Brian Brushwood (@shwood) has spent the last 20 years entertaining and teaching people how to harness the deceptive (and self-deceptive) skills of scientists, spies, criminals, and con artists. He is the author of Scam School: Your Guide to Scoring Free Drinks, Doing Magic, and Becoming the Life of the Party. [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
What We Discuss with Brian Brushwood:
- Why being interesting isn’t a gift — it’s a practice.
- How fixed action patterns help us get others to do what we want them to do. (Important note: for good — not evil!)
- How to control a conversation by asking the right questions.
- The best way to convince someone to help us? By making it their idea.
- Why we’re all susceptible to being duped in spite of our highly developed human brains — and how practicing magic can train us to be more resistant to the fraudulent.
- And so much more…
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The line between a scam and a magic trick can be pretty thin. They both involve some degree of deception, though the latter use is generally for entertainment rather than depriving the unsuspecting of their life savings.
Luckily, Brian Brushwood of Scam School, The Modern Rogue, and Night Attack only wants you to buy him a drink for sharing what he knows about the fine art of deception. But what he really hopes to do is instill a low-grade alarm in all of us to be on guard for those times when the intentions of our would-be deceivers are a little less benign.
Listen to this episode in its entirety to learn more about how live audiences can be primed to expect (and be rewarded by) an amazing show before even walking into a venue, stories of scams we’ve witnessed in the wild, how cultural biases can be manipulated, priming behavior in others with fixed action patterns as detailed by previous guest Robert Cialdini, creating social hooks and providing value to others with simple bar tricks, the power of social proof (illustrated by Brian’s foray into the realm of erotic fiction), changing our language to shape the response of others, and lots more. Listen, learn, and enjoy! [Note: This is a previously broadcast episode from the vault that we felt deserved a fresh pass through your earholes!]
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
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Miss our two-parter with former Westboro Baptist Church spokesperson Megan Phelps-Roper? Make sure to catch up starting with episode 302: Megan Phelps-Roper | Unfollowing Westboro Baptist Church Part One here!
Like true crime tales? The Court Junkie podcast shines a light on the injustices of the judicial system by delving into court documents, attending trials, and interviewing those close to these trials to root out the whole truth. Check out the Court Junkie podcast on PodcastOne here!
Thanks, Brian Brushwood!
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Resources from This Episode:
- Scam School: Your Guide to Scoring Free Drinks, Doing Magic, and Becoming the Life of the Party by Brian Brushwood | Amazon
- Scam School Academy: Advanced Lessons in Scoring Free Drinks, Doing Magic, and Becoming the Life of the Party by Brian Brushwood | Amazon
- Scam Nation
- The Modern Rogue
- Great Night
- Brian Brushwood | Website
- Brian Brushwood | Facebook
- Brian Brushwood | Instagram
- Brian Brushwood | YouTube
- Brian Brushwood | Twitter
- Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural Lecture | Brian Brushwood
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini | Amazon
- Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini | Amazon
- How a Fake Erotic Fiction eBook Hit the Top 5 of iTunes | Gizmodo
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman | Amazon
- James Randi Educational Foundation
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell | Amazon
- Penn Jillette Reveals the Secrets of Fire-Eating by Penn Jillette | Smithsonian Magazine
722: Brian Brushwood | Scam Your Way into Anything
[00:00:00] Jordan Harbinger: Coming up next on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:00:03] Brian Brushwood: When I learned the fundamentals of magic, there is a rhythm in pacing that you have to set things up. If you do a good magic trick, you very artfully set up all the walls around the person until you reveal the effect. And by the time they see the effect and then they try to backtrack and figure out how you did it, they realize that they're completely locked in a mental cell. They can't remember the right part, or they were looking at the wrong place. The moment a magician says, "Now we begin," you're already screwed.
[00:00:32] Jordan Harbinger: Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's most fascinating people. We have in-depth conversations with scientists and entrepreneurs, spies and psychologists, even the occasional war correspondent, arms dealer, or rocket scientist. And each episode turns our guest's wisdom into practical advice that you can use to build a deeper understanding of how the world works and become a better thinker.
[00:00:59] If you're new to the show or you want to tell your friends about it, and of course, I appreciate it when you do, I suggest our episode starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes, organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything that we do here on the show — topics like negotiation and communication, persuasion and influence, abnormal psychology, crime and cults, and more. Just visit jordanharbinger.com/start or search for us in your Spotify app to get started.
[00:01:24] Today, one from the vault with my old friend, Brian Brushwood. This guy is incredible. He's the creator of Scam School, one of the first podcasts ever, like ever. They were in there when we started 15-plus years ago. Brian Brushwood has spent the last 25-plus years performing on stage, on TV, on the Internet, of course, and entertaining and teaching people how to harness the deceptive and self-deceptive skills of scientists, spies, criminals, and con artists. But he's also a great guy and can make all this very educational as well as entertaining.
[00:01:54] Whether we're aware of it or not, certain factors, which of course, we'll discuss today, are what shape our perceptions of the world. And if you don't learn them, they can be used to manipulate you as well. In this episode, we'll discover why being engaging isn't a gift, but a practice. We'll explore something called fixed action patterns and how they can help us get others to do what we want them to do — only for the power of good, naturally. We'll also learn how to control a conversation by asking the right questions and we'll uncover the best way to convince someone to help us by making it their idea. All this and more trickiness with Brian Brushwood. Here we go.
[00:02:32] You've spent the last 20 years performing — first of all, yeah, the Internet but TV I've seen you. I assume you do some stage shows or I know you do some stage shows. You've got this cool blend of entertainment. Magic is a word I always feel like is overused. So pardon me if that's not exactly what you're gunning for, but kind of like deception and trickery, but in a very cool, entertaining way that also educates people. "Hey, here's how you don't get burned by this, by a bad person."
[00:02:57] Brian Brushwood: Yeah, well, so everything started, I quit my day job back in May of 99 to tour with a punk rock, blood and guts, bizarre magic show that I suspected would play well at colleges. Because when you say magic, you know, from five to 15, they think it's great. And then from 15 to 25, it's not very cool. The idea of this kind of punk rock antithesis of what you normally expect from a magic show where some of this stuff is a hundred percent real, you know, like the fire reading or hammering five-inch nails in your nose or whatever. And other stuff is totally fake, the mind reading or some of the sleight of hand stuff. And you're kind of constantly on your toes, like, "Well, okay, which one is this one? Because this seems plausible, but I don't know."
[00:03:33] That whole time I was on the road, I had to end up educating a lot of people about the difference between science and pseudoscience and the way people could be psychologically manipulated. And I ended up writing a lecture called Scams, Sasquatch, and the Supernatural that I also started touring with. Shortly before we had the idea for a Scam School, I did a round of TV pitches for something. We did some development footage for something in a similar space to, a lot of stuff out there now, but scams and cons and that kind of stuff. And I could just tell that there was something that was so slow motion about the television environment, where I could watch these decisions made by committees that we were doing the obviously wrong way to handle stuff, but it's like, "Well, that's what this guy's job is. And you got to do this or whatever."
[00:04:15] And it was so frustrating when they got a real bland product and pass on it that I just got to start hosting a show. And so mentally, I wrote a list. Okay, what is the first thing people are going to want out of a host for a show? And then, the first item was they need to have already hosted a show. And so realizing that I was like, "Okay, well then YouTube just popped. And podcasting is new. I'm going to decide, I have a show called Brian Brushwood on the Road." Basically, it was a travel log cataloging one of my busiest tour schedules in the college market.
