Sunday, 6 May 2007

101 Ways to Avoid Being Gullible

1. Make regular visits to your mind gym, in the same way that you care for your physical wellbeing, do things to care for and develop your intellectual well being.

2. Put time and energy into continuous learning about the diversity of opinions and findings in the social sciences, especially, social psychology, general philosophy, adult learning, and marketing, because this will help you understand your fellow humans better than the arm – chair, bar stool and daytime TV theorists.

3. Stop taking things at face value . Always try and assess the standpoint, motivation and methods of others, regardless of their personal appeal and the appeal of their ideas.

4. Study the subject known as ‘critical thinking’, you might begin by reading, Critical Thinking Skills: Developing Effective Analysis and Argument by Stella Cottrell

5. Learn how to learn. Study adult learning through the ideas of Malcolm Knowles, Kolb, Jack Mezirow, Light and Cox. Information like this will help you make sense of ‘how’ we learn not just ‘what’ we learn.

6. Put time and energy into learning about how the mind works, begin by reading Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works

7. Read Eric Fromm’s To Have and to Be and learn more about critical theory.

8. Become familiar with the idea of ‘Deutero’ learning, or learning how to learn. You will find the original idea in Steps to and Ecology of Mind written by Gregory Bateson

9. Research the notions of Influence and Persuasion. Robert Cialdini and Kevin Hogan are good reads, because the you will understand how fresh, new and amazing your thinking will become, and that will be to your advantage.

10. Stop believing that you’ve reached a place where you think you know it all. Complacency leaves us vulnerable to lazy generalisations and a sloppy belief that we are beyond being fooled by others.

11. Learn how to explore what people mean through the tools and techniques of Neuro-Linguistic Programming , understand the role of meta –messages, generalisation, distortion and deletion in communication and opinion forming.

12. You will know, of course, to become conversant with the ideas and principles of non-therapeutic hypnosis and how advertiser, sales and other professionals use it to influence our thinking.

13. Critically read a minimum of 12 so called ‘self-help’ books with your feet firmly on the ground.

14. Visit

15. Always ask for a second opinion

16. Always ask for a third opinion

17. If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.

18. Trust your ‘inner rudder’ and read Dan Goleman

19. Learn about sales ‘closing techniques’

20. Learn about SPIN selling

21. Learn about Miller Heimanns Strategic selling

22. Identify a good university and study for an MBA that doesn’t teach ‘cookie cutter’ management and develop your self

23. Never make an instant decision (unless its to save your life)

24. Trust no one until they can be trusted

25. Be courteous and respectful whilst trusting no one

26. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to get any contract looked over by a brief

27. If someone declares offence at the time you’re taking to make a decision, be careful.

28. If someone you don’t know very well gives you an unexpected gift, be careful.

29. Always suspect a hidden agenda.

30. Strengthen your general knowledge concerning how people are motivated, think and communicate , don't become a 'techo-twit' with just particular subject of expertise, such as engineering, gardening, learning the guitar etc

31. Lessen your reliance on others for what happens in your life. Never allow your boss to convince you that your, lifestyle, income and future are dependent on him/her.

32. Regularly visit for a general resource on the notion of gullibility and tell your friends too.

33. Research the idea of the JOHARI Window, this will help you map out what you know, and don’t know about yourself and others

34. Learn to recognise other people’s mental models’ or mental maps’ this will reveal to you what they regard as important and how they decide what causes things to happen in the world.

35. Become familiar with the thing with scary name called ‘epistemology’. Usually this lives in the lecture and seminar rooms of universities. For those of you who don’t know, it concerns the subject of how we know what we know.

36. Become familiar with the other scary name ‘ontology’ which is the study of what features we think are important enough to put on our mental maps. This list is an ‘ontology’ of 101 things that I think are important about Gullibility. Your ontology might be different.

