I Fired a Good Person Yesterday

Yesterday wasn’t easy. I fired a key employee, who was a good person.

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He yelled at me. He threw his credit card on the table. He threatened to come back later. He called me a coward.

The Link Between Influence and Autism

Autism hasn’t always been considered a disability. In some of the most brutal and barbaric cultures, people with autism had incredible influence. In this article we will examine one of those stories.


Think of a loved one you have lost. I’m sure you remember their face, or a particularly memorable event you shared. You may remember their home, car or clothes. At some point you will probably think of an adjective that describes something about them. 

“Grandma was a fabulous cook, grandpa was a kind man,” or, “uncle Allan was a bad drunk.”

But you don’t remember them as that adjective.  AutismEven if you do think of your loved one as fabulous, you most certainly don’t call them that adjective as their name. You don’t say, “I miss fabulous Grandma.”

The Man With an Adjective for a Name

Ivan Vasilyevich’s adjective not only describes almost the whole of his person, but it also became his name. His actions have defined him for centuries, replacing his full name with an adjective in English. That adjective is terrible.

Ivan the Terrible

By 1543 Ivan had witnessed the torture of countless people. Ivan’s own uncle Yuri, who challenged his birthright to the throne, was tossed in a dungeon and starved to death. His mother, Jelena Glinsky, died suddenly after ordering the execution of other family members. It was poisoning, administered by angered relatives of murdered opponents that killed her. Prince Ivan Obolensky was beaten to death by his jailers for his loyalty to Glinsky, within a week of her death.

A Reign of Terror

Finally, on December 29, 1543, Ivan ordered Prince Andrew Shuisky arrested and executed. He had Shuisky thrown to a pack of starving dogs. This was the symbolic beginning of Ivan’s reign over Russia. 

He was 13.

During his governance, it was nothing for Ivan to have people drawn over powder kegs and blown up. People were tortured and murdered in front of their families and boiled or skinned alive. 

In one story, Ivan had a peasant stripped naked and used her as target practice. Ivan’s weapon of choice was a staff with a pointed, metal, spear tip affixed to the top. In a fit of rage he ran the same spear through the skull of his favorite son, killing him. The death was the culmination of an argument between the two. Ivan had beaten his pregnant daughter-in-law and caused the miscarriage of his own grandchild during a prior fit of rage.

The Peasant Who Changed Everything

At one point a peasant approached Ivan and rebuked him for not paying attention during church. So Ivan did something unthinkable. 

He sat up and paid attention in church. 

Remember, Ivan thought nothing of committing horrible acts to clergy, during church, in front of the congregation. He also used peasants as target practice. But when Ivan was approached by this peasant in church something different happened. The peasant did the modern equivalent of grabbing Ivan by the ear. He told Ivan to sit up straight and pay attention, and Ivan did.

In fact, not only did Ivan listen, he sent the peasant a gift, which the peasant gave away publicly!


This same pauper once engaged Ivan during Lent, in which observers, including Ivan, abstained from meat. As he approached Ivan at dinner, he dropped a large piece of bloody meat on the table in front of Ivan. Ivan explained that he did not eat meat during Lent. The peasant said, “You eat and drink the blood and flesh of those you kill and torture.” In other words, “Ivan, you are so deplorable, that eating this steak during Lent is not really going to matter when it comes to your salvation.”

How did Ivan react? By acting as a pallbearer at this mans funeral years later, when he died of natural causes. It was plainly obvious that Ivan loved, and listened to this man. In fact, it seems that this person had carte blanche when it came to speaking into Ivan’s life, more so than any other person.

The Peasant Remembered

If you visit Moscow today, just outside the Kremlin stands a beautiful building. It’s oversized domes and intricate paint scheme makes the building stand out as a unique, worldwide treasure. Most people have seen it in pictures because it is one of the most photographed pieces of architecture in the world.

It’s name is St. Basils Cathedral, named after the pauper who had so much influence over Ivan, Vasily Blazhenny or simply, Basil.


At the age of 13, (oddly the same age as Ivan when he ordered his first execution) Basil dedicated his life to Christ and remained for over 70 years. He wore very little clothing, even during the harsh Russian winters. Basil had an incredible sense of passion, lived in the moment and opened the doors to a much deeper and higher sense of worship than those around him. He was not typical, but he fit the description of a very small group of people throughout history who acted similarly. They were called, “The Holy Fools of Russia,” and they seemed to have something that others did not.

So what did Basil have that made him so dedicated, so passionate and so influential? How could a man, with almost none of the typical makings of stature in his culture, who spoke so bluntly, become revered and beloved by the tyrant who murdered his own son?

Basil’s Gift

Some historians believe Basil had an incredible brain anomaly that caused him to act the way he did. People affected by this anomaly have a surplus of synapses, or connections between brain cells. This happens when the natural pruning of these synapses which usually takes place in our brain, doesn’t occur the way it should. It has many symptoms and causes different results in the people it affects. Historically it has gone by many different names.

Today it is most simply know as autism.

This article is reformatted from the introduction of SWAY, The Unlikely Connection Between Autism and Influence. 

We think we are the most advanced society in history, but we are wrong. Our view of people with autism is dwarfed, even by the standards of ancient, and often brutal societies. Are we missing the mark when it comes to our view of autism? Find out here.

The Case for Autism

John Donavan and Caren Zucker explained this rationale in their bestselling book, In a Different Key, The Story of Autism. The following is an excerpt.

-Half a millennium ago, a Russian shoemaker named Basil, born around 1469, was spotted walking about naked in winter, spouting incomprehensible utterances, while remaining inattentive to his own needs, even for food. The populace did not see this as madness. autismThey thought, rather, that they were witnessing extreme holiness. The Russians called this “foolishness for Christ” and reared Basil’s self-abnegation as courageous, difficult, and a pious path, which Basil took in order to allow Christ to speak through him. Even the tsar-Ivan the Terrible- who was known to have waiters executed for serving the wrong drink at dinner, let Basil criticize him in public. He believed Basil could read his thoughts, and he took it to heart when the wandering shoemaker scolded him for letting his mind wander in church. It was said that Basil was the only man Ivan truly feared.

The Autism Idea

In 1974, a pair of Russian-speaking scholars at the University of Michigan suggested that something other than pure foolishness or holiness might have been at work in Basil, and in a few others with similar stories. Natalia Challis and Horace Dewey dove deeply into the available accounts of Basil’s life and some thirty-five other “Holy Fools” of bygone days, all recognized as saints by the Russian Orthodox Church. Challis’s and Dewey’s academic specialty was Russian history and culture, not autism. But Dewey had a son, born in the 1950’s who had been diagnosed with autism, and that gave him insights into the behaviors of the ancient wanderers. He came to believe that autism, not insanity or divinity, might explain the Holy Fools’ behavior.

“Unhampered by Society’s Preconceptions”

This set of individuals were “unhampered by society’s preconceptions” and content to live in a state of social isolation. Certain of them were wedded to rituals. They noted that Basil’s tolerance of extreme cold which let him “walk barefoot on the frozen Volga”  was reminiscent of how some people with autism appear indifferent to extremes of cold, heat, or pain. The Holy Fools were also observed to get by on limited sleep and food-again, similar to some people with autism.

While some remained mute, several were known to echo the words of others, and still others spoke in riddles. And legend has it that some blurted out what they were thinking into the faces of the powerful. That tendency was a major part of what endeared the Fools to the Russian public. In a culture where few dared to question authority, their impertinence was reminiscent of the great prophets of the Old Testament.-

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Is Autism Influential?

Was autism the secret tool Basil used to influence one of the most horrible people that lived? Could the personality of those on the autism spectrum lend itself, in some ways, to persuasion and influence? Consider a person you know with autism. If you are realizing that some of the traits they exhibit do seem persuasive, you are not wrong.

In July of 2017, verywell.com published their Top 10 Positive Traits of Autistic People. The article garnered some negative reviews because of the generalization of people on the spectrum. People with autism are referred to as being on the autism spectrum. Autism results in set of personal characteristics somewhat different from what we consider average. But not every person with autism has all of the characteristics listed on the spectrum.

