Month: August 2010

Book review: Influence

author Robert Cialdini and his book, INFLUENCE

How out-of-date is the library-sale copy of Influence: The Power of Persuasion I finished recently? When my 1984-minted paperback was printed, its subtitle was “The New Psychology of Modern Persuasion.” (Italics mine, of course.)

Today, the psychology Robert Cialdini outlines in his now-classic book is so not-new, it’s almost shocking to think that anyone could ever have been sucked in by any of examples of Cialdini uses to illustrate the six “Weapons of Influence” he describes. If you’re not a small-business owner or one of the bajillions of marketing freaks the social web has spawned, you may not be able to list all of the terms by name, but you sure as hell can recognize them when they’re coming at you.

That friendly car salesman who gets you to take a test drive, who goes to the mat with his boss in the back room to get a better deal for you, who confides that the exact model you want is due to come in tomorrow, but only one of them, and only if you sign on the dotted line today? You might not know that he’s employing Weapons #1, 5 and 7, a.k.a. “Reciprocation,” “Liking,” and “Scarcity”, but you know he’s hustling you.1 His going-to-the-mat b.s. has already been debunked for you in several mainstream Hollywood films. Hell, chances are you’ve already used the Google to find out exactly how many cars were made with those options, when they shipped, and what the dealer price is.

So why read a 25-year-old book about “modern” persuasion in a postmodern world like ours, populated by savvy, heck, jaded consumers like us?

Because while the book is 25 years old, the techniques themselves are thousands of years older, as old as the first person trying to get the first other person to do something. And whether you are an honest person trying to get your message across or an honest person trying to keep from getting shafted, it behooves you to gain a real understanding of what motivates your fellow human beings, and what’s fueling the transactions between us every single day.

And I’m not just talking about learning how to sell sell sell, or, on the other hand, to avoid being sold sold sold. The way we are moved has ramifications in all sorts of interpersonal situations, and there’s terrific advice in Influence that will help you do better at everything from buying soap to choosing lovers to raising children. The chapter on Commitment & Consistency alone has more useful information about smart relationships than 99% of the crap targeted to women in the self-help section.

Which brings me to another huge plus for Cialdini’s book over most of what’s out there purporting to illuminate the darker corners of our souls: it’s well-written, and downright enjoyable to read. Somewhere during the chapter on Social Proof, it hit me, with its mix of footnoted and well-researched information, great illustrative stories and (thank you!) wry humor, Cialdini reminded me of not a little of Malcolm Gladwell. Cialdini is far more earnest and not nearly as sophisticated, but then, he was at it a full 10 years before Gladwell. (And, yeah, okay, Gladwell is just a singularly silky and sexy and fabulous wizard with words. You bewitch me, Malcolm!)

I will likely release my ancient copy of Influence back into the wild and pick up a revised version, if only to see how the text has been updated. I’d love to hear Cialdini’s take on Bernie Madoff’s use of the Weapons of Influence, for instance (although you can read one take on it here.)

But if you are a marketer, or a buyer, or a person who wants to be in a good relationship, or to NOT end up in that oh-so-bewildering place of “how the hell did I get here?”, I’d pick up a copy, any copy, old or new, of this fantastic book.


1The six “Weapons of Influence,” in the order Cialdini describes them in the book, are: Reciprocation, Commitment & Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, Authority, and Scarcity.

Photo of Robert Cialdini © Jason Petze, used with permission.

Disclosure! Links to the book(s) in the above post are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: while small, it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

Lingering lovingly on failure

back of head with irregular hair cut, sign reading "oops!"

When does a boon become a curse?

A trick question, of course: as any good Buddhist will tell you, a “boon” is just a thing, a fulcrum upon which other things can tilt one way or another. Like the Chinese Farmer story that’s haunted me since I first heard of it, what is your blessing is your curse, and vice versa.

For example, this ten-year stretch of my life:

I hate my job in advertising (curse) but it’s paid me well enough to transition to something I love (blessing), which turns out to be acting (curse). I’ve already moved to the #2 market for industry work (blessing), but an inability to book lucrative freelance ad work locally (curse) forces me to take a Stupid Day Job at one-fifth the wages I’d been earning as an ad ho (curse).