37. Continually ponder on the question ‘What is Truth’

38. Find out what a ‘justified belief’ is

39. Research how we use perception, memory, reason and testimony to determine what we know.

40. Think of something you have always believed and challenge it.

41. Ask is ‘buy one get one free’ a good deal. Buy what YOU need not what the retailers need you to buy.

42. If a discount sale ‘has got to end this Saturday’ – let it end and wait for the next ‘never to be had again deal’

43. If a salesperson starts telling you what you need, walk away.

44. Trust me, if someone says ‘trust me’ be very careful.

45. Learn magic tricks, this will teach you people can trade on your assumptions about time series, and reality to fool and surprise you.

46. Read Jeffery Deaver’s The Vanished Man to learn about a magician’s use of ‘misdirection’

47. Read Kevin Hogan’s books and learn about the power of the word ‘because’, because this will show you how people can get their own way.

48. For an interesting account of brain washing read Ed Schein’s work on Korean War POWs.

49. For an interesting account of the perils of un-critically believing in one ‘supreme’ method of analysis, read about Robert S. McNamara’s account of how ‘every quantitative method he had showed he was winning the Vietnam war’

50. Read more than one newspaper.

51. Be mindful of language that is used by others to construct your world for you. Consider euphemisms such as ‘mega-death’, ‘terminate with extreme prejudice’, ‘interdiction’, great value’, ‘team work’, ‘company culture’, for their meaning to you.

52. When given alternatives between either/ or, reconsider how you might achieve both/ and.

53. Consider if a man in a white coat with a stethoscope around his neck is a doctor.

54. Consider if a woman without a white coat and no stethoscope in an A&E cubicle saving someone’s life is a mother

55. Consider, the moon is made of green cheese, Mt Everest is the highest mountain in the world, Napoleon invaded Russia. How do you know ?

56. If someone says ‘trust me I’m a doctor’ what are they? My friend has a Phd in Facilities Management and he is a doctor.

57. Whenever anybody uses jargon, don’t be embarrassed or afraid to ask them to explain what they mean. If they put you down because you asked, be careful of them.

58. Ask yourself, what is a job title? Notice how it works like a micro brand label that requires us to suspend critical thinking about what the person really does. I can say this with conviction as the Director of Lexiconographic Diversity and Insight in the corporation.

59. Learn the basics of project management. Never allow artisans to work on your home without setting out project purpose, milestones, and how slippage and variance will be managed, before the job starts.

60. If someone offers you shares in private company, remember they are worthless until the company is sold.

61. If your wife/ girlfriend says, “he’s just a friend and he really makes me laugh”, consider getting a new wife/ girlfriend.

62. If your partner changes routine patterns of behaviour, consider the reasons for this change and do not excuse them away as ‘just your imagination’

63. Consider if the Sun is really a hot stone bigger than Peloponnesian Islands or a ball of helium and hydrogen. How do you know this?

64. Did you know the streets of London are paved with gold? Don’t believe me? Ask Dick Whittington.

65. Do you know what ‘force majeure’ is?

66. If you are a supplier to a major retail chain and they ask you what percentage of your revenue they represent and that they would like to become 60% of your revenue. Don’t be flattered and go looking for a new yacht, soon you won’t have enough profit to buy one.

67. People with degrees are clever. Of course this depends on what you mean by clever.

68. Find out what Kuhn meant when he talks of incommensurability of paradigm. In fact find out what he meant by paradigm and shift your paradigm.

69. Read about memetic levels and how different meme states interact / or not with each other in Beck and Cowan’s book Spiral Dynamics.

70. Frederick Reicheld claims that winning customers is more expensive than keeping them. Every CRM marketing executive knows this, but are they right? Checkout Professor Ehrenberg and the Ehrenberg Centre for Research in Marketing for an alternative view.

71. Knowing about the key principles of Transactional Analysis will provide you with insights about how people draw help from others. Study the notion of rescuing here. To stop others benefiting from your efforts don’t be ‘gulled’ into rescuing them.

72. Be critical of HR personality tests. They have their place of course. Become aware of the epistemological commitments they are based upon. i.e. why their advocates believe they are useful. Recognise that they are ‘characterisations’ at a point in time and not the real you.

73. The Blebin tests have been proven to have as much predictable accuracy as a horoscope

74. If you have time read an introduction to Carl Jung.

75. The Myers Briggs typologies are inspired by Jung and knowing how they are constructed will help you counterbalance the ambitions of the personnel police in your organisation.