[00:04:44] Over that time is where I learned how to tell stories on the Internet. I understand that what seems like a good idea when you're in front of the camera, turns out to be a terrible idea when you're the one who has to edit it later. So you'll learn to backup, restart, make it easy for future you to fix stuff. And then out of that, once I got some experience, I realized. What people wanted the most, every time I talk to them is just to learn a couple of cool tricks themselves to have that opportunity to be the most interesting person in the room.
[00:05:12] Oftentimes the McGuffin is to pick up the girl or to get the girl's phone number or whatever. For me, especially being a married guy, I figured it would make more sense if the McGuffin was a little more neutral. So it's all about winning a free beer at the bar. I got to be honest, when we launched Scam School, I thought it was going to be just a first starter show, something that I would get my sea legs underneath me to present with. And then 10 years later, 10 years, this year, Scam School is now we edited it into two half-hour pilots that are going to air in just a week and a half on the Science Channel now.
[00:05:43] Jordan Harbinger: That's amazing. I'm looking forward to that. How did you get into this particular niche of magic, right? Everybody, of course, probably got into magic the way that other kids get into magic. But why did you decide, "Wait a minute, wait a minute, I'm going to get into the psychological elements here, the manipulation elements"? Why is that stuff important to you? How come that stuck out first?
[00:06:02] Brian Brushwood: That's interesting. Well, I think it's because when I learned the fundamentals of magic, there's a rhythm and pacing that you have to set things up. If you do a good magic trick, you very artfully set up all the walls around the person until you reveal the effect. And by the time they see the effect and then they try to backtrack and figure out how you did it, they realize that they're completely locked in a mental cell. They can't remember the right part or they were looking at the wrong place. The moment a magician says, "Now we begin," you're already screwed. And I found that fascinating. And I was utterly fascinated when I found that bleeding into other aspects of life.
[00:06:38] When I worked at the movie theater, when I was in high school learning magic, there was somebody who came in saying that he had a poker game later that night, he needed to get changed for a 20. And meanwhile, his wife walked down to the other end of the counter and was asking about the candies. So the other guy walked down there and there was this rhythm and flow to the back and forth of, "Oh no, no, no. I gave you that 10. Here let me give you two fives for the 10. We'll switch these. Remember that? Okay, there we go. That balances out. That's even." And in that moment, there was this inherent trigger where I felt this chill and I was like, "This feels like a magic trick," and I couldn't understand why.
[00:07:11] And now I realize it was because of the priming, because of the pacing, because of the carefully selected language, also because I had been trapped in a cell bit by bit because after he left, we counted the till and I had lost $50. And I was like, that's amazing. That's when I realized that the structure of a magic trick, that the art of deception was not limited just to magic itself. I wasn't there yet. Obviously, I got taken, but I realized that if I could educate other people, if other people knew magic, the way I knew magic, then that would put them in a position where they would have that low-grade alarm ready to go off at all times.
[00:07:45] So I became fascinated with the structure and the psychology behind scams partly to, you know, learn how to defend and how to tell other people to defend themselves, but also to enhance the quality of my performance. Because those fundamentals, I realized like once I had written my stage magic show, I thought it was good, but I made the mistake of thinking that just because you had a good show, people would show up and react as if it was good. And then I realized that it's a three-hour con of sorts, in that the moment you show up to a venue, you are being primed for what to expect. If you show up and there's a bunch of kids walking around and it's sparsely attended, then you are going to think, "Well, this is a crap show. This guy just showed up and there's nothing good."
[00:08:25] But if you show up and there's a packed audience waiting to get in, there's giant banners announcing the accolades of the person who's about to perform, there's assigned seats, and then the theater opens and you walk in and there's a video showing the highlights of this person's career and all the reasons you should have heard of him before now, that primes you in a place to where it teaches you to behave. And it sets you with an expectation of, "This is going to be good and I'm going to be amazed," and that is what made the biggest leap forward. And the quality of my performances is recognizing that every venue is different and that what you need to do is guide the experience far before that moment you walk on stage.
[00:09:01] Jordan Harbinger: That makes total sense. It's amazing that the experience for a magic show, for example, it starts when you walk in the door, it starts right when you get there. I've been to a bunch of magic shows. And now that you mention it, there is always a little something in the beginning. It's never quite like, "Okay, sit in theater seats, wait for show to start." It's always, "Go downstairs and have a drink." And then one time, server came by, messed up our order. And then the guy running the show, the chief magician or whatever, came over and was like, "I heard your order got messed up. I'll fix it. Don't worry. Thanks for coming out, da, da, da." And I thought, "Oh, that's cool." And I went back to that same place for a different type of show. And what happened? The server came over, a different guy, and messed up our order a little bit. And the head magician came over and said, "I heard your order got messed up. Don't worry. I'll take care of it." And I remember thinking like, "Man, this place just can't get it together." And now in the back of my head, I'm like, "Wait, what was that about? Was there some little trick in there?" And you just never know, right? You just—
[00:09:50] Brian Brushwood: That's interesting. Well, and I think that's one of the delightful things about magic in general is it's one of the few spaces where it's inherent in the rules of the game, that everything is up for grabs. That you can argue over whether the show begins, the moment they buy the ticket, whether in the moment they walk into the theater, the moment the magician walks on stage — by the way, pro tip, if you think the show begins when the magician walks on stage, you're probably wrong. I love the fact that it is an ethically and morally, utterly clean slate for you to play around in using all the same methods of chicanery and deception that some of the filthiest, awfullest people on the planet use.
[00:10:24] Jordan Harbinger: This is really cool. You're giving your permission to be conned in a harmless way. Whereas often, of course, the majority of cons happen and they're zero sum, right? You lose and they win. And that's the idea. And I remember when I was a kid, I went to New York, maybe early high school for model UN or something. And I went to a magic shop of all places. Now I think about it, an ironic place to witness a scam in some ways with the victim being the owner of the shop.
[00:10:50] I was there talking with the guy at the desk about, I don't know, some trick or something. A guy walked in and was like, "You have change for a hundred." And the guy said, "No, sorry, we don't make change, but you can buy something." And the guy goes, "Great, give me a deck of cards." And they go, "All right," and they pull out a deck of cards and the guy hands him a hundred dollars bill. And he goes, "Just keep the cards." He didn't touch the deck of cards. And he walked out with a bunch of change and the owner came running out of the back and was like, "Did that guy just pay for something with a hundred dollars bill and not take it?" And they're like, "Yeah, I sold him a deck of cards. He doesn't want it." And he's like, "Check the hundred-dollar bill right now." And as the guy was checking the hundred dollars bill, the other guys ran out and looked for the guy and they're like, "He's gone." And they were like, "Damn it, this is a fake bill." And they were cursing up a storm and I thought, wow, of all the places to pull a scam with a counterfeit bill, a magic shop is a ballsy place to do it.
[00:11:36] Brian Brushwood: Yeah. Well, the good news is that even if he got caught, magicians, not known for their physical fitness. I'm pretty sure the guy could have outrun him.
[00:11:43] Jordan Harbinger: The reason he was probably gone is he was probably next door getting changed for a hundred at a place next door. I mean, this is New York in the '90s.
