Monday, 30 April 2007

The Barnum Effect

We'll believe anything, proof of how cold readers, palm readers, mystics, and con artists do it! For more on Barnum see post 8th April 2007 in the archive

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How To Know If Someone Is Lying To You

The following techniques for telling if someone is lying are often used by police, and security experts. This knowledge is also useful for managers, employers, and for anyone to use in everyday situations where telling the truth from a lie can help prevent you from being a victim of fraud/scams and other deceptions.

Liars depend on our gulliblity. They want us to assume that what they say is truthful by accepting their version of things uncritically. They trade on the fact that most people find it socially uncomfortable to challenge some body elses claims because it generates the implied reaction 'how dare you disbelieve what I tell you'

Liars are skilled at constructing alternative versions of events. They become so skilled that they 'enter into the deception' almost becoming convinced of their own fabrications. In this way they defend themselves by appearing authentic.

Probing questions are the key to unlocking the liar. Inconsistencies can be identified in the 'facts' and chronology. Creating space to listen to what the liar has to say rather than jumping in and challenging things is a good method too. Give them enough rope and they will hang themsleves as they say. The liar relies on cues to determine how effective their lies are. By reacting to each and every one of their statements we provide the liar with key information as to 'how well they are doing' and the extent and gaps in our knowledge. They then use this information to improve the deception.

To some extent we are all liars. Erving Goffman in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life describes and explains how we all portray a 'front' a 'persona'. These personae are taken for granted in everyday social situations. They go unchallenged and because of this we are vulnerable to misrepresentation.

Always question the motive and reason people have for saying what they say. What's in it for them? Why are they reluctant to elborate on the things you ask and really keen to elaborate on the things they want you to believe. Are you being asked to take things on face value, place your faith in what they say or are you freely given facts and information in order that ou can judge for yourself. If the other person wants to control the meaning of things rather than you then chances are something is amiss. If you smell a rat then its probably there!

Liar Liar Links:

How To Tell If Someone Is Lying To You
The Book of Tells .com

How To Spot A Liar
How to Spot a Liar - Google Books sample chapters

Is Ignorance Bliss? 6 - On Organisational Learning

Driven partly by the belief that there is a single good answer to the question of ‘what does the market want?’ just waiting to be found by the person who is the most ‘in the know’, the whole subject of making sense of the business environment often becomes personalised and politicised. Discussions on the meaning of data and information become ‘turf wars’ where the political stakes for domination of ‘your’ point of view is extremely high. In this environment the skill of ignoring others becomes very polished and seems to occur as:

Being ignorant of ‘ignorance’ as an organisational phenomenon.

My experience in organisations shows that a significant number of people don’t have the business lexicon (jargon if you prefer), deep and intergrated education in business thinking and approaches, or the reflective skills to enable a productive assessment of management behaviour. Consequently people frequently rely on 'armchair theories', man on his bar stool explanations, and Springer-esque understandings of the process of becoming a succesful organisation.

Having the power to ignore.

A sense of indispensability, and a strong ego reinforced by recent successes encourages people to believe ‘they’ve learned enough’ and that the usefulness of their ‘model of explaining their world is enduring’. These echoes the observations of Bob Garrat in his book ‘Creating a Learning Organisation’ where recently promoted new directors feel that learning and training applies to everyone in the organisation but themselves.

In the gaming business this is especially noticeable in the area of games design where the explicit technical skill of computer programming is welded to the tacit behavioural skill of game creation. Attempts to learn about games design assumptions and their relationship to market information are frequently perceived as a serious threat to interfere with the ‘special knowledge’ of the designers rather than an attempt to build new perspectives and grow the organisations knowledge of the subject. These perceived threats are frequently and skilfully repulsed.

Organisational ignorance therefore seems to possess the dual properties of

deliberateness where a conscious choice is made by the individual to ignore input and suppress feedback, echoing Karl Deutsch’s remark that ‘power is the ability not to have to learn anything’ and the observation of Elias Cannetti in Crowds and Power that ‘freedom is not having to give an answer’.


unawareness which is explored in detail by Chris Argyris in ‘On Organisational Learning’ where he refers to those behaviours we unconsciously perform such as:

i) Defensive reasoning e.g. 'I could have done a better job if I'd had more resource'

ii) Predisposition to blame external rather than internal factors for failure e.g.'The suppliers let us down'

iii) A pre-occupation with symptomatic rather than root cause problem solving (single rather than double loop learning) e.g. sorry but the database software we have has a limited query facility. The solution to the problem lies outside the system in which the problem exists. (see post...There is effort...)

iv) Placing management subjects and themes ‘off limits’ so that they are not to be discussed, and making this tacit ‘decision’ in-discussable too!

These behaviours are largely unrecognised because they are so deeply hidden in the character of the individual they are, without considerable reflective effort, taken for granted.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Angles, Hustlers And Suckers

Blogger Robert Greene says - There are only two kinds of people in the whole wide world, grifters and suckers..