 The Autism Spectrum

For example, some of the characteristics on the spectrum are as follows:

  • Intense or focused interests
  • Repetitive body movements such as spinning or hand flapping
  • Unusual sensory interests such as sniffing objects or staring intently at moving objects
  • Insistence on sticking to routines
  • Sensory sensitivities including avoidance of everyday sounds and textures

(You can learn more at autismspectrum.org.au)

A Range, Not a Definition

Though these are a few of the behaviors on the spectrum, not every person with autism will exhibit all of these behaviors. While Down Syndrome is quantifiable; every person it affects has an extra chromosome, autism is not, and because of that, the symptoms vary. For example a person with autism may insist on routines, but might not show repetitive body movements. Because the range of behaviors can be so varied, the term “autism spectrum” is used to describe the set of possible behaviors of a person with autism.

Some Traits

But the people at verywell.com believe that most people on the spectrum share a common set of endearing characteristics. They are:

  1. People with autism rarely lie
  2. Those on the autism spectrum live in the moment
  3. People with autism rarely judge others
  4. Those on the spectrum are passionate
  5. People with autism are not tied to social expectations
  6. Those with autism have terrific memories
  7. People on the spectrum are less materialistic
  8. Those with autism play fewer head games
  9. People on the autism spectrum have fewer hidden agendas
  10. Those with autism open new doors for neurotypicals

People With Autism Speak the Truth

These are obviously not scientific explanations or descriptions of people with autism. But I think it’s fair to say, at least anecdotally, the people on the spectrum whom I have met do live up to this high praise. Think of it. Frequently someone on the spectrum will say things that seem socially inappropriate. But it is usually inappropriate because it is awkwardly true and said passionately without judgement. Simply a momentary fact, most of us wouldn’t say. They call neurotypicals on our facades at times and in places we think awkward. This very common trait associated with autism is the embodiment of numbers 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 10 from the list. It is hard to argue these traits and, when shown in the proper light, these traits are endearing.

This article is reformatted from the introduction of SWAY, The Unlikely Connection Between Autism and Influence. 

We think we are the most advanced society in history, but we are wrong. Our view of people with autism is dwarfed, even by the standards of ancient, and often brutal societies. Are we missing the mark when it comes to our view of autism? Find out here.

Just Personality Traits

Most of the items on the list are really just personality traits many of us would love to have more of. We can all play fewer head games or judge others less. At least some of these positive traits describe a personality that is not only attainable, but influential. It is the description of a person that is someone to whom I am likely to listen.

Is the personality verywell.com describes also common in influencers? Could their list be a little-known set of influential characteristics that inherently reside with those on the autism spectrum? Are those characteristics integral in ethical persuasion or principled influence?

How Pivotal is Personality?

Were these the keys to Basil’s personality that put him in such high regard in the eyes of the serial sadist, Ivan?

And just how pivotal is personality when it comes to persuasion and influence? What mattered more, who Basil was, or what he said and did?

A huge portion of potential influencers spend mountains of time finessing the message, campaign or product.But they spend less time developing the personality of the influencer or messenger. This is a huge mistake. That the message, campaign or product has to be high-quality and good for the audience should be a given. But focusing on small details around the product or message is a mistake if the messenger doesn’t resonate with the audience.

Influence and Medicine

In the incredible book Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, he unequivocally proved that the personality of the messenger is not only pivotal, but actually has more to do with influence than the messages themselves. I arrived at this conclusion when Gladwell described the real reasons doctors are sued for medical malpractice. And it has much less to do with medical malpractice than we think.

Gladwell writes, “The overwhelming number of people who suffer an injury due to the negligence of a doctor never file a malpractice suit at all. Patients don’t file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care. Patients file lawsuits because they’ve been harmed by shoddy medical care  – and something else happens to them.”

Two Groups

He continues,

-Recently the medical researcher Wendy Levinson recorded hundreds of conversations between a group of physicians and their patients. Roughly half of the doctors had never been sued. The other half had been sued at least twice, and Levinson found that just on the basis of those conversations, she could find clear differences between the two groups.

The surgeons who had never been sued spent more than three minutes longer with each patient than those who had been sued did (18.3 minutes versus 15 minutes). They were more likely to make “orienting” comments, such as “First I’ll examine you, and then we will talk the problem over” or “I will leave time for your questions” – which help patients get a sense of what the visit is supposed to accomplish and when they ought to ask questions. Those were the group more likely to engage in active listening, saying things such as “Go on, tell me more about that,” and they were far more likely to laugh and be funny during the visit.”

No Difference in Care

Interestingly, there was no difference in the amount or quality of information they gave their patients; they didn’t provide more details about medication or the patient’s condition. The difference was entirely in how they talked to their patients.-

In a nutshell, the personality of the doctors determined if the patient would sue them for medical malpractice, not the quality of care. Gladwell goes on to explain situations where patients wanted to sue because they felt they were given inadequate care. But when they realized the suit would hurt the people in the office whom they liked, they chose not to continue.

The Influence of Personality

This is the power of personality. It is the engine that drives influence. It is a measuring stick by which most of us gauge the degree of influence we allow someone to have in our lives. We do not accurately evaluate every decision, purchase or vote and come up with rational choices. In the context of influence, the personality of the influencer is what researchers call a heuristic. Heuristics are gauges, or rules of thumb that we have gathered to make processing information easier. Often they are very often wrong.

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Real World Examples

In Richard Thaler’s book Misbehaving, he explains some of these mistakes in practical, real life, economical examples. He explains that a man who suffers from hay fever mows his own lawn. When asked why he doesn’t hire a kid from the neighborhood to mow the lawn for $10 the man says it isn’t worth it. In other words he would rather save $10 by mowing a lawn and suffering through the hay fever.

So, in logical, analog terms, hay fever is worth $10 to that man. When he is asked if he would mow a lawn roughly the same size for $20 the man says no. But this thinking is irrational. If hay fever is worth $10 to the man then it should definitely be worth $20.

The man is reacting to a heuristic that behavioral analysts call loss aversion. As a rule we over-value what we already have to very inaccurate results. The man with hay fever is valuing the $10 he is saving more than the $20 he would earn mowing the other lawn.

Irrational Heuristics

Loss aversion is an example of an irrational heuristic that influences most people. These heuristics, irrational or not, are usually the guardrails of our decisions. They offer us the ability to make decisions in multiple contexts.

But context can often change the heuristic.

Imagine I approach you in a shopping mall and ask your help with a math question. You agree to help, so I present the following problem. There are two pieces of railroad track, each one is a mile long, laid end to end. The tracks are secured at each end and touch in the middle. The railroad tracks each expand by one inch, into each other lifting the middle in the air. Also imagine they do not flex. Instead they are perfectly rigid, forming a triangle with the ground as the base. Here is the question, how high do the tracks raise?

Two Inches

The average guess is two inches. Each track expands an inch and there are two tracks so two inches. Most people use the information readily available as a heuristic, make a guess and move on.

Now suppose you are in a geometry class. The topic is pythagorean theorem or the measurements of right triangles. Your teacher explains that any triangle with two equal legs can be divided into two right triangles. This is done by drawing a line from the point of the triangle to the center of the hypotenuse. The newly drawn line can be measured by applying the pythagorean theory to each triangle. It works as long as you know the length of the other two legs. Then she explains the same problem a different way. The leg of a right triangle is 5280’ or one mile long. The hypotenuse of the same triangle is 5280’ 1”, one mile and one inch. She hands you a calculator and asks, “what is the length of the other leg?”

The Right Answer is . . .

Now the context is different but the problem is the same. You have the formula and you have a calculator. In just a few seconds you arrive at the right answer, which is 29.6 ft. Notice that the average answer of two inches is way off. The heuristics or rules of thumb we use in the absence of all of the information is often extremely wrong.

The context of the mall scenario is so different than the classroom. Even people who know the pythagorean theory, and have a calculator on the phone often get the answer wrong. Most of us would need to be in the presence of the right context in order to arrive at the right choice. Even if we have access to all of the necessary information. But most of our decisions and choices are made in a context lacking complete information. Which is why the personality of the influencer usually affects the choice of the majority of consumers more than facts or data.

The Fundamental Attribution Error

When we cast our vote we don’t usually do it with a full set of information. Typically our logic goes something like this, “I am a gun-owner and he supports the NRA,” or, “I have glaucoma and she supports medical marijuana.” We don’t think in actual terms like, “She supports medical marijuana, unless Congress has been overwhelmingly filled with right-wing candidates on the back of a huge growth of Christianity and she thinks the constituents are moving away from supporting legalized medical marijuana.” That is foolish. We assign people fundamental attributes and assume those attributes span every situation.