[00:11:50] Brian Brushwood: Those brief moments when you see how people take advantage of social structures like that are so extraordinary. There was one back, I don't know, 15 years ago, back when CD stores were still a thing. There was a Sam Goody's that I was in the place with a couple of magician friends, and we all saw the same thing happen. We all saw this group of like four or five teenagers getting ready to leave. They walk through and they're sauntering through the checking for shoplifter's equipment and it beeps and flashes. And then they kind of look up confused. They're like, "What the hell is this?" Sure enough, they have their bags checked down. They're like, "Yeah, we don't know," and then they walk through and it's fine.
[00:12:23] And I was like, that's weird. And then my friend who just happened to be looking at the right place in the right time said, "Oh, you missed the whole thing." I was like, "What are you talking about?" There was this one, lone middle-aged white guy who had a handful of two or three CDs. He lingered, pretending to shop right near the front of the store, waited until the four or five African American kids walked up to there as they're sauntering through. And he just bullets around, whips around the side, and just marches off into the mall.
[00:12:50] And so, meanwhile, the brain hates the disconnect between what am I seeing and I want to solve what I'm seeing. So you hear the alarm go off, every eye in the place, turns through the place. And then you say, "What is the picture you're looking at?" You see, you know, some young kids, teenagers, you see lights going on. You're like, "Oh, they must have something." And that's where everyone goes. And like a good magic trick, you can examine that and you can find out that you're wrong about it, but by the time you find out you're wrong, it's far too late. There's no way for you to go back and reconstruct the rest of it.
[00:13:18] Jordan Harbinger: Right. This is our brain confirming a little bit of bias here, right? Because the alarm goes off and someone says, "Oh, okay, well, you know, I'll just check their bags." It doesn't mean they're shoplifting. Once they assume that that's the case, right, they're attracting much more attention than this middle-aged white guy who shoplifting CDs. And he purposely, I'm sure at some level, waited and there could have been a middle-aged white woman who walked in and out, but he thought, "No, no, no, I'm going to wait until it confirms other people's inherent bias." Because right now there's a lot of people listening, going, "What a jerk, what a racist." Actually, it's everyone else who's a little bit racist.
[00:13:50] Brian Brushwood: Exactly. And that's the thing is that it takes advantage of those cultural biases. And that's the other thing. Those biases change over time, depending on the scam you're running, you're going to want to take advantage of certain expectations people have. I just realize it makes it sound as if I'm giving active instruction on pulling off scams and cons, which is, of course, not what I'm about.
[00:14:07] Jordan Harbinger: What we should take from this instead of — unless you're a con artist — is that you should be aware of when something seems to fit neatly into your little bias cupboard in your brain and you go, "Yep. That must be what's going on." Just give it a little bit of pause and think, "What else could be happening here?"
[00:14:23] Brian Brushwood: That might be one of my favorite trends to see in the last half decade or so is the increase in the number of very popular programs that deal with the fact that we're all just flawed wetwear. You know, we have extraordinarily incredible brains, but they were built for certain jobs that were extremely relevant 50,000 years ago that maybe are not so great in an age of Twitter and instant reactions.
[00:14:47] Jordan Harbinger: Right, perfect information, or a close to perfect information that comes by instantly via private means AKA on our phone, things like that, global communication. We're just not wired for stuff like that. We're not wired for high technology that's more advanced than what we've evolved to deal with. So our brains aren't wired to go, "Actually, maybe he just Googled this and then there's a laser pointed at that. And then there's video camera pointed at that. And that's why this magician can read the writing on the notebook underneath my chair." We're not wired for that. And yet, if we think about it, hard enough, we can do it. And the reason that this is so important is because whether or not we're aware of it, these factors, these little brain foibles all of these biases, these shape our perceptions of the world. And if we don't learn them, they can be used to manipulate us.
[00:15:30] Brian Brushwood: Absolutely. Those things exist. You can either understand them and master them and use them in a safe space, like magic or trying to score free beer or playing a game or trying to create a novel false memory as an experiment with your friends, or you can willfully remain ignorant of them, in which case, you can take it to the bank that they will be used on you at some point.
[00:15:50] Jordan Harbinger: You've said in — I believe it was on your YouTube channel or possibly, I heard this during a previous conversation that we've had, but being interesting is in a gift. It's a practice. And I'd love for you to talk about that a little bit, because I think there's a lot of people who think, "Oh, you're born charismatic or you're born a showman," but really it is a set of skills and this is one that you practice.
[00:16:08] Brian Brushwood: Yeah, well, and part of it at the core of all that is — you know, one of the biggest gifts anyone can have is being comfortable, being uncomfortable. Take up jet fighter pilot, right? This is somebody who has to get very, very uncomfortable. And it's such a rare and extraordinarily important gift that only the best of the best get to fly these planes and so on. But when they're in the middle of pulling, you know, six Gs or whatever, they're not having a great day, but they understand they can back up and say, "Okay, what is happening to my body? What is happening in my field of vision? How is that affecting the controls or whatever?" By distancing themselves in the moment, they're noting everything.
[00:16:43] Now, you could do that socially because as we all know, whether you're a shy person trying to come out of your shell, whether you're somebody who wants to become good at doing magic or writing or doing any endeavor along, which there are big, big pain points that you're going to have to navigate. And if you can begin knowing that there will be moments of pain that you'll use the practice of being comfortably being uncomfortable, then there's extraordinary experiences waiting ahead of you.
[00:17:12] For example, when I first started in magic, I had very little experience. I had a few tricks and I thought, "Okay, well, what does everybody I respect and magic have?" Like, how do they get there? It's like, well, they all have experience. And I was like, "Okay, now if I talked to them and I said, have you ever had an astonishing failure? Will they have good stories or bad stories?" And of course, they'll all have really good stories. For example, teller wrote me in an email once talking about how they performed in the middle of a full-on race riot, because they needed the money. And so they realized they were afraid to stop the show because they were afraid of not getting paid. And so they went through the whole thing. I guarantee you that was not a fun time for them, but that experience as painful and as horrifying as it was for them at the time led to them being more interesting.
[00:17:57] You know, we all live our entire lives for those last few minutes before we die and reflect back on what kind of life we had. And it'll either be an interesting life because you said I am willing to eat a lot of garbage along the path to win and fail and try again and buy an awful lot of lottery tickets in life, or you're not. There's not a value judgment about being the one good way and one bad way, but I can definitely vouch for the fact that one is a more interesting way to live your life as opposed to the other.
[00:18:25] And by the way, there's not a case where you become masterful in your art and suddenly you don't have to take risks or deal with failure again. After 20 years, since I quit my day job and after we had Scam School, and after, I finally had a TV show. I got reached out to, to do of all things, participate in a reality dance competition show, and I cannot dance. I cannot dance and I did not want to do it at all, not one bit. I mentally wrote down a list like, "Okay, what are all the reasons you should not do this?" And at the top of the list was, "Because I don't want to." You know, other Brian in my head says, "Sorry, bro, man, that's not a real reason. We can't count that one." And so, ultimately, I said, yes. I cringe to even look at all the footage now, but we did win one of the mini competitions. So it turns out that I am a more interesting person for having faced that demonic fear in the pit of my heart.
[00:19:19] Jordan Harbinger: You're listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Brian Brushwood. We'll be right back.