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An Experiment in Counter-Stupidity

Interesting site on gullibility related matters

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Saturday, 28 April 2007


Gardening, Guarding, Guiding, Generating, Greeting
Usual, Ugly, Unexpected, Usurped
Inisght, inadequacies, information
Lying, Loving, Leveraging
Equally, Ethically, Evolutionary, Eventualities, Education, Effectively, Einstein, Emotionally

This is Andrew's (Gullibility's co-author) quick 'pen characterisation' of Gullibile. You might want to see how yours turn out? Take each letter in turn and jot down the first word that comes to mind connected with Gullible. Why not comment it to us?

Is Ignorance Bliss? 5-On Organisational Learning

The Management Experiences

The games industry is about delivering a constant stream of new game-play experiences for players. (Analogous to blogging and ‘reading experiences I guess) Consequently my management experience has been deeply involved with the process of new product development. This is one of the key processes that links ‘out there’ to ‘in here’ and creates a cycle of doing something and learning from it or not as the case may be. Three generic management experiences associated with new product development stand out as containing transferable learning potential.


The patterns revealed in the lessons of change are more easily spotted when the same processes are repeated frequently and quickly. Practice supports learning.

Pay to play games companies (there are 15 in the UK alone) can complete up to 50 projects a year. The design to market cycle is very fast. From ‘marker board’ to ‘consumer experience’ can take as little as 12 weeks. This results in the opportunity for ‘accelerated’ learning through practice. Process ‘patterns’ that show what went right or wrong quickly emerge.


People shouldn’t be simply classified as ‘those that want to learn’ and ‘those that don’t want to learn’. The same people operate in modes when they are open to learning and when they are closed to learning.

When game designers and marketers have a run of success or failure this affects what they pay attention to and ignore about changes in their environment. Invariably it takes a dramatic surprise and a threat to cause them to re-evaluate their beliefs about their theories for success.Further light is shed upon why this happens in Diane L. Coutu’s interview with Edgar H Schein to be found in the March 2002 edition of the Harvard Business Review where he comments.

'Learning only happens when survival anxiety is greater than learning anxiety…you can increase the survival anxiety by threatening people…or you can decrease the learning anxiety by creating a safer environment for unlearning and learning'

Going on to say:

“The evidence is mounting that real change does not begin until the organisation experiences some real threat of pain that in some way dashes its expectations or hopes.”


Ignorance and Power are a performance inhibiting combination when exhibited simultaneously by people in organisations

The commercial pressure to design the most appealing products means that there is great kudos and personal reward to be gained for seeming to ‘know’ exactly what customers want. Organisations can be seen to exist in a ‘jungle’ of product performance data, anecdotal customer and consumer information, and commissioned market intelligence with a vast diversity of meaning, and this ‘jungle’ is filled with animals that want to be undisputed ‘Organisational kings of meaning’

Friday, 27 April 2007

Hey Buddy can you spare a dime?

Its happened again!

I was outside work tonight waiting for a lift home when I notice a young woman making a 'bee line' for me.

My first guess is that she wants a light or directions, but no...straight into a story about loosing her purse on a shopping trip.

A few of things to note. The woman spoke articulately and with a southern almost 'public school'accent. She burst into tears as she began to explain that she lived 40 miles away, the last bus was in an hour and she needed £16 for the ticket and her parents were on holiday in Almeria in Spain.

Picture this, girl in tears, saying "Can you help me? I,I, (stuttering) can't bring myself to ask you, I'm not a beggar, I'm really stuck, can you help me" - now how does THAT set you up!

So she had, intelligence, plausibility, and distress. I had £1.35.

I tried a modest attempt at 'getting behind the story' by asking questions like, 'when did she loose the purse', where is she going to get the bus from.Which only served to endorse the story as believeable. She even had a piece of paper with some times and number on it, which were supposedly bus times. Did I scrutinise it? of course not, I read the information as she described it rather than looked at it objectively.

As soon as the girl got the cash, tears stopped, she walked off, pulled hood up and then walked off in the opposite direction to the bus stop in a purposive manner, and I twigged that I'd just been conned!

Curious thing was, I suspected something, but nothing enough to stop the con. Would you have done the same as me?

Messing with Babel Fish

속기 쉬운

Is Ignorance Bliss? 4-On Organisational Learning

So how has my world-view come into being? I believe it has been strongly influenced by:
A set of environmental characteristics
3 generic management experiences

The Environmental Characteristics
You might be surprised to find that the arcane business of creating, and selling pay to play ‘games’ can provide helpful insights that apply to many apparently unrelated management situations. Here (in bold) are 5 management generalisations that emerge that characterise the games and gaming industry.

Fast Moving. Uncertain, full of surprises, in which the faddish nature of the product means that pinning down and predicting consumer appeal is tricky. Consequently holding tightly onto past recipes for success is dangerous. Marketers push 'inductive' reasoning and act on the quest for more and more empiral data,(which leads to best seller syndrome, & competitive fixation) In contrast to designers who deploy more 'deductive' thinking, which 'scientific management' just doen't 'get' - Come on guys - what is THE formula for a good game! (sic)

Creative. Products can be understood as the physical manifestation of ‘mental models’ held by designers and more enlightened marketers concerning what they ‘imagine’ to be attractive to the market. They are not exclusively a reactive response to what the market says it wants. Relying exclusively upon the capture and understanding of the stated needs of customers doesn’t guarantee success.