During the course of this job, I learn humility (blessing) but become so bored (curse) that I teach myself rudimentary skills in graphic design (blessing), which gives me an “in” at a highly-respected theater company (blessing).

Lacking sufficient acting proficiency, however, I grow increasingly desperate for decent roles (curse), the pursuit of which finally causes me to renege on a promise to my then-boyfriend, who subsequently dumps me (curse), exacerbating my health issues by masking the Crohn’s onset I’m unwittingly undergoing as garden-variety, heartbreak-induced weight loss (curse), leading to months of pain and hospitalization (curse) but paving the way for a bloody epiphany (blessing, although technically, more of an E-ticket ride) that changes the way I look at the world forever (blessing).

You can just as easily go through the previous three grafs swapping out “curse” for “blessing,” of course. Even the epiphany itself, which was absolutely the most fabulous 10 – 20 seconds of my life to date, could be looked at as a curse, no less because it made all other highs pale by comparison than because it was a wake-up bell that could not be un-rung.

My point, and I do have one, is this: looking at the why and how of things, keeping score, even a certain amount of anguish and teeth-gnashing, is not only more compelling to me, but in a lot of ways, it’s more fruitful. FOR ME. My blessings, seeing the potential in things, minute and obsessive analysis of my turns in the road, are my curse.

I love figuring things out; I love inhaling scads of information, putting it through whatever filters, then puzzling out how it fits together. And then? I like moving on. I’m not completely obsessive, but yeah, as my shrink has confirmed, I’m on the spectrum. Which is one of the reasons why I pay more attention to what I haven’t done than what I have, to how I fell short rather than succeeded, or however I’m phrasing it in the glass-half-empty way I do.

Are there other reasons? Yes: I’m nuts! And a perfectionist! My compass, she is effed up, probably irretrievably so. I am so messed up and it is so deeply ingrained that the best I will ever do is getting so smart about it that I can, to paraphrase my first-shrink-slash-astrologer, learn to do an end-run around my own nonsense so quickly that it will seem like I am not mightily effed up, that I may even get to (mostly) live the life of someone who is not mightily effed up. You know, that whole lounging-with-attitude ability that normal people have. This doesn’t mean I should not keep trying, nor that I should allow myself to use me as a punching bag. Not at all. A lot of what I try to make public is my process around this change, around seeing what’s messed up and figuring out ways of straightening it, untangling it, learning to put it aside where appropriate.

the author's teddy bearWhich is what brings me to Teddelia. Teddelia has been my personal teddy bear since I was small enough that she was big (in real life, she stands roughly 8″ high, whereas I am a towering 62″). Not continuously, she had many years of rest while the blankets Bunny stepped in, but she came out of retirement in my late 30s, during my relationship with The Youngster; we had a thing about using inanimate objects to act out a lot of drama we couldn’t bear to handle (no pun intended) ourselves.

The relationship ended (cf. reneging incident, above), but my thing for Teddelia stayed strong. She’ll get a breather for long stretches, but when the going gets tough, as it inevitably does, she hops onto my belly and we have ourselves a little discussion. If you can call it that. Usually, she stares me down or makes me laugh or does something else that the soft, fuzzy, oft-ignored, occasionally-steamrolled part of me needs to do to get the hard-ass’s attention. And after the illumination and debriefing, we snuggle up with a book or a repeat viewing of Jackie Brown or some Rohmer flick and put the day to bed.

And the talking to myself is not limited to the times Teddelia is handy. One of my newer habits is to call myself out on my own shit, out loud. I’ll make a mistake, say, letting the milk boil over, which happens far more than you’d think, given how many half-gallons of yogurt I’ve made over the past eight years.

Me (leaping from chair at the sound of the milk sizzling as it hits the range): @#$%! Idiot! I can’t believe you did it AGAIN.

Other Me (gently-but-firmly, as she chases after self-flagellating Me): Hey hey hey hey hey, that’s not how we talk about our friend, Colleen!

Me (irritated, but chastened, dealing with burners, sponges, etc.): Sorry. I know. Goddammit. Sorry.