[00:19:24] This episode is sponsored in part by HVMN. That's H-V-M-N. These are drinkable ketones. Yeah, look, I understand you don't even know what that means. I was skeptical at first, but I can definitely tell something is different during workouts. Also, I'm not as hungry later in the day. I'm in a better mood. Ketones give you focus for work. That's different/better than coffee. Whenever anybody says, "It's brain fuel," I'm like, okay, you're probably just full of crap, but look, even Lance Armstrong uses it. So, you know, it works, but it's not a banned substance or anything weird like that. It's just something your body naturally makes. Just not in the same quantity. I even thought it was the coffee giving me a boost initially because you know, coffee does that. But I tested it anecdotally, of course. And it really is the stuff that's making me feel less, I don't know, angsty, more focused. I'm not sure what to make of it other than they are onto something. So far, the stuff definitely works. I'm really in the zone when I work out, especially it's been a dozen times, I've tried it so far, not a coincidence, really liking it. Besides, it tastes horrible, like vile. So, you know, it works. I mean, if the ketones don't wake you up in the morning, the taste will wake you up in the morning. They've also got a government contract. Special forces guys are using this stuff and a lot of extreme athletes use it as well. For 20 percent off your order of Ketone-IQ, go to HVMN.com promo code JORDAN. Again, that's H-V-M-N.com promo code JORDAN for 20 percent off Ketone-IQ.
[00:20:43] This episode is sponsored in part by Squarespace. Have you ever thought I'm just an ordinary dude or dudette? Do I really need a website? The answer is a resounding yes especially if you run a business, you do freelance work, or even work as an employee. A website is indispensable. Having a website will make you easier to find and it'll make you more hireable because it builds your credibility as well as your personal brand. And whether you think those are annoying or cringe or not, they exist. You'll definitely stand out in the sea of resumes if you have your own website. It's never been easier or more affordable to create a website with Squarespace. You don't need to know how to code. With Squarespace, just pick a template, a design theme, then customize it. Squarespace has all the tools you need to get your personal site or online business off the ground. You can even generate revenue through gated members-only content, manage your members, send email communications, leverage audience insights, all in one, easy-to-use platform. I'm not even scratching the surface of what you can do on Squarespace. Give it a try for free at squarespace.com/jordan. That's squarespace.com/jordan. Use the code Jordan to save 10 percent off your first purchase of a website or domain.
[00:21:46] If you're wondering how I manage to book these amazing folks for the show, it's all about the network. I've got a lot of authors, thinkers, and creators here every single week. And I'd love to teach you how to make and maintain connections. The course is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Yes, I want to teach you how to network at a non-schmoozy, non-gross way, but I also want to help you inspire others to develop a personal and professional relationship with you. The course will make you a better networker, a better connector, and more importantly, a better thinker. That's all at jordanharbinger.com/course. And by the way, most of the guests on our show already subscribe and contribute to the course. So come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:22:24] Now back to Brian Brushwood.
[00:22:25] Some of these concepts remind me of what Commander Hadfield actually, who was on the show earlier and is a test pilot to use your exact analogy. He spoke about that a lot. Compartmentalizing this, being able to kind of separate these things in your mind. I know that these concepts also lead back to your stage shows not just becoming an interesting person for example. But we talked about Cialdini's fixed action patterns, another guy who was also on the show, super interesting thinker. Can you tell us about these fixed action patterns and how these are used, what these are?
[00:22:59] Brian Brushwood: Oh, sure. As a matter of fact, I'm sure many of your listeners have already read Robert Cialdini's amazing book, Influence. He just came out with a new one 20 or 30 years later after the first one called Pre-Suasion, which is excellent as well. Pre-Suasion really talks about a lot of the stuff that I had figured out intuitively. I performed for a show in West Virginia. And I had developed a magic show that was intentionally countercultural running in the opposite direction of what every other magic show was doing.
[00:23:25] Turns out they wanted the very traditional magic show. When the show ended, some dude threw fruit at my stage, smacked it on one of my props. He did not like the show. That was not fun. And on the six-hour drive back, I was like, "Okay, that was a miss. So, what are the vectors? What do we know?" From that, you replay it in your mind and figure out, "What could I have done next time?" or, "What were the warning signs I should have noticed that what I was pitching at what they were buying was not the same thing?" Out of that, you know, came a lot of the priming stuff that I do in the show.
[00:23:55] These fixed action patterns are what Cialdini calls these automatic stimulus response relationships. When you think of like, animal mating behaviors, you know, that doesn't just vanish from us. There are certain aspects of that that are mechanical. These are — heuristics is the best word for it. These are patterns that you slip into because on balance, they tend to work enough that it's like, "Okay, I'm going to make this one association here." Out of everything Cialdini mentions in Influence, and some of them, you know, he talks about the liking fixed action pattern. If somebody likes you, they're more likely to grant a favor or something. If you are similar, if you both happen to have the same birthday, that kind of thing makes a difference.
[00:24:34] There's also reciprocation. The idea is that if you give someone a token. And it doesn't matter how big or small it is, if you give them a gift, they will want to balance the scales. And in the case of Scam School, what we do is give the gift of something interesting. So people ask, "How do I begin performing magic at the bar?" And I say, "Well, do an old salesman's trick. Remember that the person asking the question is the one in charge of the conversation." So what I'll do — keep in mind, I am the host of a show called Scam School, but you could steal this whole script and just talk about this show called Scam School that you saw. You're at the bar, just turn to literally anyone and just say, "Hey, I got a weird question. Do you know any good bar tricks?"
[00:25:13] And now their answer will either be — if it's yes, then all of a sudden you get to be the one asking them to perform for you, which will make them excited and happy. But most likely they'll say, "No, I don't know any." I was like, "Well, because I've been watching this show called Scam School, and this guy has got all these tricks. Can I try one on you?" Again, you're just asking questions. You know you do an opener to get them engaged and then very quickly you build up value because you're essentially giving a free performance for five or 15 minutes, long enough to build up value and make them feel at some level that they've received something. They are in yourin your debt.
[00:25:44] And then you come up with one of these unbustable puzzles that we do on Scam School, these traditional bar scams, something that creates a social hook that you can offhandedly say., "And if that is your card, I mean, that'd be worth a free beer, right?" And at this point, what you're doing is you're setting up a simple, socially appropriate way to set up, pay for play. And they're more than happy to buy it because you've given them something of value first. But out of everything in the fixed action patterns that Cialdini wrote about the one that I've realized, learned the most about in the last five years has been social proof. Social proof is the reason that we have laugh tracks on television. It's the reason that everybody wants to check with Yelp beforehand, because even though you don't know who these other people are, you know, 500 people have given it a three, four, five-star review.
[00:26:32] We assume that the crowd knows what they're doing, so we tend to follow along. And that was never more apparent to me than the time that my friend, Justin and I faked a bestselling erotic fiction novel. And this is not even a joke. The second Scam School book came out right around the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey. And at some point, we had joked about like, "Well, maybe my next book should have a cover that looks like Fifty Shades of Grey." And then, we had said, "Wait a minute, what if we just wrote a crappy knockoff of Fifty Shades of Grey?" Because there were crappy knockoffs of Fifty Shades of Grey populating that top 10 on the iTunes bookstore. And then, we realized, "Wait a minute, what if we don't even write the book? What if we have the Internet write the book?"