Ambiguous. Gamers generally and Gamblers in particular are notoriously difficult to research. They are reluctant to be candid about their behaviour and needs. They may not even be able to explain their behaviour when asked. They are not rational (although they ‘rationalise’ their behaviour) and invent ‘plans’ / ‘schemes’ to make sense of unpredictable outcomes in an attempt to exert control over them. There is a difference between what people say they do and what they do.

Complex. There is an enormous and dynamic range of decisions, options and choices that takes place between the player and the electronic game or gambling. There is a constant ‘dance’ between the human and technical. Add this to the diversity of the player types, the diversity of places and social context where games can be played this means that management deals with ‘complex systems’. Yet the Bean Counters pursue a futile quest to 'predict', forecast, antipate and control, beause in their eyes quantity of facts is directly proportional to quality of understanding. This, of course, is dubious.

Typical. The dominant management thinking mode is ‘modernist’ or ‘rational’ where linear causal relationships are sought to explain why things happen or don’t happen the way they should. There is little awareness or consideration given to a world made up of as W.R. Ashby in An Introduction to Cybernetics describes:

“…complex systems that just do not allow the varying of only one factor at a time – they are so dynamic and interconnected that the alteration of one factor immediately acts as a course to evoke alternations in others, perhaps a great many others”

Management / design interventions that involve or require human interaction hardly ever occur in reality as neatly as the intervener expecte

15 ways stores trick you into spending

Developing self awareness and awareness of the tools and techniques others use on us is important to avoiding Gullibility. Here's a list of 15 of the best tricks that stores use to get you to buy more then you want to. After the list, watch for 10 ways to combat these techniques so you can get in and out of stores with your finances intact.

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Thursday, 26 April 2007

No seat on the train? Just hang in there

Just found the answer to her problem!

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It just goes to show!

I was going to put this post on my other blog Inside Track - tales of commuter conversations which can be reached at when I realised that what happened to me on the train this morning was a mini-case study in Gullibility.

I was in the train carriage putting my bag on the luggage rack, and about to sit down when a female voice behind me said "Seat 46 C that's my reservation, that's MY reservation!"

The tone and assertiveness threw me to start with as there was no reservation ticket on the seat. "You can check my ticket if you want!" she followed on. By which time I had turned around to see a lady in her mid-late 50s (I'm 51 btw) well dressed and visually in no mood for a discussion.Well, my reaction surprised even me. I said " I am sorry, why are talking to me as if I have done something wrong?, there is no way that I could have known there was a reservation" To which the lady replied "Don't you believe me?" At this point I said that I was not disagreeing with her, I simply wanted to know a) how I could have known and b) why she was making feel like had done something bad?"Anyhow I moved seat, only for her to say "this must be yours" and handed me my wallet that I had left on the table. My retort to that was "..and, you will know, of course, THAT is the effect you have on people!"

Episode over.

Reflecting back on this I realised that the event contained many facets of the Gullibility phenomenon.

a) The lady was 'assertive, definite, and demonstrative'

b) The questioning was 'immediate and assumptive'

c) There was the pressure of other people backing up down the aisle waiting to be seated

d) There was the 'dress image' of the lady as 'well to do'

e) I was suprised and unable to 'rise above' or objectify myself and collect my thoughts

f) I felt strongly that although the 'offer' was made to check her ticket, I was somehow made to feel this would have been 'rude', untrusting, and awkward.

I have no idea that this lady was actually telling the truth! You could argue, why would she be so 'het' up about a seat for a short commuter train journey to the extent that she would want to 'gull' me? Nevertheless I DIDN'T ask her for evidence, I was embarassed by the potential social consequences and 'fuss' that might have been made, I felt that I was somehow in the wrong, AND it happened fairly early in the morning when I was a bit tired.

What do you make of this? What would you have done differently?

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Is Ignorance Bliss? 3-On Organisational Learning

Originally the nature of my work was driven from a primarily ‘sales and marketing’ perspective and its concern with:

Championing a ‘market’ orientation for the organisation, formulating and implementing marketing strategies and Educating the organisation about the scope, nature and value of the ‘marketing philosophy’, and its tools and techniques

This view evolved into a broader concern with total ‘organisational effectiveness’ by adding to (rather than replacing) marketing‘s concern with the identification, understanding and profitable of ‘customer’ needs (whatever profitable and customer mean to you!) as a path to organisational success by a concern for the development of personal thinking and sense making capability throughout the organisation. Formulating and implementing open and useful management processes that take account of the diversity of stakeholders who hold an interest in the organisation and its activities and educating the organisation about the scope, nature and value of the organisational learning philosophy

With this evolution a personal management perspective has emerged in which a more direct and explicit link than some might initially prefer to acknowledge is made between the way things are done inside the organisation (in here) and the results that are created in the organisations operating environment (out there). In other words it is a perspective that believes things at work aren’t just problematic because of the external factors of political, economical, sociological and technological change or competitive activity, we often create our own difficulties through poor sense making, un-imaginative strategy making, inappropriate interpersonal behaviour and dogmatic thinking. Plainly expressed if you put garbage into the system you’re going to get garbage out.