Fin. Or sort of. It’s a process, right? Sometimes there’s more cursing; sometimes the chastening is (almost) as mean as the self-flagellating. But it’s getting better. It’s a process.

This is only the beginning of unpacking my last two posts on being annoyed with myself for not being able to get my work done properly, and of my problems with finding my “off” switch. I felt it was the most important part to bring to light, though, because if you jump on this blog at any given point, especially a Monday point when the heavy-duty essays tend to break, it’s easy to think that all I do is walk around beating the crap out of myself for not fulfilling unreasonable promises to myself. There’s far more to examine around the word “unreasonable,” for starters, my decision-making process for discernment as well as load capacity. In case I don’t get around to it immediately, yes, I am and have been addressing what should or shouldn’t make the cut based on what I actually want, as well as what’s humanly possible to do.

But if I “linger lovingly upon my failures,” to paraphrase Dan Owen, know that it’s as much about the pleasure and enjoyment I get from figuring shit out and bringing it to light, about figuring this shit out so I can do that shit differently, even if I fail at it as well, as it is some perverted desire to attack myself. I mean, yeah, there’s probably some of that, and I’m definitely not a natural horn-tooter, but I absolutely celebrate the gains.

Maybe not as much as I “should.” Almost definitely not in front of you. But to myself and to intimates, furry and other. Even out loud, sometimes.


Image by rutlo via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Frrrrriday Rrrrround-up!

building "leaning" on a San Francisco hill

An end-of-weekly roundup collecting fffffive of the fffffantabulous things I find stumbling around the web during the week here, but which I post on one of the many other Internet outlets I stop by (or tweet at) during my travels. More about the genesis here.

I will never stop loving Ira Glass. [Facebook-ed]

Want to get your hands dirty and change the world? Join a crop mob. [delicious-ed, via @BeckyMcCray]

Revenge is a dish best served cold, with a Gatsby lecture. [Tumbld, via The Rumpus]

More on being lost, with panache!, from the big-hearted Penelope Trunk. [Google-Reader-ed]


P.S. It finally struck me that I could use one of the lovely images I’ve found in my travels rather than the same old cowboy photo. So there you go, and this week, just the four (other) link-links. But since I feel funny this first time out, not having five, here’s a nice interview about my reading habits. Thanks, Brenda, for interviewing me, and thank you thank you thank you, dearest Jodi for hooking us all up via your wonderful Women’s Business Socials. No more snotty ladies!

Image by Håkan Dahlström via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Poetry Thursday: Eno in the trees

small black dog running through woods

Your shit
didn’t break
all at once
or in order,
you could argue
that it never broke
at all,
that you were just you,
fixing yourself
the best way you knew how,
splinting your own leg
up there on the mountain,
miles and miles
from a trained professional.

So go.
Roll out
a doughy stretch
of time
before you,
as much as you can gather at once,
then play with it,
in it,
around it.

Frolic in the sea
take long drives through the country
do your deep knee bends
your yoga
your tai chi
and walk the hills,
with Hank Williams
with Joe Frank
with Brian Eno
with nothing at all,
and as many trees
as possible.

Eat real food.
Drink good water.
Follow the light
around the house,
like a cat,
from one patch
to another. 
Talk to fellow
let them fall in step
with you
and peel off
where they must.
It will be you
and only you
in the end,

Let go
of your notions
of time,
you have all the time
in the world,
and none of it
belongs to you

You are a perfect mess
a beloved clutch of cells
and electricity,
a brain in need of a heart,
a heart in need of room.

Here it is:
all the room you need,
right here.

Do you see?


Image by guy schmidt via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

Video Vednesday: To-read/Amazon Wishlist hack

(on an iPhone/iPad/non-Flash-friendly device? Click here to watch on Vimeo, I think.)

In an effort to wrangle my ever-growing list of books I’d like to read, I’ve played with everything from hard-copy lists in pocket notebooks to Evernote, with a thousand .txt files in between.