[00:27:11] So we got on our comedy show, Night Attack, and we told the audience, "Hey, we want to write a book. We came up with character names. We'll write the first and last chapters. It's about a jilted lover in Silicon Valley, each chapter has sex with a different person to exact revenge on her fiance that left her." And everybody just wrote the most horrific over the top, like, "Oh geez, these are our fans?" And we collected it together, called it, The Diamond Club, and put it up on the iTunes bookstore. And then we recorded a short video, put it up on Reddit about how we were utterly puzzled and befuddled by this phenomenon and that we wanted to try to play along. And so we said, "Here's what we're going to do. We've made a book. We haven't read it. Here's some clips of it. It's ridiculous. It's outrageous. But then again, so is Fifty Shades of Grey." Poorly written all those tropes, and it's like, "But if you want to stir the pot, if you want to play with fire, like we do, here's what we're going to do. We're going to release it today. Everybody buy it at exactly 2:30 p.m. It's 99 cents. And it should get into the top 10. Once it gets to the top 10, who knows? Maybe it'll catch fire and confuse lonely housewives or something."
[00:28:17] And sure enough, you know, the thing blew up to the front page of Reddit, then it exploded. And so we ended up selling tens of thousands of copies of this thing. And the amazing part was we thought we had already won. We thought the game was over. We blew up the Death Star, but then this is the part I didn't realize the power of social proof meant that because it was in the top 10, it tended to stay in the top 10. So all of a sudden, everybody who was buying Fifty Shades of Grey, they're all like, "Oh three $10 books. Oh, this one's only 99 cents, and it's number four on the bestseller list. Well, grab that one too." And so because so many people were buying, going along with the crowd, obeying that social proof that eventually on that little line at the bottom that says, "Customers also bought," it used to be all of our fans' books, you know, the Scam School books and so on, but then over time, "Customers also bought," became nothing but other romance novels. And we realized that we had finally reached the intended audience.
[00:29:15] You know, everybody who bought it as a gag, you know, they left a five-star review talking about us the best since Fifty Shades of Grey, and then people who felt like they were swindles, they gave it one star. But to me, the fascinating ones are the people who gave it three stars. People who never knew that this was a gag, who never knew that there was no Patricia Harkins Bradley, but they read the book and they were like, "Yeah, it's pretty good. It's got some steamy scenes. I'll give it a three." Like that was amazing to me. And that's all straight up the power of social proof.
[00:29:41] Jordan Harbinger: That's incredible. And look, we don't even think of it as social proof. We think, "Well, of course, I'm going to let other people vet which novels and apps are the best." If I'm bored and I know I'm going to be stuck somewhere for a while. And I'm sick of reading, which rarely happens, but I'm like, "Oh, I need some sort of mindless game," right? I don't look at every game in the app store. I just look for the top 10 and I download three of them. And then I play them for half an hour until I get bored. Those games have millions of users who are doing the exact same thing. So our brains look at social proof and we don't even think, "Oh, well, I'm being manipulated by social proof," we literally just think this is how you're supposed to do things. Just because this is the way that this makes the most sense.
[00:30:18] Brian Brushwood: It precedes that conscious thought. In Daniel Kahneman's book Thinking Fast and Slow, he calls it system one and system two. You got your one gut instinct system. The one that just reacts. You just happen to know. It's like, "Yeah, no, of course, it's like that because I've seen this kind of problem before and they always go like that. So it's got to be like that." And then system two is the more plodding one. The one that says, "Hold on, let me go through. Bleep, blop, bloop. Yep. That's how you do it. Okay." They're not the same level of intelligence. One can be much more easily manipulated than the other and in a world where we rely on both system one and system two, even a slight edge on, you know, one system or the other will definitely affect activity in the long term.
[00:30:56] Jordan Harbinger: Incredible. It's so interesting to see how our brains work in real time and then go, "I'm not going to get tricked now because I know how my brain works," and then you just immediately follow right in line with what everybody else is doing. It's almost awareness still isn't enough, right? We still watch magic shows and think, "Okay, well, that part might have been actual magic." I mean, there's real things with, especially with mentalism where you can't figure it out and you think, "Actually this person has figured out some sort of secret thing," even though, you know, and they're telling you, "It is a trick," especially Penn & Teller. "This is a trick I'm not really catching a bullet in my teeth." There's still a percentage of people who go, "That's what they want you to think."
[00:31:33] Brian Brushwood: I think you just spoke some magic words that caused me to have an epiphany about why I'm doing what I do on Scam School. Because a lot of Scam School, a lot of my desire to reach out to non-magicians and get them seduced into magic is because I want Scam School to be kind of the gateway drug that gets people into magic. But the question is, why? You know, some magicians who have a very scarcity mentality, say like, "We've got enough of us. You're just polluting the waters." But I think morally it's important that people understand and not just understand, but perform magic. And I did not have words until just now during this interview for why.
[00:32:09] The reason is, is because there are a number of fraudsters out there. There are people who claim to have actual telekinetic powers, people who claim to be clairvoyant or psychic or talk to dead people. Without exception, when under double-blind, peer-reviewed circumstances, they are all proven to either be playing the odds, outright deceiving people. When it came to debunking these things, legendary magician, James Randi, he once put up $100 of his own money, then it became $1,000 of his own money, then $10,000 of his own money, then a million dollars of money from trustees, that for years was run as the James Randi Educational Foundation. It was a million dollars, it was real money. You could see pictures of the money. You could see documents that forced them under law to give that money to anyone who could prove any kind of supernatural talent in a double-blind, peer-reviewed test of their cooperative designing. And nobody came close.
[00:32:57] One of the things that James Randi would do is he would go on television shows and he would duplicate using magic methods, the exact effects of certain people who claim to be psychics, he would play coy on the method because magic is a culture that values secrecy and they don't want all of their tricks ruined because these are used by a lot of magicians. He couldn't tell people how it was done, but he just had to say, "Well, no, it was done with non-magical means." And what that does that appeals to system two. I hope I'm remembering the systems right. The slower plodding or the thing we think of as our conscious mind, you watch that and you say to yourself, "Okay, I now understand that this can be replicated in non-supernatural ways." The hope is now they won't get fooled because they know they could be fooled, but I don't think that was strong enough.
[00:33:45] And I think that people still have a tendency to get suckered all the time. And I realize that by getting people into magic on Scam School, what I'm really doing is I'm forcing them to practice and perform and actually automatize the maneuverings that make magic possible. That you get people to say one thing while consciously thinking about doing something else. And as it becomes rote, it becomes more of that system one, that instinctive brain. So that what I want people is not to consciously know that they could be fooled, but instead to have attempted to fool other people enough, in the safe space of magic that they are fully equipped to where they don't need to engage their conscious brain to smell. When there's something weird about the way change is being given, or there's something odd about the way an offer is being made. It just suddenly feels instinctively, like this is a magic trick.
[00:34:39] I guess that's why I'm doing all this is because I want people to have that low-grade radar against fraud at all times because they've engaged in a benign form of fraud so much with their friends.
[00:34:51] Jordan Harbinger: To throw this back to what you mentioned earlier, it was like when you got conned the first time, and you said, "This feels like a magic trick," there were little subtle things, it's sort of a Malcolm Gladwell Blink type thing where it's like, you're not detecting this in real time, but maybe your brain's saying, "Huh? This person's talking like they've done this before. So it doesn't seem as spontaneous as it would feel if they were really just confused about the math. Also, this is pretty complicated math. They're staying on top of this certain complicated part but seeming to lose track of the simple part, that doesn't seem right either," but all your conscious brain thinks is, "Okay, I guess this person's confused and I'm going to help him out."
[00:35:26] And to clarify system one is the brain's fast, automatic, intuitive approach, the blink system if you will. System two, the mind's slower analytical mode where reason dominates. So right, con men are trying to get you into system two, which is, seems counterintuitive. Why would you want the brain in analytical mode where reason dominates? We want to get there and then we want to trick it with emotion or something else or over too much stimulus so that the analytical processes fail. Because if we're in the fast, automatic, intuitive area, we might actually be able to keep up with somebody who's conning us or lying to us.