Furthermore, it is worth recognising that the notion of ‘in here and out there’ need not be exclusively restricted to making a distinction between the organisation and it’s environment, it can clearly apply in any situation where people feel they ‘belong’ or ‘don’t belong’ in any departmental, cultural, political or relationship situation too.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Is Ignorance Bliss? 2-On Organisational Learning

Encouraging learning as a means of improving organisational effectiveness seems a good idea if there are those that are willing to learn and change. However, we are still left with a problem when some people appear to have become skilful in the opposite of organisational learning – something that might be called ‘organisational ignorance’. By attempting to identify and explore what the characteristics of organisational ignorance might be, this post represents a collection of some general and personal reflections about how and why things seem to go well or not so well when we are at work. In that sense it is more a discussion about ‘observations processes of behaviour’ than specific ‘work techniques and methods’.

You might well be saying at this point ‘so what!’, 'how can your stories and observations help me in my situation?' I would say in reply that this post is a contribution to a ‘community of interest’ (in which it is assumed you and I are concerned about the effectiveness of organisations and people) consequently this post offers an opportunity changing our management awareness and practice by:

Dialogue – understanding ‘through’ the exchange of points of view

Abduction – noticing things that are common or similar in situations whose detail is very different in order to make generalisations, and applying these generalisations to new and alternative situations in helpful ways.

Critical Reflection – considering not just ‘what’ and ‘what not’ to do at work, but also ‘how and how not’ and ‘why and why not’

By reading this blog you can create a moment of reflection that allows you to consider it’s relevance to your personal circumstances. In short a ‘Thinking Point’.

The ‘at work’ resource base that I draw upon is predominately associated with senior management positions in the leisure industry and more specifically the design and sale of electronic games and entertainment either as ‘pay to play’ out of home gambling and amusement or ‘off the retail shelf’ home computer and console games.

15 Things Kurt Vonnegut Said...

Better Than Anyone Else Ever Has Or Ever Will. Number 5!

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Why You Should Never Let Strangers Use Your Cell Phone

In this “The Real Hustle” segment, the crew shows why you should never let strangers use your phone for text messaging. Too polite to ask why? or too polite to say NO? What evidence did they get to check out her story?

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Coincidental Thinking

This needs adding to the list of Gullibles Travels authors in post 2

Monday, 23 April 2007

Is Ignorance bliss?- On Organisational Learning

I'll be posting a series of thoughts and ideas on this theme over the coming days and weeks. The underlying thread relates to adults and and learning in the workplace. I'd be interested to hear what you think.

Is ignorance bliss? 1

Here I’m introducing my idea of Organisational Ignorance

If you’re like me then you’ll probably have an optimistic view of people in the workplace that leads you to believe that problems can be worked out through collaboration, sharing information and learning new things from each other. If that is the case you’ve probably also been ‘blind sided’ all too often by obstructive behaviour, political manoeuvring, and filibustering across the spectrum of superiors, colleagues and subordinates and left wondering why this happens when all you’re trying to do is your job as well as possible.

Being naturally optimistic you warm to management concepts such as organisational learning that connect with your feeling that everyone’s working day will be improved if more time was spent ‘seeing it’ from the other person’s point of view, helping them out in their difficulties, making life easier because there are enough challenges in the job without having to create your own.

The solution to our workplace difficulties, it seems, is obvious. We’re all meant to be one cohesive team, ‘singing off the same hymn sheet’, working towards a unified vision, guided by common goals, and if this isn’t the case then we can be put it right by creating the 'right' culture, improving communication, and becoming a learning organisation.

Spider-Man Broadway Musical in Development

Marvel Studios has confirmed that plans are underway to produce a Broadway musical based on Marvel's ever popular Superhero, Spider-Man. Produced by Hello Entertainment/David Garfinkle, Martin McCallum, Marvel Entertainment and SONY Pictures Entertainment

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Saturday, 21 April 2007

The School of Hard Knocks

Watch out for our 'Gullible' logo, this will signify personal examples.

In an earlier post we explained how we started looking back at personal examples of our own gullibilty and how we began to try and make sense of what had happened. What do you think was going off in the following examples? Have you got any examples of your own that you are willing to share?

The purpose of these examples will be to draw out similarities and differences over time with a view to identifying helpful 'pattern's that we could benefit from.

I worked in a company as Sales and Marketing Director with a direct report (marketing services executive) who was looking to improve her renumeration package. The two of us went to lunch with the Managing Director (very charming and likeable guy). Over lunch he asked the executive the following question.

"So, if you had a company car, what car would you like?" to which, of course she replied with an example of make and model.

After the meal we were chatting and I sensed that something bad was looming and tried to gently explain that the meeting was 'off the record' and that nothing too firm should be taken from it.

3 months later the executive came into my office, frustrated, angry and upset that no car had been forthcoming. I wa 'bothered' about this too, so went to see what was happening with the boss, and his reply was...

"All I did was ask her was IF she had a company car, what would she like, I wasn't offering her a car!" OUCH!

OK so who do you think was Gullible here? How did it happen? Was any of it intentional or preventable? Comments appreciated.