Typically we say, “Thomas is kind.” We don’t say, “Thomas is kind, unless he didn’t sleep all night, and the barista is rude and messes up his order.” This is called the fundamental attribution error. It is another heuristic or rule of thumb that we use to make decisions in multiple contexts to make our life easier. It would be impossible to go into every decision armed with all of the information about that situation. So in our day to day dealings with people, we assign fundamental attributions to them. If the messenger attracts poor fundamental attributions, it won’t matter what the message is.

The Truth About Influence

Heuristics, context and fundamental attributions are why the personality of the influencer is so critical.

Book purchases are a perfect example. People do not buy books because of the information in them. If that were true then people would need to read the book before they buy it to find out if the information is worth paying for. People buy books based on their view of the author, or the personality of the friend who recommended it, or the context of their need and the answer promised by the cover. But no one purchases a book because they have read it and evaluated the information first, and then choose to buy it. Hardly any influence is made in that manner. The personality of the messenger, the context of the situation and fundamental attributions almost always hold sway over influence and persuasion.

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The Message or the Messenger?

So when the message, product or candidate is a decent choice, the consumer uses context and the personality of the influencer to make their choices. If we spend our time polishing and honing the product or message, but we get the messenger wrong, it won’t matter. People choose influencers using heuristics, context and fundamental attributions, not spec sheets and charts.

Incredibly, history has proven some of the traits from the list to be pivotal in creating that influential messenger. Our ideas can only spread when they are offered by the right person. That person is someone whose personality of positive fundamental attributions, can build a heuristic of trust and create the context in which influence grows.


In my book SWAY, I dissect a few of the personality traits on the list of positive attributes of people on the autism spectrum. I look back at history and find people who had the opportunity at influence. In each section of the book I explore one person who used a trait from the list to exercise influence, and one person lacking the trait, who was unable to leave their mark.

Understand that when we studied someone with influence, it didn’t necessarily mean these were people who advanced society. In some cases the most influential people used a trait, or the science behind the trait, to influence humanity for the worse.

Six Influential Traits

In the book, I focused on six of the traits which I found to be common in the history of influence. They are:

People with autism are passionate

Those with autism rarely judge others

People on the spectrum play fewer head games

People with autism are not tied to social expectations

Those on the autism spectrum live in the moment

People with autism open new doors for neurotypicals

Some of History’s Examples

I examined the story of a man who had every opportunity to save an immeasurable number of babies and their mothers. His passion and use of it had everything to do with the amount of influence he had. We explored a businessman who acted completely contrary to the world around him, and what effect it had. The book dives deep in the world of psychopaths and determines the degree of their influence and what science tells is so effective and ineffective about their persuasion.

We recount the story of one of the originators of the concept of the atom. What trait on the autism spectrum did he use and how was it received?

9/11 and The Queen of England

We look closely into the terrorist attacks on September 11th, the psychology that led up to the attack and how it could’ve been avoided.

Plus we explore how one person single-handedly caused the fall of a 230+ year old bank that, up to that point, had survived WWI, WWII, the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and financed the Louisiana purchase. We explain how that person, exploiting one trait from the autism spectrum, caused the collapse of the bank that held the Queen’s money.

And that isn’t all.

History, Autism and Influence

History is ripe with examples of successful and failed influencers. The personality of the influencers seems to be the common denominator in the amount of persuasion each person had. What’s more, the specific parts of their personality that had the most effect on their influence seem to fit within the six characteristics from the autism spectrum that we examined.

My hope is that SWAY will do four things.

  1. Help you sniff out the charlatans and crooks who try to coerce influence by manipulating one or more of the traits, or the science behind the trait.
  2. Spread the idea that it is more important and effective to develop the messenger, than to manipulate the message.
  3. Help you have more influence for the positive changes you are trying to make.
  4. (Perhaps most important) Shine a different light on those with autism.

Society considers 16th century Russia a brutal and barbaric place. But were they ahead of us when it comes to their view of autism? Did they know something we have forgotten?

Find out here.

Does buying running shoes make you faster?

You’ve seen the ads. These shoes are x amount lighter, x times more cushiony or can spring over a goal post on a football field- buy now and save. You are automatically interested, thinking, for a minutia that you could really use lighter, cushionier and springier shoes. Then your common sense sets in. “Why in the world would I want my shoes to spring over a goal post on a football field?”

Does buying running shoes make you faster

Doing the Math

Imagine for a minute that you do the math on these claims. You want to be an informed consumer before you buy running shoes to make you faster. You determine the extra .04 ounces of weight loss in the shoes is equal to the weight of about a half a peanut! 

You scream with frustration! “Argh, these stupid marketers are just playing with my mind!” Math says that if you simply cut one peanut out of your diet every day, you’ll be twice as fast as any Bozo that buys these shoes.

The Math is Wrong

But math is wrong. When it comes to the science of improvement, of personal growth, there is a factor that math can’t measure.

Math can’t measure your mindset.

Math can’t measure your focus.

Math can’t measure your effort.

Math can’t measure the idea that you have in your head the morning after you buy the expensive, springy shoes that tells you just how fast and springy your run will be this morning.

Math can’t formulate how much more you will try to prove that the shoes made you faster, which will cause you to, try harder, burn more calories, lose weight and yes, eventually get faster.

The shoes don’t make you faster, but the idea of the shoes do. The idea that you must prove to your friend that these shoes were a good investment, forces you to go faster. The thought that you are a logical spender causes you to grit your teeth and push up the same hill that, yesterday you slogged up the side of.

So do lighter, cushionier, springy running shoes make you faster?

The answer is no, mathematically they don’t.

Until you buy them.

Psychopathy, Autism and Influence

Psychopathy and autism have a very curious link. Both offer a peek into the mind of natural influencers, but there is a startling difference.

Would you admit to a crime you didn’t commit?

What if you thought you were guilty?

In 1985, Helen Wilson was brutally raped and murdered in Beatrice Nebraska. In 1989 Ada JoAnn Taylor confessed to the murder. Today she says that sometimes she can still feel the fabric from the throw pillow in her hands as she suffocated the life out of the sixty-eight year old grandmother.

Taylor’s life was anything but average in 1985. She was the product of years of abuse, a failed foster care system. JoAnn suffered with drug and alcohol abuse and was diagnosed by Dr. Wayne Price with  borderline personality disorder. She had given up her parental rights to the daughter she had at a very young age at the request of Dr. Price. But with the help of a young, gay, pornographic film star named Joseph White, she was attempting to get her rights back.

During the same time, a hog farmer named Burdette Searcey made a promise to the daughter of Helen Wilson. He promised to solve her mothers murder. Burdette felt the need to be involved and perhaps needed a reason to get off of the pig farm. In two short years, Searcey was deputized in Gage County and took on the case full time.

The department was working from two perspectives.

1. The authorities at the time decided the murderer was a homosexual, because of the details of the rape.

2. They had also determined, from sample taken at the scene, the culprit had type B blood.

In March of 1989 Secrecy had an arrest warrant issued for Taylor and her gay friend Joseph White. The warrant was issued on the basis that White was a homosexual. Also, they had the testimony of a seventeen year old whom the Beatrice Police Department described as “a maybe retard,” who said the friends had talked about committing the murder.

White was arrested. During his interrogation he said the idea that he had committed a murder was, “pure, deep bull****.” The next day Taylor was arrested. During her interview she explained that she, “blocks a lot of bad things out,” and that, “there’s a lot in my childhood I can’t remember.”

It was at this point that her old counselor, Dr. Wayne Price was brought in. He explained to the duo that their recollection of the murder might come to them segmented, a piece here and a piece there. Or that it might occur in dreams. This shift in the conversation is subtle and was a psychological trick to turn the conversation from “did you do it” to “how did you do it.” Taylor said, “In my head and in my heart, I know I wasn’t there.”

But that didn’t persuade Dr. Price or Searecy.


Finally Taylor broke. She admitted to the murder. But there were flaws in her admission. For example, she explained how the event happened in a house. Her description of the house resembled one where she had been abused as a child. Only after it was revealed toBeatrice Six; Psychopathy her that the murder had taken place in an apartment did she “remember” it that way.

