Fear Factors


Fear is a delicious sensation.

Which is why it’s used to sell us a plethora of products. Everything from scary movies to hand sanitizers to political candidates.

From 2009-2012, Publishers Weekly‘s annual list of best-seling books averaged a staggering 12 of its Top 15 best-sellers that fit into the “Thriller” category. Take Stephen King. Even though he’s not the household name he once was, King’s new offerings like Dr. Sleep are still snapped up by the hundreds of thousands and he has sold more than 500 million copies of his novels to date. Very scary.

Still not convinced? Just look at the runaway success of TV shows like Dexter, CSI, Bones, and reality shows like Fear Factor and Ghost Hunters. The show that terrifies me? “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo”, but that’s another article.

What neuroscientists and marketers know is that there’s a solid biological basis behind our attraction to fear. Fear raises our adrenaline, creating the primal, fight-or-flight response. This in turn releases epinephrine, a hormone and neurotransmitter that produces a deeply satisfying rush. Just ask any adrenaline junkie. According to Yerkes National Primate Research Center neuroscientist Kerry Ressler, the amygdala, our brain’s fear center, “Gets just as activated by fear as it would in the real world, but because your cortex knows you’re not really in danger, that spillover is rewarding and not frightening.”

Fear also brings us together by uniting us against a common enemy. It’s why we take such perverse pleasure in spreading fearful rumors, sometimes blowing them out of proportion to heighten the sense of danger. It’s why many urban legends still persist (highway murder gangs, alligators in the sewers) and why even a simple power outage can have neighbors calling each other with theories about terrorist attacks or government-sponsored “men in black” squads.Wacky, yes, but an article on political fear-mongering from the left-leaning web site Daily Kos, states that “When a threat is perceived, the body goes into automatic mode, redirecting blood to certain parts of the body and away from the brain. The respiratory response also decreases the blood supply to the brain, making a person unable to think clearly. In other words, the loss of blood to a person’s brain can make him or her stupid, literally.” An academic study in Communication Monographs by Kim White entitled “The Extended Parallel Process Model” explains that “People who are exposed to fear appeals think carefully about the responses posed in these messages, then follow the advice of the persuasive message in an attempt to neutralize the danger.”

Fear is a powerful persuader, so it’s no surprise that marketers, advertisers and political consultants look for ways to exploit our fears to the fullest. In the coming weeks we’ll explore some of the ways our minds are subtly manipulated so that we’re driven to purchase. I don’t mean to scare you, but it happens every day.

In praise of crazy.

Apple_Think_Different_vectorized.svgHere’s to the crazy ones.

The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers.

The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo.

You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them because they change things.

They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.

Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

I love this advertising copy. It has stuck with me since it was first broadcast in 1997, not because it sold truckloads of Apple computers
(it did), but because it reminds me that we need to be a little (or a lot) crazy to make a difference in the world.

The copy was written by Apple’s Steve Jobs and Lee Clow, along with Clow’s team at TBWA/Chiat/Day. If the grammar bugs you, here’s the rationale, according to Jobs: If “different” was supposed to modify the verb “think,” it should be an adverb, as in “think differently.” But Jobs insisted that he wanted “different” to be used as a noun, as in “think victory” or “think beauty.” Also, it echoed colloquial use, as in “think big.” Jobs later explained, “We discussed whether it was correct before we ran it. It’s grammatical, if you think about what we’re trying to say. It’s not think the same, it’s think different. Think a little different, think a lot different, think different.”

What does “think different” mean to you? I use it as my reason to blog, write books, perform magic, speak to strangers and generally be silly and in awe of the miraculous world around me. On my best days I do these things without guilt or apology because I believe that’s what the Einsteins, Campbells, Gandhis, and Jobss of the world did. My email signature includes my absurdly audacious promise to “Change the world, one mind at a time.” Ballsy? You bet? Irreverent? Maybe. Necessary? Yes (for me, anyway). I get up every day with the intention of delivering on that promise. When was the last time you did something that was courageous, inspiring and a little crazy? Did it make a difference?

Even if our actions didn’t knock the world off its axis, isn’t it important that we tried, and that we’ll try again? Here’s to the crazy ones.

Rules of engagement


Lots of magicians earn their “stage time” at a young age by performing for neighbors or entertaining at children’s birthday parties. My path was a little different. By age 16, I was performing at local and regional trade shows and I learned quickly what worked and what didn’t with harried, jaded business people. I needed an approach that would immediately hook passersby to stop, or at least slow down, long enough to engage them. I would point to an imaginary spot just above my head, reach up and produce a real flame between my fingertips. At the same time I would say “Here’s something impossible and maybe a little dangerous!”

I didn’t look at the flame licking my fingers, but instead smiled and made eye contact with the individual. I tossed the flame toward my left hand and when it landed, the flame had become a gold coin. I handed the coin to the business person as I explained “This is my gift to you. You may keep it or try your luck to win one of these amazing prizes.” Nine times out of ten, the individual would laugh, then hand the coin to a salesperson in return for a spin of the prize wheel.
Shilling for companies as a teenager was my introduction to the art of engagement. I still use the same techniques today.