76. Do you think Malcolm Gladwell created the notion of ‘tipping point’? Why?

77. Did you know that the North Vietnamese declaration of independence for the French after WW2 was based on the American Declaration of Independence?

78. Have you noticed how home sales / real estate companies only sell ‘luxury’ apartments and accommodation?

79. Read about Diogenes – the original cynic. A cool dude! Especially if you like barrels and lupins.

80. “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 Why not give it a go? OK so you aren’t that gullible then!

81. Are you able to define the difference between, belief, knowledge and dogma? To avoid gullibility you should try to do this.

82. Learn about different ‘thinking’ styles. Systemic Thinking, read Peter Senge, Radiant Thinking read Tony Buzan, Outcome Based Thinking read Bandler and Grinder.

83. Did you know that Marketing is a word that means two things at the same time. It is a business philosophy and a business function. The business philosophy is the most important of the two.

84. Ask for clarity

85. Ask yourself, how do I grow my customer base beyond family and friends if I’m given a ‘network marketing ‘opportunity? If you can’t answer this question, be careful.

86. Study the ‘illusion of control’ by Langar. This will explain ways in which we wrongly believe we can control outcomes of events. This is especially true with gambling.

87. Find out if Sophie is real or fictional in Jostein Gaarders book Sophies World.

88. You are clever, knowledgeable, well liked, good at some things and struggle with others. Sometimes you are misunderstood. You are familiar with the Forer Effect and know that it is sometimes called the Barnum Effect. This is why you are not gullible.

89. The Squirrel Monkey (Saimiri sciureus) is a small primate that lives in central and south America. Studied by Professor D. Ploog, he noticed that the alpha male only responds to threats from the beat male and no other males. Who really listens to what you are saying? Are you reverential to alpha monkeys.

90. Watch the BBC TV documentary on the spaghetti harvest

91. Look at possessions you have. Which of these did you really need to buy? Reflect on the decisions you made. What influenced you to buy? What would you do differently today?

92. Read Donald Schon’s book The Reflective Practioner. This will guide you in your endeavours to reduce your gullibility.

93. Test how instantly you jump to conclusions. Try Sherif’s Social Judgement Theory, to see how willingly you accept or reject ideas and suggestions. For example, do you agree with Shaw and Merrick (2005) that marketing people are false, immoral scoundrels?

94. Don’t be lulled into believing that power and authority can be ignored. People who are privileged in this regard can determine beliefs that we might be compelled to go along with for a time. You might need to keep your job, or something more serious. Contradicting these messages amounts to a heresy and we all know what happens to heretics.

95. Sometimes it pays to play the fool. Witness King Lear, and I Claudius. Appearing gullible is not the same as being gullible.

96. Be a realist. There are people that will have no qualms about taking advantage of your good nature or your weakness. Make every decision a conscious decision.

97. Be aware of your sub-conscious expectations. People let you down only if you allow them to manage your expectations.

98. Always remember that if you are big fish in a small pond, you will be a small fish if you swim somewhere else

99. Be good at Poker

100. Keep believing in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy for the sake of innocence

101. If you have found the previous 100 suggestions of value, you might wish to try out a short exercise in experiential learning to see how you rate?

Go to your living room, put your pants on your head, do three summersaults and yell at the top of voice 'I Love Sanjaya' for three minutes, this will bring the god of warmth and happiness into your life and 'de-gull' your home forever


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  2. Hi. I like your list. I just started reading Pinker's "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature." I'm shocked already. I didn't realize the extent of the taboo against exploring human nature!

  3. Hi Lana, thanks for commenting, yes it's amazing when you scratch the surface just how much of our everyday politics and education is formed by issues and agendas that we are unaware of. I didn't appreciate that the 'nature'standpoint was so sensitive due to the eugenics concerns. It's amazing how much of what we see and do is governed by the taken for granted prior assumptions that become 'encoded' in our philosophical standpoint, that in turn drive our actoins and beliefs

  4. Yeah, and just when I thought I had "me" figured out! LOL!