My ideal list is:

  1. easiest to use on my computer (since I’m here most of the time)
  2. portable, so I can consult it when I find myself in an indie or used bookstore, grappling with overwhelm
  3. digital (because my handwriting sucks, and because it is easier to copy stuff digitally)
  4. updatable from multiple devices (i.e., is something I can sync between a handheld device and my computer, which is technically portable but which is such a hassle to haul around, I avoid it where I can)
  5. provides a way to sort by genre, author, etc
  6. contains a reminder of how I came to find this book (i.e., reco) and/or other context

The hack I describe in the video uses Amazon’s Wishlist function and their browser add-on, the Universal Wishlist tool. It’s easiest to describe how easy it is by showing it (hence, the video), but basically, you plug the title of the book you like and “Amazon” into your browser’s search field, then click on the inevitable Amazon link that comes up. Instead of adding to your wishlist then and there, you click on the Universal Wishlist add-on, which brings up a little dialogue box that includes a space for comments. In this comments field, you add whatever context and/or reco reminders you like.

This is really a few steps away from my ideal book-saving tool. I’m hoping that someone makes my perfect iPhone app: one that would let me add context or other note, include a cover graphic, sort, sync and work offline. This way, I do have a list of books I can consult in the store, but it’s dependent on network coverage, plus I have no access to my notes. I used text lists for a long time, but I realized at some point that I remember things visually, and text leaves out too much information to be helpful.

As always, comments are appreciated, I’m increasingly interested in refining my quickie-video skills, as evidence points to a not-small chunk of the population who, for some completely baffling-to-me reason, enjoy getting their information via video. (And this is not a fishing expedition for compliments, I know that there’s something nice about getting to know the bloggers you “know” via video and audio as well as text; it’s just that when it comes to learning stuff, I find myself impatient with even the best video screencasts, for the most part.)

Oh, and if my perfect book-collecting iPhone app exists already, PLEASE let me know. I’m tempted to partner with someone to build one, but I’d be a sad sack liar if I added a big project like that to my plate right now.


The crazy lady cops to the crazy

crazy frog (puppet) on a tiny dirt bike

Dan Owen loves it when I write about my workaholism.

So this is going to be a banner week for Dan, something I’m happy to give him, for all he gives back via his thoughtful comments, and who knows? Maybe, just maybe, if I can chip away at some scaly mass getting in the way of me and a foothold, maybe it will be a banner week for me, too. Because for as trenchant as my workaholism is, and for as much as many 12-steppers would insist that obviously, I’m getting something out of it or I wouldn’t be doing it, I insist, INSIST, I tell you!, that there is a way out of this to a happier me. To someone who, it is true, enjoys work with perhaps more fervor than many, and still to the exclusion of many things, but not to the point of obsession.

There is always, usually, a way out of here. It’s more likely that there may not be one way out of here, if you’re talking tactics, but the central way is most certainly some shift in thought. For example, my way of feeling, my approach to the kind of work I was interested in doing too much of, changed in pretty much an instant, during my hospital-bed epiphany (which I spoke about at last year’s Ignite). But while there have been other shifts in realization that took longer, my transition from being okay with applying my stupid workaholic engine to writing ads for The Man to not being okay with it, for example, the shift to new work itself, or a new way of being, or a new set of habits, has always taken a while. Rome wasn’t re-engineered in a day.

Both Dan and Piper bring up one critical component of this re-engineering: checking the yardstick by which I’m measuring accomplishment. Fair enough. I’d say I’m aware of the disconnect between my idea of reasonable and that of someone who is, well, reasonable. This year, I had my annual goals list vetted by a compassionate but critically-thinking friend; last year, I had my then-coach do the honors (who herself has a touch of the workaholism, and who declared my original plan unrealistic). This year’s list required less retooling for reality than last year’s, and so far, I’m also much more on track than I was last year, both of which items I’m calling progress.

I believe the real progress lies in two things: first, my willingness to openly cop to this as something that’s not working and that I want to change, then trying stuff that stands a reasonable chance of working. While I’ve been copping openly here on the blog for years now, there are years and years (and years, decades!) before then where I not only denied it, if you brought it up to me, I’d have told you that was insane. My father was a workaholic; I knew what workaholism looked like.1

Second, I am objectively happier. Sure, there are many contributing factors, including the epiphany, but there are some key differences that point to my being able to back off this work b.s. now and then and have fun: for starters, a group of women friends, which I never had before, and not only choosing to be with them, but initiating many of the get-togethers. My old modus operandi was just to glom onto whatever friends my S.O. of the moment had, letting him initiate the scheduling. Now I cultivate relationships, and enjoy the tending of them, maybe not to the extent an extrovert would, but I’m not an extrovert! The flip side of this is that I also grab “me” time whenever the hell I feel like it, something I never felt entitled to do before. So, progress!