[00:36:03] Brian Brushwood: Right. Well, and of course, what they're doing is they're hitting both systems at the same time. And what they're really trying to do is — we're all very, very uncomfortable with mystery. We don't like the superposition of knowing, "It could be anything and I don't get to know which one it is." And that's why so many people after a magic show will seek to resolve that discomfort of not knowing how it's done by manufacturing a narrative. They will actively go to work and massage their memories of what happened. They won't do it consciously, but they'll tell themselves over and over and over again.
[00:36:32] Like, maybe it starts with like Teller eats needles, then threads them inside his belly. And there are people afterwards who'd be like, "Oh no, it's candy needles." By the way, this is all straight out of Penn Jillette's amazing monologue that he gives on fire eating. He says that it's the skeptics that are comfortable with the mystery and other people want to resolve it so much that they manufacture a narrative and whether it's true or untrue, they will resolve it by massaging their memories and stuff to make that work.
[00:36:57] And so what the con man does is he creates a problem for system two, but meanwhile gives all the cues on system one that will instantly resolve it. The cues on system one indicate trustworthiness, openness, "Oh, he's in a rush." He said, you know, he needed this. He gave a reason for this. He's a nice guy because, you know, he mentioned, we both have the same birthday, all this stuff. All that speaks to system one that instinctive heuristic, that spells trustworthiness. And as a result, that shapes system two saying, "Yeah, it is kind of weird that he needs $20 for gas at this moment, but everything else feels right about this. So I'm just going to give him 20 bucks. I'm sure it'll be fine."
[00:37:37] Jordan Harbinger: This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Brian Brushwood. We'll be right back.
[00:37:42] This episode is sponsored in part by Better Help online therapy. A previous business of mine fell apart several years ago and I was like, "Okay, how am I going to pay for stuff? How are we going to recover? How do I get back on top? My identity was all messed up." I was a ball of anxiety, but then I started focusing on putting one foot in front of the other and focusing on the steps I needed to take to move forward. So I spent less time worrying and more time building and acting and a therapist can help you focus on solutions instead of problems. Jen, I know you've been with better help for a couple of months now as well.
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[00:40:16] Now for the rest of my conversation with Brian Brushwood.
[00:40:21] How do you suck people into your magic act? Can you paint the picture in our minds? Because you're obviously using these cues. Are you able to share any of these things?
[00:40:29] Brian Brushwood: Yeah, sure. Well, I was lucky enough to build my stage magic show outside of the bubble of magic. I did a couple of magic competitions for little things, but in general, I wanted to perform outside of the traditional venues for magicians. So when I got started, I would perform just off of sixth street. It was, first of all, on the street. Again, there would be a band that would take a break and I would go up and do 15 minutes and then pass the hat. And I realized that was a really challenging venue. Here I was, I had no tech. I had no way to prime the audience to convince them that they were really there to see me. I was an invader at somebody else's show. You had this entire room, that band plays for an hour and a half. They say, "We're going to take a break." And then I get on stage and I realized my priming needs to begin immediately the moment I walk on stage. I knew I would be doing a straight jacket later, but I needed to engage everyone.
[00:41:19] So I bought one of those gigantic old-fashioned marathon timers. The ones that they would use at literal marathons, I've bought one used for like $800. And I put it up on the side because I knew that even though I was acting like I was just moving stuff on stage, I was setting up a question and an expectation. I was speaking between the lines, something's going to happen, whatever it is is going to happen. And then I would bring out bed of nails, set it up on stage. I would take a board with nails all over it, and I would crack the stage in front of them for about five minutes. And then when it was time to start the show, I didn't want to push them, you know, you could push or pull.
[00:41:54] In the early days, I would say, "Hey, could somebody from the band, somebody they know, could they like, talk me up and then get it going or whatever." That works to an extent, that gets you the first 30 seconds or whatever, but that's the push. And the moment that their friend from the band is no longer on stage, very few people feel a need to really give you the courtesy and full attention. So what I did is I wanted to pull them, so I had no introduction, so I would get up and set everything up and then I would light a torch and just spin it in my hands. And of course, in a darkened theater where people are normally accustomed to seeing music, people over the bar there's noise or whatever, you could kind of feel this bubble of around three to 13 feet, that you instantly have those people's attention except for a few stragglers. And that's what I think of as the nucleus of crowd dynamics.
[00:42:40] No matter what situation I'm in, whether it's a community college and I'm performing in a hallway, whether it's street performing, whether it's at a trade show, whether it's in the middle of a VIP dinner at a conference, I always seek to make a nucleus around me. And in this case, in this venue, it was to light the torch and just spin it slowly, kind of lazily, and then wait until it felt, maybe 15, 20 seconds where you could tell enough people had gotten quiet that you felt this ripple. And then I would just put one finger up to my lips and go, "Shhhh." And it was the most powerful thing. It was like, this wave comes over everything because there's fire on stage. There's clearly something crafted, now you're being told very gently, you know, to shush and then I begin my fire eating presentation.
[00:43:22] Every single thing in that fire reading routine is built because it doesn't ask anyone from the audience for anything whatsoever. I could perform that full routine in its complete for a wall and it doesn't matter. The purpose for that is for me to tell the story, the history of fire eating, and then I do a joke or whatever. And then there's brief moments where I just kind of comment like, "And then this guy did this trick," and then there would be a pause and I'd say, "You know, his audiences went freaking nuts. It was amazing." So there's a slight suggestion that if you've enjoyed reciprocation, if you have enjoyed the four or five things you've seen me do up in these first two minutes, it's okay to clap. And then when they do clap, they're immediately rewarded with like, "Now we're talking," and then we keep on going through the story, the history of fire eating.
[00:44:05] And then, we get to the end of that routine where it's always dead silent. Every single eye in every space is staring right at it as I say, "Oh, I got one more. Let me try this one for you. It's one of the hardest things I know," and then it gets a big reaction. And then at that moment, I now need to craft their expectations as to what this is and what they're watching. So I always ask the same question, "We have an important distinction to make. We can either try some traditional magic or we could try some freaky stuff." And of course, a hundred percent of the time everyone just shouts freaky stuff. And that is so important because the next phase of the show is super gross sideshow stuff. I'm going to hammer a nail in my face. I'm going to stick a nail in my eye. I'm going to cut off my tongue and there's going to be blood everywhere. It's important because of that consistency.
[00:44:49] This goes back to Cialdini. Cialdini did an experiment in one neighborhood where he tracked recycling rates and in one neighborhood, he just said, "Hey, do you recycle?" Okay, he took a survey, great. In the other neighborhood, he did the same survey, but then people who said they recycle, they got a nice framed certificate to hang up in the place to remind them and thank them for being a good citizen who recycles. It's very difficult to look at that sign, to know your own actions and to know what you said, and then not recycle. So as a result, those neighborhoods had more recycling.
[00:45:18] Likewise, it's very difficult for me to ask the audience, "What do you want to see, traditional magic or freaky stuff?" And have everybody immediately shout, "Freaky stuff." Once that happens, they don't get to pull all the way back and go silent or dead when I start doing something gross. They definitely ask for it. They have both social proof because everybody cheered for it. The clapping is coming along and we've primed the stage for the rest of the magic routine that would eventually go on until I did my straight jacket escape. Again, I didn't want to hit him up out of nowhere afterwards, to say, "Hey, by the way, I need money, I'm going to pass the hat." So instead, I set it up as a challenge where I said, "If I don't escape in under two minutes, I will not pass the hat. And I won't ask any of you for a dime for today's performance. But if I do all, I ask is that each of you leap to your feet, yelling and screaming and, you know, gimme the standing ovation I've always dreamed of," or whatever.
