the U.S. — how are they coping?

Is this article an accurate depiction or just a catchy headline?

Has anyone else seen data that supports or contradicts this article? I’d love to know.

Categories: PSYCHOLOGY Tags: ,
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