Unfortunately for Searcey neither Taylor nor White had type B blood. After some prodding, Taylor admitted that she thought her childhood friend, Tom Winslow may have been involved. He was also believed to be homosexual. After his arrest, questioning and some unconventional memory recollection, he admitted he may have been involved.

But Winslow had the wrong blood type as well.

Helen Wilsons niece, Debra Sheldon was brought in for questioning. She was acquainted with Taylor and White during the time of the murder. After unconventional interrogations White admitted that she also may have played a role in the murder.

Her blood wasn’t type B either.

An Entire Gang

And so the slippery slope was slid, with one person being coached into a confession. Then the evidence would not line up. So the confessor points to another possible culprit. This pattern was repeated until, all told, 6 people were implicated in the murder and rape of Helen Wilson. They were Ada JoAnn Taylor, Thomas Winslow, Joseph White, Kathy Gonzalez, James Dean and Debra Shelden. 5 of the six admitting to their involvement. Only White proclaimed his innocence throughout the ordeal.

Wrongfully Imprisoned; PsychopathyThe group was called the Beatrice six. They were sentenced to decades in prison. Joseph White was the only one to go to trial because he was the only one that wouldn’t confess. Three of the other five testified against him as part of a plea bargain to reduce their sentences.


James Dean admitted that he was there during the rape and murder. He offered testimony that was very descriptive of the event. His story was that White and Winslow committed the rape. He said that Taylor held a pillow over the face of Wilson which ultimately lead to her death. Shelden admitted she was there, but tried to intervene. In her description, White struck her and she didn’t remember much after that point. Almost all of the descriptions came from very unconventional tactics with, as James Dean said in a 1989 deposition, 70-90% of his recollection coming from dreams.

But those admissions weren’t the only problems with the case.

The jury that convicted the group was not informed that the fingerprints from the scene did not match any of the alleged participants in the crime or the victim Helen Wilson.

The jury also never learned that the DNA samples taken from the crime scene were possible matches for Gonzales and Winslow, but that one man who was a perfect match had been ruled out by Joyce Gilchrist.

Black Magic

Gilchrist was nicknamed “Black Magic” for her ability to make DNA connections that other forensic examiners couldn’t. She was able to make those connections because they were repeatedly wrong. Michael Blair was sentenced to death for murder based on Gilchrist’s testimony that his hair matched hair found at the scene. This turned out to be false. Curtis McCarty spent 20 years on death row after Gilchrist mishandled his evidence. He was released in 2007 but has not received any compensation. Jeffery Pierce was convicted of rape based on Gilchrist’s evidence despite having an airtight alibi. Peirce was released in 2001 after 15 years in prison when the DNA evidence was re-examined and found to be inaccurate.

If manipulating the truth at the expense of human life is a sign of psychopathy, Gilchrist fits the bill.

Her testimony or evidence led to the execution of 11 people. But in this case, she ruled out a man named Bruce Allan Smith, a name that will become extremely important.


Ultimately White was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Winslow plead no contest as part of a plea bargain and received 50 years in prison. Gonzalez, Dean and Shelden all received 10 year sentences and Taylor received 10-40 years after each plead guilty to their part in the crime.

Sheldon, Gonzales and Dean were released after four and a half years. White and Winslow appealed over and over. They were repeatedly denied until 2007. During that appeal DNA testing proved the murderer to be Bruce Allan Smith, who had been dead for 15 years at the time of the appeal. Gage County eventually was ordered to pay $28 million to the Beatrice six who had almost unanimously admitted to the crime. The group collectively spent over 70 years imprisoned for a crime in which they had no involvement, but admitted to committing.

How is it that not just one, but multiple people remember committing a murder that none of them had commited?


In 1931 a psychologist named Norman Maier may have found the answer with a very simple experiment.

Maier was interested in understanding how people solve problems. He devised a puzzle which has since become known as the “two cord puzzle”.

Maier hung two cords from the ceiling of his lab. The cords were far enough apart that people could not grab each at the same time. Then he asked people to come up with ways to tie the two ends of the cords together.

Most participants came up with solutions that involved using the items in the lab to reach one cord while holding the other. Extension cords were tied to the end of the ropes, poles were used to hook the end and pull the two cords together and other miscellaneous solutions were created. But Maier had another solution in mind. He wanted to see how long in took people to come up with his solution. So he continued asking the participants to come up with new ways to solve the puzzle, until they ran out of ideas.

The Right Solution

The solution Maier was looking for was to swing one rope in a pendulum fashion. Then participants could grab the other rope and catch the swinging rope when it came towards them. Very few participants worked out this solution, until they were given a seemingly accidental clue.

Maier would walk around the lab during the experiment until, when people had run out of ideas, he would brush against one of the ropes and set it swinging. Within a minute of this seemingly careless clue, most people would arrive at Maiers solution.

This experiment showed how easily we can be nudged with a solution to a problem without realizing it. But that wasn’t the interesting part. The fascinating part came after the experiment ended.

Whose Idea?

Only one-third of participants in Maier’s experiment realized they’d been given a clue when Maier bumped the rope. The other two-thirds explained that they arrived at the solution themselves. They fully believed they had solved the puzzle, without help, even though their own thinking did not instigate the solution to the problem.

The majority of participants were easily persuaded to solve the puzzle Maiers way, with Maiers help. But, in the end, the whole time they thought the solution was their idea.

It happened through a psychological concept called priming.


Imagine I show you pictures of delicious food for 30 seconds. Then blindfold you and expose you to the smells of those same great dishes. Then I quickly remove the blindfold and in front of you is a whiteboard with the letters S-O-_-P. I ask you to fill in the missing letter. Instinctively you will most likely spell the word soup. In fact you probably thought that was the answer before I explained it.

But if I show you images of dishes being cleaned, brooms and clean laundry, then blindfold you and expose you to the smell of lemony cleaners and bleach, then pull off your blindfold to the same puzzle, you will probably spell soap.

It is an example of a heuristic. The context and situations we are in affects our thinking, decision making and even memory. Remeber, heuristics are shortcuts or rules of thumb that our brain uses to speed up our decision making process. They are, for the most part a good thing. But they can be very easily manipulated.

Here is another example of the priming heuristic.


Ray is an eighth grader who wants to play a joke on his little brother Tom. He tells Tom to spell the word white, which Tom does. Then he asks what color paper plates are. Tom says they are white. So far he’s two for two. Ray then tells Tom to spell the color of snow, which of course is w-h-i-t-e. Finally Rays tell Tom to spell what cows drink as fast as possible. Tom thinks he’s being tricked into spelling white again and smugly spells m-i-l-k. Ray laughs and explains to his very primed little brother that cows drink w-a-t-e-r.

I even used it in an earlier chapter of my next book. I wanted the reader to link Hindenburg the man with the Hindenburg blimp tragedy. So I wrote the following.

Hindenburg had a burning dislike for Communism, which drove many of his actions. He was chosen to lead his people often in battle and politics, and his name has gone down in history. His actions sparked a famous, worldwide event and qualified him for the secondHindenburg chapter of this book, but probably not for the reason you think.

Timing, Priming and Psychopathy

Priming is a very powerful, psychological tool. It’s a tool that manipulators can use to influence their victims into thinking that poor choices were their idea. Psychopathy can cause a person to manipulate others with priming. They corrupt the mind of the innocent with thoughts that lead to the actions they are trying to illicit. In a junior high school joke it can be funny. In a book it can bring out the feelings or memories the author wants.

But when lives, prison or even money is on the line it is purely manipulation.

The Interview

Ada JoAnn Taylor’s black hair is streaked with grey and cut short during her interview. She looks haggard and exhausted. It seems like she has spent years missing sleep. There is one moment during the three minute interview when she appears to twist her face into the closest representation of a smile that she can seem to muster. It happens when she uncovers a ridiculous truth about the investigation. Price, her one time mental therapist, was also a part-time sheriff’s deputy who aided in the interrogations.

The same man whom she had trusted to give her advice about her mental health years earlier was now advising her. “We know you did this,” she quotes Price, “we know you suffocated her. If you’ll just concentrate on your dreams your memories will come back. You’ve just repressed your memories.”

