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Clown Genius

Like many of you, I have been entertained by the unstoppable clown car that is Donald Trump. On the surface, and several layers deep as well, Trump appears to be a narcissistic blow-hard with inadequate credentials to lead a country.

The only problem with my analysis is that there is an eerie consistency to his success so far. Is there a method to it? Is there some sort of system at work under the hood?

Probably yes. Allow me to describe some of the hypnosis and persuasion methods Mr. Trump has employed on you. (Most of you know I am a trained hypnotist and this topic is a hobby of mine.)

For starters, Trump literally wrote the book on negotiating, called The Art of the Deal. So we know he is familiar with the finer points of persuasion. For our purposes today, persuasion, hypnosis, and negotiating all share a common set of tools, so I will conflate them. 

Would Trump use his negotiation and persuasion skills in the campaign? Of course he would. And we expect him to do just that. 

But where is the smoking gun of his persuasion? Where is his technique laid out for us to see.

Everywhere. 

As I said in my How to Fail book, if you are not familiar with the dozens of methods of persuasion that are science-tested, there’s a good chance someone is using those techniques against you.

For example, when Trump says he is worth $10 billion, which causes his critics to say he is worth far less (but still billions) he is making all of us “think past the sale.” The sale he wants to make is “Remember that Donald Trump is a successful business person managing a vast empire mostly of his own making.” The exact amount of his wealth is irrelevant. 

When a car salesperson trained in persuasion asks if you prefer the red Honda Civic or the Blue one, that is a trick called making you “think past the sale” and the idea is to make you engage on the question of color as if you have already decided to buy the car. That is Persuasion 101 and I have seen no one in the media point it out when Trump does it.

The $10 billion estimate Trump uses for his own net worth is also an “anchor” in your mind. That’s another classic negotiation/persuasion method. I remember the $10 billion estimate because it is big and round and a bit outrageous. And he keeps repeating it because repetition is persuasion too. 

I don’t remember the smaller estimates of Trump’s wealth that critics provided. But I certainly remember the $10 billion estimate from Trump himself. Thanks to this disparity in my memory, my mind automatically floats toward Trump’s anchor of $10 billion being my reality. That is classic persuasion. And I would be amazed if any of this is an accident. Remember, Trump literally wrote the book on this stuff.

You might be concerned that exaggerating ones net worth is like lying, and the public will not like a liar. But keep in mind that Trump’s value proposition is that he will “Make America Great.” In other words, he wants to bring the same sort of persuasion to the question of America’s reputation in the world. That concept sounds appealing to me. The nation needs good brand management, whether you think Trump is the right person or not. (Obviously we need good execution as well, not just brand illusion. But a strong brand gives you better leverage for getting what you want. It is all connected.)

And what did you think of Trump’s famous “Rosie O’Donnell” quip at the first debate when asked about his comments on women? The interviewer’s questions were intended to paint Trump forever as a sexist pig. But Trump quickly and cleverly set the “anchor” as Rosie O’Donnell, a name he could be sure was not popular with his core Republican crowd. And then he casually admitted, without hesitation, that he was sure he had said other bad things about other people as well.

Now do you see how the anchor works? If the idea of “Trump insults women” had been allowed to pair in your mind with the nice women you know and love, you would hate Trump. That jerk is insulting my sister, my mother, and my wife! But Trump never let that happen. At the first moment (and you have to admit he thinks fast) he inserted the Rosie O’Donnell anchor and owned the conversation from that point on. Now he’s not the sexist who sometimes insults women; he’s the straight-talker who won’t hesitate to insult someone who has it coming (in his view).

But it gets better. You probably cringed when Trump kept saying his appearance gave FOX its biggest audience rating. That seemed totally off point for a politician, right? But see what happened.

Apparently FOX chief Roger Ailes called Trump and made peace. And by that I mean Trump owns FOX for the rest of the campaign because his willingness to appear on their network will determine their financial fate. BAM, Trump owns FOX and paid no money for it. See how this works? That’s what a strong brand gives you.

You probably also cringed when you heard Trump say Mexico was sending us their rapists and bad people. But if you have read this far, you now recognize that intentional exaggeration as an anchor, and a standard method of persuasion. 

Trump also said he thinks Mexico should pay for the fence, which made most people scoff. But if your neighbor’s pit bull keeps escaping and eating your rosebushes, you tell the neighbor to pay for his own fence or you will shoot his dog next time you see it. Telling a neighbor to build his own wall for your benefit is not crazy talk. And I actually think Trump could pull it off. 

On a recent TV interview, the host (I forget who) tried to label Trump a “whiner.” But instead of denying the label, Trump embraced it and said was the best whiner of all time, and the country needs just that. That’s a psychological trick I call “taking the high ground” and I wrote about it in a recent blog post. The low ground in this case is the unimportant question of whether “whiner” is a fair label for Trump. But Trump cleverly took the high ground, embraced the label, and used it to set an anchor in your mind that he is the loudest voice for change. That’s some clown genius for you. 