Ongoing visualization of a five-pound bag and the amount of shit that will fit remains a challenge, though. Piper’s method for handling this is intriguing, but feels effortful to me. I’ve timed things, how long it takes to write a post, a newsletter, to clean the kitchen, to run to the post office, to no avail. The times are too variable. Slightly better has been to play with time allotments for things, as several commenters suggested. This has been marginally more helpful, but man, I have a capacity for denial even with this: I’ll completely overlook the physical drain something that’s emotionally exhausting will take, and end up with stupid-long lists.

What it boils down to is something that I really hate to look at, but is exactly what Dan seems to suggest is inevitable: what do I really want to do? Because that, I’ll manage to get done. I take care of what I have to, eating and sleeping, keeping body and soul together, and what I “have to”, this blog, mostly, and connecting with people I’m interested in about the topics I’m interested in. Like most smokers, I quit smoking when I wanted to, and not a moment sooner. I went on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet when the choice was between that or hard-core meds with deleterious long-term effects, not months before, when I was just uncomfortable.

These books I say I want to write? When I really want to, by this logic, I will write them. I’ll quit writing so much here, and start writing more there. Maybe my refusal to let go of this idea of me writing a collection of essays on one theme is just another form of clutter. I’ve been cautiously, cautiously watching Hoarders lately, as they put up new episodes, and it’s a little scary, seeing the outward manifestation of interior chaos and clinging. I recognize myself on that OCD spectrum, and fully cop to both my blessing/curse of seeing potential in goddamn everything and my reluctance to call chapters closed. Part of why I’ve been stripping away, stripping away, stripping away mercilessly (albeit slowly) at my physical and digital clutter issue is that I recognize this inability to make decisions about stuff-stuff is adversely affecting my ability to make decisions about life-stuff: there’s a side of me that’s still seven, and that wants to live in four different cities (at once!), with five different men, or none, as a ballerina/shrink/college professor/Mike Royko/hobo. Okay, that’s an exaggeration: I never wanted to be a ballerina.

It’s crazy-making, the ability to see potential in things. It leads to lives full of crap and devoid of a central thing, okay, maybe two, that really matter(s).2 I know more about this than I wish I did right now, I’ve been on both ends of this problem. Maybe I’m delusional, thinking that my continued pursuit of a solution to the problem is anything more than a workaholic cat chasing its own tail. Maybe I should cut my losses, find the lowest-common-denominator workaround to the problem, workaholics anonymous, which does exist, and sign myself up.3

One final thought (for now) on this mishegoss: while I’m happy to have read 52 books in less than 52 weeks, and while I almost certainly would have been a bit disappointed had I made it to the end of 52 weeks without having read 52 books, I really am happiest that I’ve managed to build reading back into my life. Really and truly. I am happy to be reading books again, because I enjoy it. I am happy to be reading them still, though I’ve more than fulfilled my “obligation” to myself, and I expect to continue enjoying reading far, far beyond these 52 books and however many weeks.

I’m proudest, however, that I’ve been able to stop reading books I didn’t want to finish, after 10 pages, 50 pages, even 100 pages. That I didn’t for a moment think “OMG I HAVE 100pp INVESTED I CANNOT STOP NOW AIIIYYYIIII!!!1!!” I am reading what I like, because I like it, that is healthy, I think, but it was my crazy-ass, OCD-oriented mindset that got me back to this nice place of being.

That, I think, is not crazy at all. Or maybe it’s just crazy in the “good” way.


1I didn’t, of course, any more than I knew what Crohn’s looked like. My workaholism presented much differently than my father’s did, just as my Crohn’s presented differently. He was all Joe C-Suite and shallow conversations and diarrhea! I was all starving-artiste and meaningful dialogues and constipation! COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. (Not.)