[00:46:11] So you've set up this contract. And so at this point, by the time the show is over, I've escaped just in time and you know, maybe a couple of seconds right up to the edge, and then you get a whole room of people jumping up, occasionally, sometimes it really lands. When the next thing out of my mouth is, "You guys are the best. Thank you so much. Hey, I'm going to walk around and pass the hat if you enjoy the show, I'd love to have whatever you got." There has been between the lines, a contract and an escalation that hopefully in a benign nature puts people in a state of mind where it's like, "Wow, this guy gave me a lot. He virtually never asked anything of me," although, truthfully, I was asking things of them at all times, but constantly, you know, you fill the bucket up, then you make a withdrawal. By the time I would pass around, you could make a decent, what seemed like a mint to me at the time, you could make a good 50 bucks or whatever.
[00:46:58] Jordan Harbinger: It's incredible how this is something that you would've had to spend years and years refining. And I'd love to hear a little bit about that process because you didn't just think, "Oh, I should ask this question." What's your thought process like, when you're like, "All right, I got to get them fired up for this. What questions can I ask?" Or is it even more rudimentary than that? Where you're just — are you brute force testing this? Is it seems to me like you would have to think, how do I get people to think a certain way? Are you consciously using questions? It seems like you do use a lot of questions actually.
[00:47:28] Brian Brushwood: Well, keep in mind that everything I've done, I learned by trial and error. It's only been in the last decade of reading all the psychological stuff that I realized, in so many ways, magicians are like folk scientists of psychology. 500 years ago, nobody knew what genetics were, but if you ran a farm, you kind of figured out what the best practices were to get, you know, hybridized foods that had bigger yields. Nobody knew why it worked. They just knew that it worked. Magicians are very much the same way. You're there in the room. You feel the vibe. And you're like, "I don't know why this always gets a laugh, but it always does. I'm going to keep doing it." And eventually, you figure it out.
[00:48:03] It took me 10 years before I understood why people laugh throughout my whole show. I don't tell any jokes. I don't tell any jokes, the entire show long. And yet people tell me it's the funniest show that they've seen and so on. And I felt guilty. I felt like a fraud until I understood. I was doing some reading on the evolution of humor. The reason we laugh is because, you know, back in the Savannah days, you're there with the tribe of other hunters. You're there out in the woods. And then you hear a branch snap off to the side. Instantly, everyone freezes. Instantly, everybody's skin runs cold because you don't know if there's going to be a saber-toothed tiger or whatever. And in that moment, then you see a cute little chinchilla wander past or whatever. So what did they do? Even in a free language, I assume I'm making this up, but you laugh and laughing is a cue that says it's okay to release the tension and everyone else laughs like, isn't it funny that we were so tense, but it turned out to be just this cute little rodent.
[00:49:00] The same thing was what I was intuitively doing on the stage magic show the entire time is I'm constantly putting myself in the threat of perceived danger. And just at that moment, when the tension is tightest, I'll make a self-deprecating comment or just point out the absurdness of it, or just create any sideways moment that gets people to release that tension. As a result, when I'm doing the nail in the ye gag, there's this moment that sometimes the room just goes completely cold. And I think to myself like, "Oh, you're going to thank me later. You're going to tell me that this is the best part of the show." And sure enough, more often than not, that turns out to be the case.
[00:49:34] Jordan Harbinger: I'm still focused on your questions. You and I talked about this a little bit pre-show and you'd mentioned, I think even earlier in this show, salesmen say something like, "The person asking the questions is the one in charge of the conversation." How can we practice that skill on our own so that when it matters, right now, we can practice in low stakes so that when it matters, we can own a high-stakes conversation?
[00:49:57] Brian Brushwood: So for me, the transformative moment, like I had heard that old adage and I understood that when you — it's a challenging thing to pick up the phone and make a cold call and just try to get someone new to a headspace where they're ready to possibly book you for a gig or whatever. But it wasn't until, of all things, at the Las Vegas Hilton, where they had something called the Star Trek experience back in the day, you know, you did the theme ride and then they had this themed bar, Quirk's Bar, and then you're sitting there eating a hamburger that costs too much. And then out walks a dude with a giant plastic forehead on pretending to be an alien.
[00:50:29] And I'm just like, "Oh, I don't want to talk to alien, man. He's pretending like he owns this bar and it's very, oh, so weird." And you watch him going table to table. And then, finally, he comes up to us and I'm like, "Oh, this is going to be so awkward. He's going to be so awkward." And he just says, "Hi, where are you guys from?" And I think to myself, "Oh, I know that. Austin." And he immediately says like, "Oh, Austin is lovely. I once went to Barton Springs. Is Barton Springs still there?" And I'm like, "Oh, I know the answer to this. Yes." And before I knew it, I was having a totally pleasant conversation. And I really enjoyed the five minutes I spent talking to an actor with a plastic forehead on pretending to be an alien because he expertly set up easy questions that always kept the conversation going.
[00:51:12] People think that the way to keep a conversation going is to learn, to be able to bloviate like I'm doing right now. Just speak constantly into a mic, even though I'm in the room by myself, there are people who can do that. That's not the most universally beloved form of discourse that is out there. And instead, if you can ask questions that move things closer to what you want to talk about or make other people important, what does is it raises the fidelity of understanding between the two of you. If one of you asks a question, "Hey, can I borrow the light board?" And the other person says, "No," then that's it. You're screwed. But if you instead say, "Hi, I'm doing a kid's charity over in the gymnasium. And we notice that there's no lights on. It looks like you guys are going out. Is there a way to get the lights on?" Now notice I'm not asking to borrow the light board. That's what I would've assumed would be the way to do it because I know how to turn on the lights. There's no light board here. I need a light board. And then that guy just says, "No, I don't know who you are. I'm not going to give you a light board." So instead, you begin with, "Hey, it looks like you're here for a speech tournament or something. Do you have like just three minutes to listen to me?" Explain my problem, walk through, what are the things that are possible.
[00:52:24] And then finally for me, this is, by the way, I'm talking about a real situation that happened where I realized that I had communicated uneffectively because I was asking for a light board and I didn't even want a light board. What I wanted was light. And I never got the chance to really say that because I hadn't asked enough questions to find out how much bandwidth does this person have? What are they capable of doing? How interested are they on helping? And then, ultimately the final question oftentimes is like, "Okay, I feel like you understand my problem. If you were me, how would you handle it?" All of those little back and forths increase the opportunity for both sides to understand the other person so that they can both ask for the favor or get to success for both parties as fast as possible.
[00:53:08] Jordan Harbinger: I love the idea of not necessarily directly asking for something you need, but instead placing them or placing ourselves in a position where things naturally flow to us. I think the expression is water flows downhill, and of course, people want to solve problems with the least amount of effort and things like that. Tell us about your phone technique about changing our language to shape other people's response. This is a brilliant little practical that I think people can try to use this week, as long as they're on the light side and not the dark side.