The steps to engagement are simple:
1. Be intriguing. You don’t have to pluck flames from the air to capture attention (although it couldn’t hurt). Simply engage the person with a smile and an intriguing comment or question, such as “Are you having an amazing day?” If they say yes, follow up with “Me, too! What amazing thing has happened to you today?” If they say no, state “Well, it’s not too late! Tell me about an amazing experience you’ve had recently.” People are drawn to those who find them fascinating, so be genuinely interested in others and you’ll never be at a loss for good conversation.

2. Give a gift. It could be the gift of your attention and a useful comment such as a compliment, a savvy observation or even a suggestion of a hot new restaurant, movie or book. Sharing insights and recommendations show that you’re really listening and that you’ve placed the other person’s needs front and center.

3. Offer choice. Let the person drive the conversation and let them choose the path. You can always give the topic a little nudge, but take your lead from the other person’s comments and interests. The best interviewers and conversationalists are those who listen intently and ask questions sparingly.

To be engaging means to be engaged. Enjoy meeting people, leave your ego and agendas at home, and be genuinely interested in others. You’ll quickly become engaged with everyone you meet and they will love you for it.

Notice the Non-Verbal


anxious copy

This week, I’d like to turn the blogosphere over to Dr. Daniel Goleman, who offers valuable insights into “reading” another’s non-verbal communication. Ignore the unspoken signals others are sending you at your peril!

What’s in a wince? Reading non-verbal cues.

She squinted when I suggested her draft of the contract wasn’t what we initially discussed. My jaw tightened when he asked for an extension on his report, yet I said “No problem.” Examining – and being aware of your own – micro-expressions during negotiations can be a helpful tool in ensuring discussions go smoothly, and that both parties achieve mutual gainsin the end.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with IMD professor and Leadership: A Master Classparticipant George Kohlrieser about a variety of ways to master the art of negotiation. This first installment provides an overview of ways to read and manage nonverbal signals.

“A great negotiator always looks for nonverbal signals. Now, you can’t become too analytical or you’ll get paralyzed. But pay attention to the tone of voice and facial expressions, if you can see them. If you’re in a situation where you can shake their hand, that physical interaction is worth noticing, too. You should also pay attention to your gut reactions when you notice an expression that you don’t trust. Use that instinct to gauge how they might be using the nonverbal language of lying.

To learn more about evaluating micro-expressions, I suggest reading up on Paul Eckman’s work. His research in understanding the meaning behind nonverbal cues is genius. It’s a benchmark work that says that there are so many micro-expressions of how emotion gets expressed visually, and in the voice, and the impact they have. His work can also be used to help train yourself to be aware of your own micro-expression, which a negotiator has to do.

For instance, I may feel very upset, angry, or disappointed if I thought we were going to reach a conclusion, and suddenly it starts to fall apart. I have to watch that I don’t communicate anger. I have to watch that I don’t communicate the wrong message because the communication is nonverbal. Research shows about 85% of the impact comes from voice, facial expression, the nonverbal signals that the other person picks up. Paul’s work is seminal in being able to teach us that signals are always there. Be aware of them.

Of course, the cues can also be positive. I can be non-trusting but certainly I see expression in the eye, or in the hand, that shows me something different, and it can be where they are reaching out or pulling back. They’re trying to suppress or trying to open up. All of those ideas in expression become important.

Reading expressions is also very important with concession. You’ve reached a point of arguing and suddenly you ask a powerful question, and they respond to your question, which requires you make concession. You have to be able to say, “Thank you, I appreciate that question.” I like that you reflected. You’re listening to what I’m saying. Then use those non-verbal expressions to see when concession has really been made.

Regarding the law of reciprocity, animal trainers have a great deal to teach negotiators. Their survival depends on watching an animal’s nonverbal signals. They have to be able to get into that dance of bonding and being aggressive when you get a signal to stop, and pushing forward can get you killed. When you pick up the signal, the animal stops, then you step back, then you go forward again. It’s a dance of attachment that wild animal trainers who survive do very well, and it’s what’s behind the people’s skills in dealing with animals.

Let’s be honest, in some difficult negotiations, people can sometimes act like wild animals. It’s best to learn ways to tame their emotions – and mange your own responses to them – to survive.”


Emotional Intelligence author, Daniel Goleman lectures frequently to business audiences, professional groups and on college campuses. A psychologist who for many years reported on the brain and behavioral sciences for The New York Times, Dr. Goleman previously was a visiting faculty member at Harvard.

Dr. Goleman’s most recent books are The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights andLeadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence – Selected Writings. (More Than Sound). Goleman’s latest project, Leadership: A Master Class, is his first-ever comprehensive video series that examines the best practices of top-performing executives.

Siri is a lousy listener

It’s not just Siri. It’s all the voice activated “auto attendants” I confront on a weekly basis. Am I not speaking clearly enough? Is it my monotonous midwest accent that is unintelligible to a sophisticated machine? Or do synthetic voice programmers take perverse pleasure in wasting my time? Here’s an idea: as one of the keypad options, why not offer “leave an email for a real person and we’ll get back to you”. The response could be a text, email or (heaven forbid) a live phone call. In any event, I could receive a cogent answer in a reasonable (read: 24 hour) timeframe without spending 30 minutes shouting into my cell phone. Am I just ranting or could I be on to something? Customer service experts, take note…