2Here’s how crazy-making it is: when I watch Hoarders, I want to train as a professional organizer who specializes in compulsive hoarding disorders!

3By the way, if anyone has experience with this organization, I’d be very interested to hear about it. And yeah, I get the ano

Image by moffoys via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license. From this “Crazy Frog” Filckr set, which will almost certainly make you laugh, which is good for you whether you’re a workaholic or total layabout.

Sticking a fork in it, Mister Rogers-style

exhibit featuring mr rogers' sneakers

While I’ve spent most of what I’m coming to call my “Sabbatical from Sabbatical” holed up alone, I have made occasional runs back into L.A. for various types of interpersonal reinforcements.

A Biznik meetup. Some Nei Kung lessons, to get a particularly complex bonus-extra move down pat, successfully, fingers crossed.

And, of course, for shrinkage. I’ve taken many hiatuses from shrinkage over the years, but I’ve found that the monthly tune-up version of ongoing shrinkage really works for me. Maybe if I can get my farkakte compass working 100%, I’ll be able to forgo those; maybe finances will force my hand at some point, regardless. But for now, I compile a little GTD-style “@shrink” agenda, slot it full of stuff, then haul my ass in to get the crazy straightened, kind of like a Brazilian blowout for my psyche.

We’re running up against a really trenchant issue now, or maybe it’s a tangled web of stuff that presents as a trenchant issue: my workaholism. Nothing I haven’t discussed here before, but I’m starting to look at it a little differently, a little more tactically. One huge step forward for me was declaring this very sabbatical (although not the Sabbatical from Sabbatical). Granted, I’ve been declaring it incrementally, two weeks in December became a quarter in early January, and I keep pushing the edges of it outward as much as I can.

Within those borders, though, I’ve been operating with mixed results. I’m happy with the amount of reading I’m doing now, both for fun and edification. I’ve gotten much better about spending time with friends (I think, maybe I should check with them.) I’m spending more time with food prep and on exercise, which keeps me from hurling myself at drive-thru windows most of the time (I confess, to you and the Specter of Wayne, to my enduring love of those goddamn Jack-in-the-Box, 2-for-99¢ tacos). I’m getting to bed earlier, so I’m getting more rest.

On the other hand, I seem to be having trouble finding the “off” switch for my days. Part of it is that I have not been good about earmarking an entire one per seven for rest, so I steal time during my weekdays, which pushes work into the weekends, which creates a vicious circle. The other part is that, and I cannot believe that I’m saying this at almost-50, I’ve never found the “off” switch for each individual day. From the time I called my time my own, I’ve just worked when work needed to get done. Justified or not (and believe me, most of it is NOT), when you work in advertising, you work, period.1 Once I escaped, I felt like I couldn’t stop working, because I didn’t have a foothold in anything else yet. This drove my ex-husband, The Chief Atheist, batshit-crazy, probably rightly. During most of our recreational time I was less a companion than I was an angry, grudging millstone. But it got me out of writing ads for money into acting in them for money, and helped me pick up all these mad, 21st-century skillz along the way.

Besides, a lot of the time, I’d goof off here and there during the day, then work away all night. I’d get my 12-hour day in, just at weird times. I can’t do that anymore; these days, I feel the air coming out of the balloon at around 6:30 or 7, and there’s no second wind forthcoming.

So I’m looking for hacks. Soliciting hacks! Or ideas, solutions, tricks, whatever you want to call them, as long as they’ve worked for you. They can be front-end hacks, i.e., things that I could do in the earlier part of the day, to ensure that I get my plate cleared off and feel okay stopping at a reasonable hour.

But I’m especially interested in “Mister Rogers” hacks: putting on play clothes at the end of the day to signal it’s time to stop working. That kind of thing. They can be treats, I love treats!, but they should not be fatty, as I’m trying to reduce a bit, and they should not be alcohol. I already know how to use that as a shut-off valve.

What does one do to mark the end of the day? WWMRD, What would Mister Rogers do?

Or is that all made-up, PBS, fairy-tale stuff?


1This has only gotten worse with time and the splintering media landscape, by the way. At least I could take time off when I was away on location, during production. These poor people now? Ugh.

Image by Hey Rocker via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.