[00:53:37] Brian Brushwood: It has been amazing to me to see how many of the techniques of good communication that make magic work also work in very, I don't know, menial ways, whether it's dealing with a customer service rep in person or whatever. The biggest mistake I see people do is asking any question that it is possible for people to say yes or no to. They're hoping for a yes, but a no is possible and then they just say no. Once that happens, that's like getting checkmated in the very first move. Instead, what you need to do is speak honestly and directly, have a good discourse back and forth, but get to a place where they fully understand your position. Because if you ask, "Can you just extend this warranty or can you validate this purchase? Can you remove this fee?" Their default answer is always going to be no because no is the easier of the two options. Yes means they have to open up the system and they have to bleep, blop, bloop and they have to request authorization, they have to void the so and so. That's trouble.
[00:54:30] So when you say, "Will you remove the fee? Yes or no?" What you're really asking is, "Would you rather go through a bunch of paperwork or would you rather tell me no? And the answer is they're always going to want to tell you no, but instead, if you refuse to get straight to your real question, but instead begin with a couple of lines, get their name, remember their name, talk to them directly as if they're an actual human being. You can hate the machine, but love the cog. It's not the cog's fault that the machine is garbage. It's not their fault that you spent four hours and ultimately got to a place where somebody told you a lie to get you off the phone. But it is important that you present this whole story.
[00:55:07] So I always begin when I'm dealing with an issue that I'm super frustrated with the moment they get on the phone, I make sure I get their name. "It's Janelle? Hi, Janelle. I'm Brian Brushwood. I need a superhero. Do you have just a few seconds for me to kind of bring you up to speed on what's going on?" Now, of course, this is a yes, no question, but it is her job to say, yes. She can't do her job by saying no. So we get her saying, yes. I'm like, "Great. Oh, do you need a customer number before we get started?" Yes, of course, she does. So she says, yes. So I give that. I'm like, "I don't know what's in here, but here's what's happened so far." And so I explain the story thus far. Then I still don't ask a question. If I do ask a question it's to make sure she follows everything. Then I explain the challenge, the reason that everything I've done so far isn't working. And then, I explained the deadline that is coming up. I explain about the boss who's going to fire me unless I can come through. I explain about all this stuff.
[00:55:58] And then finally, I get to a place now that I've given you all the information, doctor, what is it you recommend I do? I never asked for them to remove the fee. Never asked them to do anything. What I did was I gave them a full analysis of my problem, and I asked them for a diagnosis. I didn't say, "What can you do for me?" I said, "What should I do?" And the answer can't be, "Get off my phone," the answer can't be, "Call someone else." The answer has to be at this point, the easier — now, they're not deciding, "Do I want to do paperwork or do I want to tell this guy to bug off?" I guess bug off is still on the table, but that's the least attractive because now they become a part of this story. And because you've established that, you know her name, that she will be named as part of this.
[00:56:46] So now, it's like, "I could do 30 seconds of paperwork and just take care of this guy. Or I can invest time, energy, and effort to tell a story, to argue with him or whatever." And once they understand the story, oftentimes, the easier of the two solutions is to just grant your wish. Not that they're doing it in a begrudging way, hopefully, if you've done your job correctly, you've explained your situation to the extent that they feel really good because it feels good to help other people. And when you present someone with an opportunity to do that, then you set both of yourself up to have a good exchange and to both come out winners.
[00:57:19] Jordan Harbinger: So never ask that yes or no question when you need help, because since people want to solve problems in the most easiest way and by solving problems, they mean just get rid of the problem, whether or not it helps you, then the easiest way is always to say no. But if we can structure a conversation in which the easiest solution is for them to actually handle it for us, now we're cooking with gas.
[00:57:37] Brian Brushwood: Think about it this way, every time you ever talk to a customer service rep, both of you have a problem. You have the problem you called about and they have the problem of talking to you. And so you want to make the easiest way to solve the "talking to you" problem to be to just help you out and fix this thing.
[00:57:53] Jordan Harbinger: Brian, thank you so much, man. This has been super fun.
[00:57:55] Brian Brushwood: Absolutely, man. I'm glad we finally made it happen.
[00:58:00] Jordan Harbinger: I've got some thoughts on this one, but before I get into that, I wanted to give you a preview of one of my favorite stories from an earlier episode of the show. Megan Phelps-Roper, she used to belong to one of the most hateful religious cults in America, the Westboro Baptist Church. She was born into this church and she later escaped. To hear her tell the story firsthand, it's really incredible.
[00:58:21] Megan Phelps-Roper: I started protesting when I was five years old. But even at that first picket, there was a sign that said, "Gays are worthy of death." So God hates facts is what Westboro's message that we became known for. We were the good guys and everyone outside the church was evil and going to hell. And we had the only message that would bring the world any hope. We had to go and warn people, these terrible things are happening. And if you want this pain to stop, then you have to change because God isn't going to change.
[00:58:50] After the September 11 attacks, we had the sign that said, "Thank God for September 11." What were we thinking? This massive crowd comes down. We were at this corner of this intersection of these three streets. By the time they actually reached us were just enraged. There was no space between us and them. It got really dicey. One of my cousins gave his signs to somebody else and like started standing on top of a trash can pretending like he wasn't with us. They were, again, incredibly intense because obviously, the circumstances are so sobering.
[00:59:23] It brings me incredible sadness to think about now. I can't do this forever. My family, they would refuse to have any contact with me at all once I left. Somebody that we had confided in sent a letter to my parents and told them that we were planning to leave. And then that email came in and — and we left.
[00:59:44] Jordan Harbinger: For more with Megan, including the details of her harrowing experience and escape, check out episode 302 of The Jordan Harbinger Show.
[00:59:53] Hope you all enjoyed that one. That one, we recorded that a long, long time ago, the better part of a decade, but he is always doing fun stuff. This guy's like the kid that never grew up and is now doing all of the stuff he wanted to do as a 12-year-old. I mean, he is blown up cars. I don't know why, whatever that has to do with Scams. I have no idea, and I feel a little silly saying it, but who doesn't want to do that? As you've heard, this guy is fantastic and articulating exactly what it is in terms of the psychology that he's using with Scam School, with magic, with the illusions. He's doing it right. And a great big thank you to Brian Brushwood. His shows are always fascinating. You can find a lot on YouTube, but we'll link up the rest right there in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com. Books from all guests at jordanharbinger.com/books. And please do use our website links if you buy books from any. It does help support the show.
[01:00:41] Transcripts are in the show notes. Videos are up on YouTube. Advertisers deals and discount codes, all at jordanharbinger.com/deals. Please consider supporting those who support this show. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on both Twitter and Instagram or connect with me right there on LinkedIn. I find that many of you on the other social networks are insane, but LinkedIn, a lot of high-quality folks there.
[01:01:03] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships using the same system, software, and tiny habits that I use every single day. That's our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free and will remain free. That's the plan anyway. Jordanharbinger.com/course is where you can find it. I'm teaching you how to dig the well before you get thirsty. And hey, most of the guests you hear on the show, they subscribe, they contribute to that course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you.
[01:01:26] This show is created in association with PodcastOne. My team is Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Millie Ocampo, Ian Baird, Josh Ballard, and Gabriel Mizrahi. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's into illusions, magic scams, definitely share this episode with them. The greatest compliment you can give us is to share the show with those you care about. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on the show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time.
[01:02:03] Jillian Jalali: Hi, everyone. This is Jillian with Court Junkie. Court Junkie is a true-crime podcast that covers court cases and criminal trials using audio clips and interviews with people close to the cases. Court Junkie is available on Apple Podcasts and podcastone.com.
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