Update: When Trump raised his hand at the debate as the only person who would not pledge to back the eventual Republican candidate, he sent a message to the party that the only way they can win is by nominating him. And people like to win. It is in their nature. And they sure don’t want to see a Clinton presidency.

Update 2: And what about Trump’s habit of bluster and self-complimenting? Every time he opens his mouth he is saying something about the Trump brand being fabulous or amazing or great. The rational part of your brain thinks this guy is an obnoxious, exaggerating braggart. But the subconscious parts of your brain (the parts that make most of your decisions) only remember that something about that guy was fabulous, amazing and great.

If you’re keeping score, in the past month Trump has bitch-slapped the entire Republican Party, redefined our expectations of politics, focused the national discussion on immigration, proposed the only new idea for handling ISIS, and taken functional control of FOX News. And I don’t think he put much effort into it. Imagine what he could do if he gave up golf.

As far as I can tell, Trump’s “crazy talk” is always in the correct direction for a skilled persuader. When Trump sets an “anchor” in your mind, it is never random. And it seems to work every time.

Now that Trump owns FOX, and I see how well his anchor trick works with the public, I’m going to predict he will be our next president. I think he will move to the center on social issues (already happening) and win against Clinton in a tight election.

I also saw some Internet chatter about the idea of picking Mark Cuban as Vice Presidential running mate. If that happens, Republicans win. And I think they like to win. There is no way Trump picks some desiccated Governor from an important state as his running mate. I think Cuban is a realistic possibility.

I don’t mean this post to look like support for a Trump presidency. I’m more interested in his methods. I’m not smart enough to know who would do the best job as president. There are a lot of capable people in the game.

Update: Now that you have read my explanation of Trump’s three-dimensional chess, read this article and chuckle at how he is operating on an entirely different level from the TV host, Chuck Todd, and even the author of the article I’m linking to. It is literally hilarious.

Scott

In Top Tech Blog, robots are learning how to evolve on their own. I don’t see any risk with that. Do you?

The good reviews for my book keep coming.

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Trump’s Plan to “Put a ring around” ISIS

Presidential candidate Donald Trump said today that he would “put a ring around ISIS” and take the oil, thus recouping some war costs and starving them of their resources at the same time.

I have no idea if that is a good plan or a bad plan. But in my 2004 book, The Religion War, I predicted that the the major powers would build a wall around the caliphate and starve it. And in July I updated that idea with the Filter Fence concept you can read here.

You can mock Trump all you want, and I plan to do plenty of that myself, but his plan is worthy of being in the debate.

If you don’t like the “ring around it” plan, please put in the comments the plan that you prefer and the names of the candidates that support it. I am not up to date on any better ideas but I hope there are some.

Scott

How Trump Becomes President

I’m watching the Donald Trump campaign for president with the same amount of amusement as everyone else. The only difference is that I think he has a legitimate shot at becoming president. You’ll choke when I tell you why, because you’ll agree.

Realistically, the mood of the country is that it is time for a woman to be president. If you have watched any broadcast TV lately you know that commercials have swung from the traditional anti-woman sexist stuff of the past to become flagrantly anti-male. (Mostly. Still some exception.) That’s the national mood. Clinton is in the right place at the right time. The era of women has arrived. Nothing but a health problem or a new scandal could stop the inevitability train. 

But if Hillary does not coast into the White House as I expect (and this is a prediction, not a preference) you will see a Donald Trump presidency.

Here’s why. I’ll start with some obvious stuff and then get to my surprise reason that Trump could become president. I’ll bet you don’t see it coming. 

For starters, the visceral reaction that makes so many people dislike Trump has a lot to do with his New York style. I grew up in upstate New York and his style registers with me in a completely different way than it does with my California friends who can’t stand him. What I see is bluntness, honesty, some risk-taking, and a competitive nature. I don’t hate any of that. In fact, I kind of like it. 

I have blogged about making the transition from my New York personality to my California personality. New Yorkers tend to say whatever they think is true to whoever is standing nearby. Not much filter. Californians say what they think will make you feel good. The California way would feel like lying if it were not so well-meaning. 

I certainly understand that Trump comes off as arrogant, obnoxious, and lots of other bad stuff. But over time, and compared to the liars on stage with him, you might get hooked on hearing his honest opinions. That’s how the New York style works. At first you hate it because it seems so harsh. In time you start to appreciate the honesty. And when you realize the harshness is not a signal of real evil – just a style – you tend to get over it. He won’t win over all of his haters, but I predict that his New York style will grow on people more than you would expect. You could say his style is his biggest problem, but it might be self-solving with time and exposure. He is getting both.

When I speak of honesty in this context, I’m not talking about Trump inflating his business success record. Keep in mind that Trump is literally in the business of exaggerating the value of his brand, so if you see him doing exactly that – and breaking no laws in the process – you might come to understand it as nothing but a business approach that is apparently working.