The cord had been set in motion.

Then the interviewer says, “but the suggestion that you may have done it was enough to get you to admit.” Right on cue, Ada JoAnn Taylor begins repeating, verbatim what the interviewer is saying, immediately after she says it. It is almost as if the interviewer is now doing the priming.

Taylor says of Price that being privy to her background and psychological state gave him access into how best to manipulate her. She says that he knew, “if we tell her something hard enough she’s going to listen to it. She’s gonna accept it.” Price helped wrongly convict 6 people of murder.

Psychopathy; Manipulating Others to the Outcome You Want.

She says that Searecy would tell her the police knew she had suffocated Wilson with a pillow. It is the tormenting false memory that still runs rampant in Taylors mind. She says she can still visualize herself holding the couch pillow that choked the life from Helen Wilson.

Unfortunately that false memory is more false than we think. Wilson was not suffocated with a couch pillow. She was wrapped in a blanket that cut off the air around her. But in Taylors mind, that’s not how it happened. Because during the priming from the Gage County sheriffs department, that isn’t what they told her. They told her it was a pillow.

The video ends with Taylor saying, “Wow, they got me to say I did (it). How screwed up was I?”

Manipulating someone using priming is a sign of psychopathy. But reacting to priming isn’t screwed up. It’s normal, even when the person reacting isn’t.


Priming is just one example of a heuristic that effects our decision making. Other examples include:

  • Consistency heuristic

    This heuristic where a person responds to a situation in a way that allows them to remain consistent.

  • Absurdity heuristic

    This is an approach to a situation that is very atypical and unlikely – in other words, a situation that is absurd. This particular heuristic is applied when a claim or a belief seems silly, or seems to defy common sense.

  • Common sense

    This is a heuristic that is applied to a problem based on an individual’s observation of a situation. It is a practical and prudent approach that is applied to a decision where the right and wrong answers seems relatively clear cut.

  • Availability heuristic

    This allows a person to judge a situation on the basis of the examples of similar situations that come to mind, allowing a person to extrapolate to the situation in which they find themselves.

  • Familiarity heuristic

    allows someone to approach an issue or problem based on the fact that the situation is one with which the individual is familiar, and so one should act the same way they acted in the same situation before.

  • Scarcity heuristic

    This is used when a particular object becomes rare or scarce. This approach suggests that if something is scarce, then it is more desirable to obtain.

  • Affect heuristic

    This is when an individual makes a snap judgment based on a quick impression. This heuristic views a situation quickly and decides without further research whether a thing is good or bad.  Naturally, this heuristic can be both helpful and hurtful when applied in the wrong situation.

  • Authority heuristic

    This occurs when someone believes the opinion of a person of authority on a subject just because the individual is an authority figure. People apply this heuristic often in matters such as science, politics, and education.

List referenced from http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples-of-heuristics.html

Psychopathy and Heuristics

Perhaps the most valuable and commonly manipulated heuristic is the authority heuristic. We established earlier that psychopaths share a chemical imbalance with those on the autism spectrum. They both either lack or have rouble processing oxytocin. But the psychopaths use our own heuristics against us to get what they want. Those afflicted with psychopathy position themselves as experts to gain the trust of unwitting victims on a very regular basis.

Buridan’s ass is a philosophical paradox in which a donkey is placed the same distance between two perfectly equal bales of hay. In another version of the problem the donkey is equally hungry and thirsty and is the same distance between food and water. The donkey can’t decide what it wants more. It dies from an inability to choose, not from malnutrition.

In the world of the psychopath, we are the donkey and they control the hay. Only they do not think in the best interest of anyone but themselves. The outcome of any situation must eventually benefit them either socially, financially or by satisfying some urge they have.


It is very difficult to diagnose psychopathy without the aid of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or an FMRI. It is not realistic to perform expensive medical procedures on every criminal suspected of psychopathy. So a system was developed by a man who is now considered the leading authority on psychopathy. Dr. Bob Hare spent decades developing and teaching his now famous psychopath checklist to those who deem it valuable. It is the gold standard for determining if a person/criminal is or is not a psychopath when FMRI isn’t available. Today, authorities decipher average criminals from psychopaths using the Hare checklist. It is called the Psychopath Checklist Revised or PCL-R. The following is an overview of the characteristics from checklist.

  • Glibness/superficial charm
  • Grandiose sense of self-worth
  • Pathological lying
  • Cunning/manipulative
  • Lack of remorse or guilt
  • Shallow affect
  • Callous/lack of empathy
  • Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
  • Need for stimulation/proneness to boredom
  • Parasitic lifestyle
  • Poor behavioral control
  • Lack of realistic long-term goals
  • Impulsivity
  • Irresponsibility
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Early behavior problems
  • Revocation of conditional release
  • Promiscuous sexual behavior
  • Many short-term marital relationships
  • Criminal versatility

Criminals are judged based on how many of the traits from the list they have and to what degree. The higher a person scores on the list, the more likely they suffer from psychopathy. The list can be highly subjective, because each characteristic is a spectrum, like autism. But once one registers as having a certain degree of psychopathy, they are widely regarded as unable to be rehabilitated by the vast majority of psychologist and criminal justice systems.

The Killer and the Author

Unfortunately we have learned the difficulties of rehabilitating those with psychopathy the hard way. Take the case of Norman Mailer and Jack Abbott.

In 1980 Random House signed Jack Abbott to write his book, In the Belly of the Beast. It was about his time spent in federal prison for charges from robbery to the stabbing murder of a fellow inmate. The book would include excerpts of his letters to pen pal and fellow author Norman Mailer.

Norman MailerMailer was the popular author of books such as The Naked and the Dead, The White Negro and The Executioners Song which is depicted from the execution of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore. Mailer was seduced by the writing of Abbott during his research into the criminal life. Abbott not only signed his publishing contract, but was also paroled and set free with Mailers help. He would burst on to the literary scene a newly freed man. His freshly released book, In the Belly of the Beast, was scheduled to launch his new, free life.

The Review

On July 19th 1981, the New York Times Book Review published a review of the book shortly after it’s release. The reviewer, Terrence Des Pres, a Colgate University professor, wrote that the book was “awesome, brilliant, perversely ingenuous; its impact is indelible, and as an articulation of penal nightmare it is completely compelling.”

The positive review of the book was fabulous press that didn’t last long. It would be usurped by another story. A story more intriguing than one of a newly released felon with a knack for writing. On the morning before the review of his book was published, Jack Abbott stabbed Richard Adan in the heart. Mr. Adan was a waiter at the restaurant Abbott and two women were visiting. The fight happened when Abbott asked to use the bathroom. Mr. Adan explained to Abbott that the restroom wasn’t available because the restaurant didn’t have accident insurance.

So Abbott murdered him.


Abbott’s positive book review ran the same day that police announced the manhunt for the murderer. Abbott personified many of the traits from the PCL-R after his capture, . He acted as his own lawyer. (grandiose sense of self-worth, lack of realistic long-term goals, impulsivity and irresponsibility) He berated Mr. Adan’s widow in court for crying over the loss of her husband. (lack of remorse or guilt, shallow affect, callous/lack of empathy and poor behavioral control)

In fact, the notes from he trial read like a description of exactly how to prove one’s psychopathy according to the PCL-R. Abbott even had the gaul to publish another book after the murder called My Return, for which he was promptly sued and lost $7.5 million.

But it isn’t surprising that a lifelong criminal is a psychopath. It also comes as no surprise that he was able to manipulate Mailer into assisting his release from prison and his lucrative book contract.

But was Mailer manipulated? 

Norman Mailer

When we peek into Mailers life, the story, as unbelievable as it is, gets even stranger..

In The White Negro, Mailer wrote this about fictional young thugs murdering a shop owner.

“It can of course be suggested that it takes little courage for two strong 18-year-old hoodlums, let us say, to beat in the brains of a candy-store keeper, and indeed the act – even by the logic of the psychopath – is not likely to prove very therapeutic, for the victim is not an immediate equal. Still, courage of a sort is necessary, for one murders not only a weak fifty-year-old man but an institution as well, one violates property, one enters into a new relation with the police and introduces a dangerous element into one’s life. The hoodlum is therefore daring the unknown, and no matter how brutal the act, it is not altogether cowardly.”