The next example:

Working for the same company, I was a shareholder (10%) of a management buyout team. The key phrase was "We just need to work hard for 4 years, and when we sell the company and you'll be a millionaire' Guess who uttered this little gem? On the basis of that prospect the directors drew down very modest salaries, and took minimal pay increases, and no dividends. 8 years later, and even after making good profits, the lending bank sold the company from under us and we walked away with nothing. OUCH! What should be learned form this experience?

Thursday, 19 April 2007

'Dare to Know' A Guiding Maxim?

We wonder if you agree with our suggestion that The Gullible abdicate responsibility for important aspects of their knowledge to others?

Several great thinkers have approached this issue. Rene Descartes insisted on the diligent application of Doubt as an essential critical tool that could be used to test claims to knowledge. Don't you think it is interesting to observe that in everyday situations we have social conventions that mean 'doubting' somebody's view of information is regarded as bad manners? This key source of social embarassment is something that 'gullers extrordinaire', & con people the world over rely on to get their way. You can hear their astonishment should you dare to ask what they mean, or for proof of their claims. This social 'convention' is also refered to by Chris Argryis when he talks about issues becoming 'undiscussable' in the workplace, and worse still the fact that they are undsicussable is undiscussable too. We suggest that some of the worst executives deploy this technique to prevent questioning of dubious decisions and policies.

Dare to Know (sapere aude) was the maxim of Immanuel Kant. An exortation to have confidence in your own understanding. Eric Fromm makes the observation that a key human weakness is falling in with people (leaders of cults, cliques etc) that 'appear to have the answers' Why is it? you have to ask, have they got the answers to things that the rest of us couldn't possibly uncover?

May we encourage you NOT to take our word for it, and perhaps discover what these thinkers have to say in your own way!

If you don't know who's who above - why not do a bit of original research?

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Several Remote Notions

So, what sorts of notions might be considered helpful in reducing our gullibilty?

It seems that if we simply 'digest' the subjects and currlicula offered to us by the present conventional educational process, we can become locked into 'subject prisons' where we devote extensive time and energy into learning more and more about less and less. We can also dupe oursleves into believing that deep technical knowledge of subjects will protect from the vagieries of human interface.

At the start of the 21st century it seems that subjects of general human concern such as philosophy and psychology are:

  • regarded as irrelevant subject matter except in 'subjects as themselves'
  • too high brow and specialised to be accessible to the ordinary person

We seemed governed by the cliche, that in order to develop oursleves we need to become 'specialists' and experts by gaining more and more knowledge about a tightly defined subject, such that if you wanted to pursue a doctorate level qualification, you would be merely pushing back the boundaries of knowledge with a matchstick head! Many good thinkers are Polymaths are able to draw connections across a broad range of topics. So why not become a specialised 'generalist'!

The suggestion here is that a general awareness and understanding of range of subjects & their key themes and issues will develop us into more integrated people capable of avoiding the trap of gullibility.

Here are some Jelly Beans from the Jar marked 'Eat these to Avoid Gullibility':

  • how adults learn (androgogy)
  • mental maps
  • managing change (note: this is NOT change management)
  • NLP
  • general philosophy themes
  • epistemology
  • creative thinking
  • systems thinking
  • outcome based thinking
  • synthetic thinking
  • integral thinking
  • spiral dynamics
  • process awareness
  • applied psychology
  • critical thinking
  • the unconscious mind
  • influence and persuasion
  • communicating
  • sense making
  • and there's more...

And the benefit of becoming aware these subjects and themes? Maybe we can increasingly identify unscrupulous use of this knowledge and wrest the 'control' exerted by people who attempt to deceive and manipulate us with their dubious integrity.

Balancing soft and hard know how, and valuing the polymath in all of us might prove most helpful. Imagine if we introduced such subjects at High School, and perhaps better questions are....who is deciding they aren't introduced?...and why?

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Don't form a bad habit

We'd like to suggest that Gullibilty has something to do with 'taking things for granted, for not checking stuff out.

Jostein Gaarder in the brilliant novel Sophies World observes:

"..long before the child learns to talk properly-and long before it learns to think philosophically- the world will have become a habit"

Perhaps a first step to avoiding Gullibilty is stop thinking 'habitually' and begin to re-ignite the curious and questioning child within.
for more on JG visit :

Monday, 16 April 2007

Who do you Trust for advice?

Check this out!

Go to Google Maps - in search type in New York to Paris France (for directions) and look at direction instruction 23

The guy with the booth selling flippers and snorkels must be making a mint, and the added bonus must be no carbon levy!!

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Education - Does it only come with Age?

So, as we realised in post 1, despite 'life' experience we can still be duped and gulled, and you'd think that the ideal 'trajectory' here would be that more times we'd been around the sun the less 'gullings' we'd have. Well a few of thoughts on that notion:

Firstly the older we get (unless we devote some time and energy to continual learning) there is a tendency to 'stick to with what we know' therefore we become less adapatable. This in turn means we can be 'blind sided' by the unfamiliar.