Trump is a business-Republican as opposed to a social conservative. He is the first candidate in memory that could legitimately offer this proposition:

1. Social freedom (that liberals like)

2. Stronger economy without raising taxes (that Republicans like)

I’m not saying he can deliver on any promises. I’m only saying he is likely to have the sort of platform that looks appealing to independents.

Now let’s say Trump gets strategic because he sees that his stroll across the presidential landscape is being taken seriously. He never really had to get serious before. But I’ll bet he could turn it on like a switch if he thought it would get him elected. I would expect him to dial back his crazy-sounding stuff as his poll numbers grow.

But that’s not what gets him elected. If he wants the independents and some Democrats to vote his way, he needs something bigger. He needs a trump card. 

And he has it.

His hair.

I believe Donald Trump could become President of the United States if he promised to shave his head upon winning. Or perhaps he could do it a month before election to suck all the media attention from his competitor.

Right. Think about it. Voters are emotional creatures and they would love such an act of humility coming from such an egotistical jerk. People love to see other people change. That is the formula for successful movies: The protagonist changes when the audience thinks such change is not possible. We LOVE that.

Hillary Clinton has a 95% chance of being our next president unless we get some surprises. But the other 5% is all Trump. So if Clinton stumbles, Trump is running the country. Assuming he shaves his head.

[Update: This article is a good complement to my post. And it makes me wonder how long before Trump’s supporters will be labelled “limbics.”]

Scott

In Top Tech Blog, read about 3D printers for printing pharmaceutical drugs. This is part of why I predict healthcare costs will drop 90% in your lifetime. But what happens when anyone can print drugs at home? Might be a downside!

People like my book.

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Robots Read News about Dumb Trump

If you can’t see the image because of your company’s firewall, see it on Twitter here.

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In Top Tech Blog:

Here comes a little company that is about to change the world with a small device that scans your food and tells you what is in it.

You might be saying this is no big deal. It is just another way for diet Nazis to obsess over something new.

But imagine being able to scan your food and have the device tell you it is unhealthy (in essence). How many parents would keep serving unhealthy food to their kids if they have an option? I think a food scanner changes the world (if it works.)

How?

Well, for starters, Warren Buffett’s investments in crap-foods will start to suffer. So your notions about skill versus luck in the stock market will dissolve at the same rate as the sales of Kraft and Coke.

But more importantly, this is one more step toward society’s “discovery” that what you eat has an impact on your happiness. When you don’t know you’re eating crap for lunch, you might think you’re tired that afternoon for no particular reason. But when you start to see the clear connection between bad diet and how you feel in a few hours, you’ll probably stop injuring yourself with food.

Good information about your body’s fuel source changes healthcare, life expectancy, happiness, productivity. Well, everything.

And I think a handheld food scanner does all that. (If it works.)

The question for today is this: Would you improve your diet if you had better information? (I predict most of you will say no because you mistakenly believe you already know what are putting in your body.)

Scott

Hey, Mark Twain just gave me a great book review on Amazon. I guess the rumors of his death were exaggerated.

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Outragists Attack Trump and Win

You’ve probably seen Donald Trump’s recent quote about Mexican immigration. He said, “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people." 

People with good reading comprehension can see that he put no percentages on how many Mexican immigrants are criminals and how many are “good people.” He notes it is a mix, with the clear implication that the ratio of bad people is unacceptably high.

What does the data say? Beats me.

But if, for example, 20% of Mexican immigrants are bringing crime to the United States, is that enough to be worried about? I’m guessing 20% of Americans in our lower income groups are involved with drugs and other forms of crime, so that sounds like a reasonable range to guess for Mexicans coming to this country illegally. Is 20% too much? How about 10%? It seems subjective to me. But it isn’t an absurd issue to worry about.

Now check out this typical headline from Business Insider that cleverly converts Trumps quote into “NBC fires Donald Trump after he calls Mexicans rapists and drug runners.”

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Writers don’t usually pick their own headlines, so don’t blame the writer in this case. Just note that Trump’s comment about some Mexican immigrants being criminals has been morphed by outragists into “Trump says Mexicans are rapists and drug runners.” That implies all Mexicans, even the ones that stay home, are up to no good. Very different from what Trump actually said.

I’m not a Trump supporter. I’m just anti-outragism.

In the run-up to the presidential election, the media is spring-loaded for candidate “gaffes” that they can take out of context to manufacture news. I’ll point them out as we go.

Update: Same writer, new article. Note the use of the “douche bag” photo that often accompanies stories like this one. The photo director should get a writing credit for this one. It changes the story.

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Scott

In Top Tech Blog, machines help you grow better skin, your clothes will be your new computer, and look out for holograms you can touch. (That last part seemed inevitable. Scientists are lonely.)

The five-star reviews keep rolling in for this book.

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