It seems Mailer thought that if two strong young men, beat in the brains out of a weak, older candy store owner it was not cowardly, but daring. Perhaps this view of murdering the weak is what drove him to his next stunt.

On November 20th, 1960, Mailer ended an argument with his wife, Adele Morales by stabbing her in the back and chest, trying to force the two and a half inch knife into her heart, and almost succeeding.

Just a Knick or Two

He appeared at the hospital after the stabbing to lecture the surgeons about the dimensions of Adele’s wound. Immediately afterwards he appeared on The Mike Wallace Show to plug his mayoral candidacy. During the interview he spoke of knives and swords as symbols of manhood. Long after the event he would complain that Morales would show off her huge scar to convince people Mailer had used a much bigger knife. After his arrest he served only 17 days in Bellevue for psychiatric evaluation, then probation for the attempted murder.

Mailer lost in his race as mayor of New York City in 1969.

He has been quoted as saying of the stabbing that he only wanted to give his wife “a knick or two.” Then in his famous argument with Gore Vidal on The Dick Cavette Show he dismissed the whole thing saying, “we all know I stabbed my wife.

Women’s Rights?

Mailers silver tongue and manipulations garnered him the support of Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem for his next political campaign. Abzug and Steinem were women rights activists, supporting a man who tried to murder his wife.

When Mailer came the the rescue of Jack Abbott, helping launch his writing career and free him from prison, had he found untapped talent or just someone he understood? Were they brothers in psychopathy? It’s hard to argue against the similarities between the two, except their standings in society. It is also hard to argue the influence both men had over their collective worlds.

The Influence of Psychopathy

Bob Hare explains that typically 1% of the general population are psychopaths. 25% of prison populations are psychopaths, but 60-70% of the violence in prison is instigated by psychopaths. That is an enormous amount of influence and persuasion.

Not all psychopaths are horrible violent murderers. Psychopathy functions on a spectrum like autism.  As I explain in my next book SWAY, Dr. James Fallon discovered, by accident, that he is a psychopath. He has lived a very successful life.

The defining characteristic of a psychopath is not violence and bloodshed. Dr. Fallon admits that his relationships have little emotion involved. Fortunately for those around him, his urges had more to do with advancing psychology than murder.

So in psychopathy, the person is lacking adequate oxytocin processing capabilities. Those on the spectrum also lack oxytocin processing capabilities. Both wield influence because of their chemical deficiencies. They are not dependent on social outcomes like neurotypicals. But what differentiates the two? How is one form of influence positive and the other negative?

The Answer

The solution could make up the content for an entire book. But I think the simple answer  is laid out in a quote from Dr. James Fallon, who said this,

“People with autism lack theory of mind but not empathy, while people with psychopathy lack empathy but not theory of mind.”

Empathy is the difference in positive influence and destructive influence.

What do people think of you?

What do people think of you? Are you kind, aggressive, fat, happy, depressed, generous or something else? You can take any number of personality tests or online quizzes to learn more about who your are but there is a problem. 

Learning more about who you are does not tell you anything about what people think about you.

Reading the reviews of your work or your last performance review will not tell you what people think about you, and asking people what they think about you will not tell  you what they think about you.

There are countless problems with the question, what do people think about me. One is that other people’s perspective of you is as varied as the number of people you know. Stephanie may think you’re brilliant because you helped her find a great job but David thinks you’re an asshole because you haven’t called him back in a month. It’s called the fundamental attribution error. People generalize their opinion of others based on a narrow slice of time. The day you were tired changed the person the world saw compared to the day you were first engaged. 

Then there is the problem with them. What is there perception of your political stance, the way you dress or the type of work you do? What they think of you is highly influenced by their beliefs more than who you really are. 

Let’s also not forget that people may hate your last book, but love how much money you give to charity. They may love your music but hate the way you dance. You are not a singular entity anymore than the state you live in. I like Texas. . . until I have to drive across it.

So what do people think of you?


They think the worst and they think the best they are completely wrong and perfectly accurate and everything in between. The question shouldn’t be what do people think of me, the question is how can I serve the people who do think about me. How can I become the best version of myself so that the people around me benefit from my growth. 

How do I accelerate personal growth?

I just finished Unleash The Power Within, the four day, 10-15 hour per day Tony Robbins event designed to help you break through limiting beliefs, learn how to achieve more and become a better version of yourself. It is a massive event designed to answer the question, how do I accelerate personal growth. It was amazing. 15,000 people in the Los Angeles Convention Center dancing, screaming, crying and growing all at the same time, for more hours over a weekend than most people spend all week at work.

It was total immersion, which is one of the things that Tony teaches. One of the pillars of personal growth is to take massive action, which is what we did. But the truth is I didn’t grow while I was there, at least not in any way that is measurable by normal means. My bank account certainly didn’t grow, my health and fitness may have gotten worse, (the food in L.A. is amazing!) and my projects in my businesses suffered because I was there.

Why Go?

And yet,

I personally grew. Most of the time when someone asks how to accelerate personal growth, what they are really asking is, how can I make more money, how can I get more freedom or how can I get something else that I want, faster than the average person. and the answer is to take a step back.

Back Up

Take a step back and evaluate where you are, take a step back and define what you want or take a step back and learn what you are missing in order to make your goals a reality. In this world of constant motion and movement, most of us don’t take the time to stop and gain clarity on where we are going, we just go. It’s like getting in a car and driving whatever direction it happens to be facing, constantly going faster and faster, without understanding where you are really driving.

Accelerating personal growth isn’t hard. If your goal is to learn Spanish, you can do it in a few months, if you want to read 50 books, buy an account with Audible and listen all day, by next year you will have met your goal. But accelerating growth for the sake of growing is a problem.

You have to know where you’re heading before you speed off to get there.

If your product is losing your company money, more sales will just put you in bankruptcy faster. The trick to accelerating personal growth is easy. As Tony says, “take massive action.” This will accelerate everything in your life and it is easy.

Knowing where you are going in life is difficult.

The Correlation Between School and Success

mark rossini

There is a correlation between bad students and big success. But it isn’t what most people think.

Prevailing wisdom says, “The better one does in school, the better they will do in their career, their finances and in life overall.” But the numbers just don’t support that thinking.

Bad Students/Successful People

President George H.W. Bush said “I refuse to release my high school transcript. I failed chemistry and I don’t want anyone to know that.”

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard his junior year, Mark Zuckerberg dropped out his sophomore year.

Here is a list of just a few successful high school dropouts.


What School Doesn’t Do

In this article in Inc., Ilya Pozin explains that GPA does not measure incredibly valuable attributes. Values such as leadership ability, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, or unconventional problem solving go unchecked. In fact, one of the most valuable topics for understanding success is the study of heuristics, which most schools never even touch.

But there are outstanding examples of great students, who failed at life. People like Harry Markopolis, Ignaz Semmelweis and Pol Pot who were champions of education. But they either weren’t able to find success, or in the case of Pol Pot, was just a horrible person. Saddam Hussein was one of the biggest proponents of education. Under his reign Iraq had a 100% primary school enrollment and Hussein set out to make sure every person in Iraq could read.

The Student Loan Crisis

Yet we still believe, despite mounting evidence that the path to success is formal eduction. All while wading through a student loan crisis that could be the next downfall of our economy. In a world where over half of borrowers still haven’t paid off their student loans 20 years later, we have a $1.5 trillion crisis on our hands. Not because we need it, but because we are perpetrating a lie. The lie that formal education is the path to success has turned out to be a nightmare for some. It’s a complete farce to most of the people with a 17 year-old student loan for a degree they aren’t even using.

If good students are struggling and bad students are finding great success, why are we pushing our youth to be good students?

Choice Architecture

I was so embarrassed. 

I walked right into the door; not through an open door, but directly into a closed door, hard. My knee struck the bottom half of the door with a loud bang, my head nearly bouncing off the glass where the hand-written sign clearly read, “Pull to open door.” The whole store choice architectureturned and looked when they heard the loud thud of my knee hitting the door that I had pushed hard against the jam. I could feel the color drain from my face as I slowly looked at the cashier, who smiled and said . . . . .