Secondly, maybe we do have less frequent 'gullibility episodes' as we go through life, and maybe its the 'qualitative' nature of them that changes. Our suggestion here is that 'the older you get when your 'gulled' you really are 'gulled'. So, when we were younger in our first job we might have been sent by the guys in the factory to 'go the storeroom and ask the manager for a long 'weight' - and we ended up having the young 'gullees' long wait. However as a more mature business man we might end up losing thousands of pounds/dollars/euros/yen etc in a spurious business deal, school friends may have tricked us, spouses have affairs.

Thirdly, maybe we all at the affect of a life long 'meta-gull' - WOAHHHHHH now that's scary. Richard Dawkins certainly comes from that perspective, Ken Wilber and religious leaders would argue differently. What I'm refering is a little more 'mundane' and its to do with Education.

Fourthly 'gullibility' could be an 'archetype' (C.Jung, R.Tranas, Plato et al) a constant fundamental form that is a necessary part of the human condition and somehow a necessary aspect of its development. WOAHHHHHHH 2 the movie.

Hands up (lol) all of you who think you've had a great education? OK you at the back, sorry I don't know your name. .. Now that's interesting, you've only just started to become aware of ideas, notions, subjects that if only you'd been tol d about them at high school things would have been alot different....Can you share with us some examples?...

Sorry, before you give us the list can I just pick up on that point you made about high school subjects... I agree, the curriculum must have come from someone and that it must be a refelection of their 'theory for educational success' So, if THEIR mental map of 'whats hot and whats not' is improverished, then guess what - GIGO (garbage in and garbage out)

Therefore if they are unaware of certain notions (subjects, ways of learning), are disinterested in them, can't see the value of them, feel they are inappropriate (based on what criteria??) then guess what - we don't get to hear about them. If the Chef says the fish is off the menu tonight then its off. We place 'our' education in the hands of other people - and HOW GULLIBLE IS THAT!

OK, time for a break, we'll have a look at the list a bit later, maybe you've got stuff to add?... Sorry did I hear you say that the common thread seems to about people rather than things? OK I'll catch you later.

Friday, 13 April 2007

Kurt Vonnegut Jnr

Thursday, 12 April 2007

There is effort needed to avoid being gulled

If we accept that as social animals, human beings are intuitive psychologists and philosophers, such that we are interested in the purposes, behaviours and meanings of others, then we must regard ourselves as behavioural and social scientists. Our interest in 'gullibility' is therefore grounded in our desire to learn and understand more about the human condition. Gregory Bateson (1904-1980) pictured above, in the collection of his key works Steps to an Ecology of Mind offers the following piece of advice.

"The would-be behavioral scientist who knows nothing of the 3000 years of careful philosophic and humanistic thought about man - who cannot define either entropy or sacrement - had better hold his peace rather than add to the existing jungle of half-baked hypotheses"

Gregory Bateson spent time at the Esalen Institute California with Richard Tarnas who wrote The Passion of the Western Mind - which is an ideal way of checking out the last 3000 years in the way that Bateson suggests.

The suggestion is, that by putting effort into learning about how our minds work and how we make sense of our worlds, we can set off to a better understanding of the notion of gullibility and its potentially adverse consquences.

I hope I haven't just added to the jungle!

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Sales and Marketing

It is interesting that Carroll reinforces a popular archetype of salesmen and advertisers. This perception, much to the chagrin of marketing educators and professionals is even held not just by ‘joe consumer’ but senior commercial executives too! Much of the contemporary discussions regarding marketing as a profession involves the recognition that marketers have even developed a reputation at board level and amongst colleagues for being “unaccountable, expensive, untouchable, and slippery” (McDonald, Smith, Ward 2006 Marketing Due Diligence) and Shaw and Merrick 2005 Marketing Payback) note that marketing types are “portrayed as false, immoral scoundrels” It should come as no surprise that the notion of ‘cognitive dissonance’ features heavily in marketing business books. Cognitive dissonance is the feeling we get after we have bought or experienced something and we feel uncertain that we have ‘done the right thing’ A lot of ‘stuff’ at the tricks and ploys end of the sales and marketing spectrum can create this. For example – just how did I end up with the premium spec car when I went in for the basic, I know I shouldn’t have bought that chocolate bar I feel as guilty as hell now etc. At the, shall we say, more benign end of the spectrum – we still feel ‘funny’ if we have splashed out on an a no doubt well deserved indulgence and marketers devote a lot of brain power to reducing the effects of the ‘dissonant’ feeling.

In Influence: Science and Practice, Robert Cialdini explains a whole range of techniques used by sales and advertising professionals to take money from your wallet and put it into theirs such as exploiting our,sense of social conformity through reciprocation, as an example my father was visited by an orthopedic bed salesman who arrived with a small cake and some flowers! – have the cake and buy the bed, I’ll be here for as along as it takes you to sign the order, faith in figures of authority, white coat syndrome – is the people on that soap advert really scientists! Carry a stethoscope and instantly ‘become’ a doctor!,confidence in the judgments of the majority – everybody does this you know – that’s why product testimonials work – it’s the way I’ve bought computer games since the Commodore 64, need to be liked – Cialdini warns us of that ‘instantaneous ‘rapport’ with good sales people. We’d never say they were trained to do this.