Choice architecture is the study, not of the decisions we make, but how those decisions are presented to us. Restaurants know that a line on a menu about cheesecake is worth much less money to a diner than having the cheesecake brought to the table side on a beautiful cart and showcased. Even if the cheesecake is exactly the same, as a rule we pay more for the presentation. In this example the restaurant has executed perfect choice architecture. They have built the presentation in such a way that we are more likely to choose what they want us to have. 

And I think it’s fantastic. 

Let me explain with another example plucked from the dining profession.


A sommelier is someone who tells you what your wine will taste like before you buy it. Then, when you pay much more for a fancy table, fancy bottle, and fancy description you can say, “oh the sommelier was right, this does have a nutty after-taste,” even though countless scientific studies have proven that a lot of the taste of wine is imaginary. The flavor of wine comes as much from our expectations as the grapes from which it was made. So the choice architecture plays a huge role in the entire experience.

Or think of it from a 21st century perspective.

The last bit of software you bought solved a problem yes, but you paid more for it than for the other option because you had heard of it before, the purchase process was simple and the website was beautiful. You didn’t even shop the competition. If you had, you probably wouldn’t have chosen them anyway because their website is clunky, no one you know uses them and it was a lot easier to go with something you are familiar with than to research another option. The choice architecture guided your decision. You went with the simple choice, which is what most of us do.

We hire people to make our decisions for us.

Mostly because they are better at it than we are. 

Those people that we hire to make choices for us create great choice architecture around our decisions. They arrange and situate our choices to help us choose what they want us to have. 

And it’s great. 

Here’s why.

Snake Oil

On it’s face it sounds horrible. Someone who manipulates the system to get us to choose what they want us to use, buy or have seems shady at best. They are using the same process snake oil salesmen used 100 years ago, right? Well not really. The snake oil salesman tricked people into buying vegetable oil that didn’t do what he promised it would do.

He lied.

But the cheesecake from the table side is delicious, and the software does work. We aren’t being sold, in most cases, a complete lie. We are getting something for the money we spend. The choice architects are not con-men. They are creating expectations for their own product when they dress it up. And unlike the snake oil salesman, they are still around hours, months even years after you buy. They field your comments or service their product for you after the purchase, which the snake oil salesman never did.


Good choice architects present their product as having a higher value than their competition because they know customers can be disagreeable at times. They add options, tweak the light and clean up the presentation to raise our expectations of their work. And often, they raise the price. Yes it makes them more money, but it also elevates what you expect from the product. This makes you more discerning, more demanding but also more appreciative. By presenting simple, beautiful, higher-priced options they are taking the guess work out of our decisions, and we pay more for that service.

We have hired them to make our decisions for us.

Plus you really do think the wine has a nutty aftertaste when the sommelier says it will. Your expectations guide your reality. When you expect the outcome your mind makes you think it’s true. In this article from Psychology Today, David DiSalvo explains this placebo effect. He explains that when a choice architect prices a bottle of wine at $50 and another at $10, we think the $50 bottle of wine tastes better, even if they are both the same wine. It’s a psychological nuance we all have. We anticipate value defined by, among other things, purchase price.

But wait, if we think the wine tastes better, doesn’t it actually taste better?

Your Reality

No one can take away the experience that the choice architect has given us of a better tasting wine, even if all she did was raise the price on the bottle. The wine does taste better, so she did us a favor. We hired her to make our choice for us, and in return she gave us better tasting wine.

It happens every day. We hire someone to help us make a better choice, and usually they do.

Unless you are waking out of the door in a specific store in my home town that has a round handle for pushing and a flat plate for pulling.

Opening Doors

For over 40 years now I have hired people to train my brain that round handles on doors are for pulling and flat plates on the same doors are for pushing. They have done a fabulous job making the decision to push or pull a door a simple transaction for me. For the last four decades I have not stopped at every door I encountered, examined the jam, looked for instructions and then made my choice. It has always been a simple event.

The choice architects in the door opening business have been very proficient and consistent in my life. So proficient that any hand-written sign on the door goes completely unnoticed by me as I confidently stride through a skill I have mastered thanks to the universal standards set forth by our choice architect friends who engineer the door experience.

There could be a flashing neon sign, with elephants doing cartwheels and dollar signs saying “don’t push this door!!” It would be overshadowed by the years of Pavlovian training my brain has been through. It surprises me that anyone would think that writing “Pull to choice architectureopen door” on a piece of paper would fix the problem of the wrong handled door.

The Language of Choice

In fact I would guess that most people of every race, creed and denomination speak the same door opening language as I do. In fact I know they do. I know they do because psychology says they do. I know they do because marketing 101 explains they do. And I know they do because when I could feel the color drain from my face as I slowly looked at the cashier, he smiled and said . . . it happens all the time.

I fired my first choice architect today.

If we want to have any influence with the people around us, we have to understand choice architecture. We must have a sense of how people make decisions. Writing a sign and sticking it to the door was purely a waste of time, nothing more. It was an exercise in futility because the sign never intercepted my conscious during the transaction, and I’m not the only one.

It Happens All the Time

The cashier said, “it happens all the time.” If it happens all the time, that means the sign isn’t working! The sign isn’t working because no one looks for directions before opening a door. This is choice architecture at it’s purest. The choice to pull or push open a door comes solely from the shape of the handle on the door, nothing else.

So when no one buys your product, listens to your talk or reads what you wrote, it isn’t because they are screwed up. It probably isn’t because your product, speech or writing is bad either. Often we lose influence because we get the architecture of the choice wrong.

If what you are offering is of any value to others, you owe it to them to understand choice architecture, even if all your are doing is helping them open a door the right way.

The Case for Disagreeableness; the “Turn the Other Cheek” Myth

Should people turn the other cheek? For the next 1000 words you will disagree with me.

In the sleepy little town of Snowflake, Arizona (you read it right; Snowflake, Arizona) a man named Joey molested a student in the locker room of the high school after a weights class. Just a few short months later, another man named Bryce walked into the local bank, stoleturn the other cheek $30,010.00 from the business in which he was a partner, after stealing a $10,516 trailer and forging the title into his name.

When both cases were reported, it was nearly impossible to persuade the appropriate leadership to take any action. The leadership in the company turned a blind eye to the theft of over $40,000 and the school leadership flatly refused to call the police on the molester.

Taking Action

When action was finally taken against both men, the townspeople were in an uproar . . . against the people who called the proper authorities! The calls were, “how could you send Joey to prison?” and, “don’t you know a lawsuit could ruin Bryce’s life?”

These anecdotes may portray the town as full of horrible thieves and morally bankrupt people, but it’s quite the opposite. The town is largely LDS, a branch of Christianity with some of the strictest rules concerning behavior this side of the Menonites and the Amish.

The town is full of very kind people who believe that honesty and truthfulness are next to Godliness. You would like visiting Snowflake. You would like it more if you knew someone there. A drive through the town reveals beautiful homes, clean streets and waving neighbors. The populous understands completely that molestation and theft are wrong. And yet these crimes went almost completely ignored. How did these good people see the accounts of these actions, and turn a blind eye?


The answer is disagreeableness. 

But not how you think.

Most psychologists categorize human personality into 5 factors. They are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. The acronym OCEAN is often used as a reminder. Kendra Cherry outlined what are called the Big 5 in her April 2018 article in verywellmind.com where she explains that each trait is a range, or spectrum. She says. . . 

pastedGraphic.png-It is important to note that each of the five personality factors represents a range between two extremes. For example, extraversion represents a continuum between extreme extraversion and extreme introversion. In the real world, most people lie somewhere in between the two polar ends of each dimension.-

Where a person lands within the range of each category tells us a lot about that person. I’m sure you can think of someone you know who is extremely introverted, and their counterpart who is the life of the party. Strictly based on those personality traits, I can quickly assess that your introverted friend is quieter than your extrovert amigo. They are also much more calm. These are the traits of those respective factors.


Then there is agreeableness. It sounds more like a positive personality trait rather than a spectrum. Shouldn’t we all want to rank as high as possible on the agreeable spectrum?

The answer is absolutely not. 

I’m sure you don’t agree with me at this moment. But after I describe the dimensions of agreeableness to you, you will be certain I am wrong.

Agreeableness encompasses attributes such as kindness, cooperation and trust. People who rank high on the agreeableness scale are said to care more about people other than themselves while their low-ranking counterparts are more competitive. They care less how others feel and have little trouble insulting those around them. 

So why would anyone want to be disagreeable? Why be the person who insults their peers?

Because it can be the kindest thing we do.

That’s Enough

Joey pinned down a younger, smaller, weaker student. Prior to the commencement of any felonies a very agreeable weights coach named Art walked onto the scene of the large, strong adult man holding down the younger student against his will and said, “that’s enough.” 

Then he left.

He abandoned the victim at the moment the victim needed him the most. Art was much too agreeable to intervene.

When the victim told his parents they immediately went to the school. Larry, the principle said, “that’s just boys being boys.” Larry was too agreeable to cause a ruckus.

Where Was The Principle?

The family went to the police who conducted an investigation and charged Joey with multiple felonies. The question from the investigator was, “Why did the parents have to call us? Where was the principle?” The answer, he was busy being agreeable.

When Hollace, the Superintendent was forced to take action against the coach who turned his back on the victim, he gave Art one day off before the Thanksgiving holiday. Hollace was just to agreeable to do much more.

turn the other cheekWhen the community came together to take a stand, the result was a group that raises money for the school. When pressed as to why they didn’t fight to have Art fired they said, “we don’t want to do anything negative.” The same school that let down one of their students, the same faculty that flatly refused to take action was rewarded by the community with proceeds from bake sales and car washes. The town was too agreeable to disrupt the status quo.

Leaving Town

The victim and his family left town. The harassment and vandalization they received from a few of Joeys friends went unpunished and was more than they cared to handle. The townspeople and their Christian beliefs were just to agreeable to stand up against the aggressors.

One of the characterizations of Christianity is described as turning the other cheek, a phrase borrowed from the Sermon on the Mount. It has been used to describe incredibly kind acts, like the kind treatment of POWs in Communist Korea. In largely Christian societies this act of agreeableness is highly regarded. But it is not something that is universally taught in the New Testament the way it is interpreted now. In Matthew 5:39, during the famed Sermon, Jesus says, “if a man strike you on the right cheek, turn to him the other as well.” 

Turn The Other Cheek

But the sermon is wrought with metaphor. In the same sermon Jesus said, “Ye are the salt of the earth,” and likened good works of men to light. It is not a section of the Bible that can be taken literally. Aquinas wrote the following regarding the turn the other cheek passage.

“To interpret the injunction of the Sermon on the Mount literally is to misunderstand it. This injunction signifies rather the readiness of the soul to bear, if it be necessary, such things and worse without bitterness to the attacker.” 

It has been explained that Jesus was not teaching Christians to lay down in the face of evil, rather to stand up to evil while resisting the urge to hate the evildoer. Turn the other cheek is not a charge to cowardice. It is a call for self-control while fighting evil. In my book SWAY, I laid out the influence of those on the autism spectrum (very convincingly I must say), but their influence does not come from weakness. It comes from strength in their convictions.


When Bryce stole over $40,000 he was mad at his business partner, John. The week prior Bryce insisted the company make his friend Scott a third partner. Bryce explained that he wasn’t comfortable moving forward without Scott as partial owner. John refused to bring Scott on. So Bryce asked the accountant, L’Erin how much money was in the account. She explained there was $35,000 but a $5000 bill was due, plus payroll for the week. 

Bryce, in his fit, explained to L’Erin he was cleaning out the account. He was putting all of the company money in his personal account and he would pay her from that account. L’Erin was just too agreeable to say no.

Unfortunately Bryce stole his partner John’s paycheck and did not give it back. Nor did he pay the crew that was working the week prior. Because that crew was John’s sons, who were filling in for Bryce and his sons while they were on vacation at the beach. Bryce stole the paychecks of his partner and his partners sons and L’Erin never made a peep, because that would be disagreeable.

Just A Reaction

Curt, the project manager also knew about the stolen money. Bryce paid him with a personal check as well. When asked why he didn’t say anything to anyone about what was happening, his answer was, “Oh, that was just Bryce’s reaction.” Curt was just to agreeable to make waves.

We value agreeableness. They guy who never says anything negative and the lady who always has a compliment hold a special place in our hearts, as they should. It is right and good that we value those behaviors. It is a heuristic we use to gauge each other. 

But we have to pay attention to context.

Turning the other cheek means standing up to wrong without hating the wrongdoer.

It is a lesson I am learning while I try to curtail my anger towards a man who assaulted my sons friend and another who stole my sons paychecks. I do not struggle with the standing up portion, it is the other part that is hard for me. I look forward to the day when I automatically get this right.

But today it is hard.

What It Takes

Agreeableness has a place, probably in most situations. But it takes a level of disagreeableness to make change. Steve Jobs was disagreeable enough to disrupt the idea of what a phone was. Gutenberg had enough disagreeableness to change how we record information. Disagreeableness is mandatory to force good onto evil. It took disagreeableness to fight for civil rights, stop the charge of Hitler and even for Jesus to fight against the evils of the first century.

So why would anyone want to be disagreeable?

Because in order to stop bad things, we have to stand up to bad things, which takes a level of disagreeableness. When Art was too agreeable to step in it was cruel, not kind. When L’Erin was too agreeable to stop or report theft it was a felony, not friendliness. 

Why be the person who insults their peers?

Because we have to call out wrong when we see it, and calling someone a thief or a child molester is an insult.

 Even when it’s true.

The Truth About Censorship


In 399 B. C. Socrates was tried by a jury of 500 for refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state and for corrupting the youth. 280 of the 500 Athenian jurors found him guilty. But censorship then was much harsher than today. 

They sentenced him to death. censorship

He was taken to a jail where the execution would be performed and the executioner would be himself. Athenian custom was that executions were performed by drinking a cup of hemlock. The following is Plato’s description of the ordered suicide of Socrates.

The Suicide of Socrates

-When Crito heard, he signaled to the slave who was standing by. The boy went out, and returned after a few moments with the man who was to administer the poison which he brought ready mixed in a cup. 

When Socrates saw him, he said, ‘Now, good sir, you understand these things. What must I do?’

‘Just drink it and walk around until your legs begin to feel heavy, then lie down. It will soon act.’ With that he offered Socrates the cup.

The latter took it quite cheerfully without a tremor, with no change of color or expression. He just gave the man his stolid look, and asked, ‘How say you, is it permissible to pledge this drink to anyone? May I?’

The answer came, ‘We allow reasonable time in which to drink it.’

Beyond The Grave

‘I understand’, he said, ‘we can and must pray to the gods that our sojourn on earth will continue happy beyond the grave. This is my prayer, and may it come to pass.’ With these words, he stoically drank the potion, quite readily and cheerfully. 

Up till this moment most of us were able with some decency to hold back our tears, but when we saw him drinking the poison to the last drop, we could restrain ourselves no longer. In spite of myself, the tears came in floods, so that I covered my face and wept – not for him, but at my own misfortune at losing such a man as my friend. Crito, even before me, rose and went out when he could check his tears no longer.

Steadily Weeping

Apollodorus was already steadily weeping, and by drying his eyes, crying again and sobbing, he affected everyone present except for Socrates himself.

He said, ‘You are strange fellows; what is wrong with you? I sent the women away for this very purpose, to stop their creating such a scene. I have heard that one should die in silence. So please be quiet and keep control of yourselves.’ These words made us ashamed, and we stopped crying.

Socrates walked around until he said that his legs were becoming heavy, when he lay on his back, as the attendant instructed. This fellow felt him, and then a moment later examined his feet and legs again. Squeezing a foot hard, he asked him if he felt anything. Socrates said that he did not. He did the same to his calves and, going higher, showed us that he was becoming cold and stiff. Then he felt him a last time and said that when the poison reached the heart he would be gone.

Don’t Forget

As the chill sensation got to his waist, Socrates uncovered his head (he had put something over it) and said his last words: ‘Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don’t forget.’

‘Of course’, said Crito. ‘Do you want to say anything else?’

There was no reply to this question, but after a while he gave a slight stir, and the attendant uncovered him and examined his eyes. Then Crito saw that he was dead, he closed his mouth and eyelids.

This was the end of our friend, the best, wisest and most upright man of any that I have ever known-


Today we live win a society that welcomes the free flow of ideas. Anyone can have a blog, speak about almost anything or teach on any subject they choose. Censorship today is nothing compared to the past. There is nothing stopping you from going out and having influence. Start now.