To be equitable, of course, we ought to keep a critically open mind on these perspectives too. After all who’s to say that every ‘marketer’ (whatever that means to you) or sales person (whatever that means to you) is like any of the above ‘characterisations’

Monday, 9 April 2007


OK, so maybe the previous the posts were a bit long?

After checking out blogging tips and tricks on Blogger help it seems like a good idea to keep subsequent postings a bit shorter.

This seems like a good suggestion, easier for you to read and easier for us to compose!

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Opening the Map

Opening the Map

“If a person swallows the heart of a mole, fresh from the body and still palpitating, he will receive the gift of divination…and a foreknowledge of future events.”

AD 77 PLINY - In A Dictionary of Superstitions. Ed.Iona Opie and Moira Tatem. Oxford University Press, 1996

Both of us have an interest in gambling. One of us spent over a decade as a senior executive in the gaming industry. One of us continues to enjoy developing his foreknowledge of future events with a moderate degree of success, if the ‘going’, horse and jockey allow. Neither of us has ever eaten a mole’s heart. To that extent we consider ourselves less gullible than your average ancient Roman.

The gambling industry, as well as providing fun and a thrill for many people is an industry that depends to a significant degree on a phenomenon known as the ‘illusion of control’ see :

  • Langer, E. J. (1975). The illusion of control. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 311-328. And
  • Langer, E. J., & Roth, J. (1975). Heads I win, tails its chance: The illusion of control as a function of the sequence of outcomes in a purely chance task. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 32, 951-955.)

The illusion of control is described by the authors as the belief held by some people that they have more influence over gambling outcomes than they really do. When people hold beliefs like this, such that there is a ‘gap’ between reality and expectation we might term this ‘gullibility. But what exactly is gullibility and how does it work? Here are a couple of definitions.

‘Gullibility’ - “Capable of being gulled or duped; easily cheated, befooled.” As defined in The Oxford English Dictionary) and its adjective ‘Gullible’ - credulous, naive, over-trusting, over-trustful, easily deceived, easily taken in, exploitable, dupable, impressionable, unsuspecting, unsuspicious, unwary, ingenuous, innocent, inexperienced, unworldly, green; informal wet behind the ears, born yesterday.” From The Oxford Paperback Thesaurus. Ed. Maurice Waite. Oxford University Press, 2001. Ring any bells? The Oxford Thesaurus helpfully offers an opposite adjective to gullible by way of contrast - ‘suspicious’, which if you are, probably means you won’t be gullible. This is another notion we shall be returning to.

The origin of the word ‘gullible’ (For those who might not know, the study of the origin and the language roots of words is known as Etymology). apparently goes back to the middle-ages and the word ‘gull’. It was both a noun and a verb, so you could gull a gull if you wanted to. The word seemingly meant to ‘swallow’, which of course gulls do a lot of. In more modern times the notion of gullibility has become associated with Phi leas T. Barnum, the nineteenth century founder of the Barnum and Bailey Circus in the U.S.A. Barnum had a reputation for aggressively hyping and successfully promoting his acts and freak shows, and is popularly associated with that wallet clenching phrase of the super salesman “there’s a sucker born every minute”. The minute you believe that amazing ‘fact’ however, you really would be a sucker!

It was actually a phrase used by David Hannum a competitor of Barnum’s and head of a syndicate that had invested in a fake (unbeknown to them) ‘archeological’ exhibit of a Giant that had really been carved out of gypsum and buried in the grounds of a house a few weeks earlier by a hoaxer. When Hannum rejected an investment offer by Barnum in this newly discovered curiosity, Barnum decided to steal both Hannum’s thunder and his exhibition customers by having his own ‘fake’ giant created, and advertising it as the genuine giant and Hannum’s as a fake. Hannum tried to sue Barnum for ruining his business, at the same time uttering the infamous ‘suckers’ phrase to characterize any punters visiting the Barnum giant. Unfortunately for Hannum the hoaxer came forward and the judge decided that Barnum couldn’t be sued for calling a fake a fake. Ouch! Somehow poor old Barnum got saddled with the responsibility for his competitor’s outburst. Social psychologists today use the term ‘Barnum Effect’ (Psychologist Paul Meeh is the possible originator of the term) as the common name for a psychological phenomenon called ‘subjective validation’. Its other name is the Forer Effect after psychologist B.R.Forer. In particular Forer noticed that people will apply any vague, positive and complimentary personality descriptions uniquely to themselves. He demonstrated this in 1948 when he gave the following personal analysis to some students and asked them to rate it out of 5, with 5 representing ‘very like me’ and 1 representing “nothing like me”. Why not judge for yourself?

“You have a need for other people to like and admire you, and yet you tend to be critical of yourself. While you have some personality weaknesses you are generally able to compensate for them. You have considerable unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage. Disciplined and self controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. You also pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof. But you have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. At times you are extroverted, affable, and sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary and reserved. Some of your aspirations tend to be rather unrealistic”

Forer B.R. (1949 The fallacy of personal validation: A classroom demonstration of gullibility. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 44 118-123

The average student rating was 4.26. Forer then told each student that they had been given the same analysis. (cue previous soundtrack!) . Of course, witty, charming , good-looking, intelligent, perceptive, successful and discerning readers like yourself would never have fallen for it.

Gullibility it seems relies in part on our ability to want things to be true, a misplaced belief that we are more competent and skillful than we really are, an unfailing ability to ignore any information that suggests we might be wrong, and blind faith in people we have given higher status to than oursleves. (It would seem that Arrogance uses all of these characteristics apart from the last one) It is for these reasons that the authors have never entered Pop Idol and that large numbers of people read astrology columns and enjoy magic shows. Of course allowing ourselves to be gulled is often entertaining and the stage magician’s skill of mentalism, which is used to apparently read the mind of willing members of the audience makes use of the subjective validation phenomenon. There is of course a darker side.

Jeffery Deaver in his novel The Vanished Man shows how a magicians skills in the hands of devious and cold blooded murderer can be used to manipulate both victims and law enforcers. Mentalism is one skill that the ‘perp’ uses to ingrataite himself with a potential target. Similarly Robert T. Caroll - The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Wiley 2003 directs our attention (read The Vanished Man for more on ‘directing attenton’!) to the art of Cold Reading employed by people intent on taking advantage our gullibility. He writes:

Cold reading goes beyond the usual tools of manipulation: suggestion and flattery. In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men, and some therapists bank upon their subject's inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is… The manipulator knows that his mark will be inclined to try to make sense out of whatever he is told, no matter how farfetched or improbable.” See

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Where are we going?

Another way to think about our writing is to imagine that we are looking at our experiences through different types oflenses’. This is a common metaphor found in many academic text books to explain the different approaches and explanations to various subjects. Using this method means that the samething’ or phenomenon (for example an organisation, romance, creativity, wealth, gardening, art, music, ethics, morals etc) can be described, explained, and judged in very different ways depending how different people see it. Some academic writers worry a great deal about extreme versions of the ‘all different views are equally valid’ approach (Check out Ken Wilber’s Boomertitis, and Steven Pinker The Blank Slate for more thoughts on this issue) as it leads to a thing called ‘relativism’ which is sort of like ‘hedging your bets’ about what things really are.

So how were we going to define this so called ‘territory’ that our map referred to? Indeed, what were we going to write about? As we talked through ‘our project’ we noticed a common theme emerge, and this was summed up in the question:

How was it that two, reasonably intelligent and experienced adult men, in their 30’s and 40’s could still be regularly duped, caught out, wrong footed, and blind-sided by people and events?

The types of things we had in mind were, of course, endless. Erratic bosses, jobs and professions that didn’t turn out ‘as expected’, ‘let-downs’, Machiavellian colleagues, fair-weather friends, inconsistent significant others, changing beliefs, surprises, disappointments, love, hate, betrayal, and anything else that might appear on someone’s arm as a tattoo.

It might be helpful at this point to shut your eyes and imagine our conversations being held against an imaginary soundtrack featuring Homer Simpson style ‘Dohhh’s, and adolescent ‘Duhhh’s, as we traded examples of our gullibility (sometimes this was to our amusement, sometimes to our embarrassment, and often with surprising personal insights) The obvious questions that came from these exchanges were:

How had we succumbed to gullibility?

Were we destined for eternal gullibility?

Could we do anything to inoculate ourselves against future gullibility?

Quickly grabbing a metaphorical marker pen we drew a thick black border around the land of Gullibility and started to colour it in

Suitably inspired you can now probably see how we hit upon what we thought was a witty and original title for our work – ‘Gullibles Travels’, and for a short while we flattered ourselves with our modest genius and inventiveness only to discover (via Amazon.Com) that there were at least eight other publications with exactly the same title! From authors’ Steven Clark Goad, John T Dybvig, Ring Lardner, Steve Allen, Margaret E. Stuck, Billy Connolly,( yes that Billy Connolly) Denis G. Clark, & Cash Peters. Oh Noooooo – a Set Back

Well, not really. You see, discovering you aren’t the originator of an idea and that you lack general awareness of the work and ideas of a lot of other people is something we feel is highly important in the land of Gullibility and something we’ll come back to. Our set back also inspired our creativity (aah a spot of ‘creative tension’) and so we endeavoured to come up with another equally witty title that hinted at the several themes or ‘notions’ we had in mind to write about and reflected our ‘view-point’ which was based upon the following eight assumptions about the wo/man in the street:

  1. We tend to navigate through life the best we can with the resources we’ve got.
  2. Navigating through’ often becomes ‘muddling through’ which doesn’t always benefit us.
  3. We devote more time to our muddles than sorting out how we have muddled and stopping it.
  4. General school & university education keeps us remote from a wide range of helpful ideas and explanations of the behaviour and intentions of people that are often locked up in dense academic texts on philosophy and the social sciences.
  5. We haven’t got a map to help us find stuff that might be interesting & helpful
  6. We are at a disadvantage to people who do something about ,3,4 &5 above.
  7. We can do less of 2 above if we do something about ,3,4,&5 above
  8. We will join the people characterised in 7 who give themselves an advantage through putting effort into guided learning and changing

In the end we cribbed Swift’s work again to come up with our title:

Travels into Several Remote Notions of the World.