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Battle of the Hats

When Donald Trump ran for president he put his clear, simple message on the front of bright red hats. The message was perfect. The choice of a hat instead of a t-shirt or other garment was perfect. The color red was perfect for his message – bold, sexy, and important. The hats were a master class in branding and influence. Political historians will be referring to Trump’s hats for ages.

Compare that to the Million Woman March. They chose pink because – I assume – it is a bit of an ironic color for women who are fighting for their rights. Women are “owning” pink to rob it of its power to brand them as the so-called weaker sex. At least that’s why I assume they picked pink.

We’ve seen that kind of ownership-gambit work before. African-Americans successfully took over the N-word and robbed it of its historical power. Gays successfully turned the chant “We’re here, we’re queer. Get over it” into ownership of the Q-word.

We also saw Trump use a version of this ownership-gambit during the campaign. The media accused him of being a whiner and he responded by saying he was the loudest voice for change. Trump owned the accusation and weaponized it.

So we know this idea of embracing the insult and flipping it into a positive – or at least a neutral – is good persuasion. It works quite often. But let me tell about you one of the rare cases where you should NOT use that persuasion technique.

Don’t use it to own pink.

@ScottAdamsSays Totally respect the Women’s March for being a peaceful example of 1A rights. But this reframe of their branding is hilarious pic.twitter.com/cjofYC4ghO

— Carpe Donktum (@Carpedonktum)

January 24, 2017

Colors influence people directly and irrationally. Trump’s red hats spoke of power and certainty and sex. That’s what red gives you.

Pink gives you the opposite. Pink will lower aggression and make you want to cuddle with a kitten. That’s what the studies say. So pink is not a fighting/protesting color if you want to keep the base energized.

I’m also having a hard time figuring out what the pink-hat people are protesting about that they don’t already have. I understand that abortion is in the mix. But the hats seem to have some sort of generic anti-Trump message that to my mind is conflated with an anti-alpha-male vibe. It’s a confusing message and not completely positive. 

Compare that to Make America Great Again. Simple, universal, and memorable.

Now let’s talk about the shape of the hats. I understand that the hats are supposed to evoke cat ears, as in pussycat, as in female genitalia. But it also looks exactly like the sort of hat this guy would wear:

image

That’s not ideal.

If the movement was designed to generate sympathy, it worked. I feel sorry for the men marching in those hats. On a symbolic level, that’s as close as you can get to eunuch status. The science would say that those men did not go home and have amazing sex that night. On average.

Philosophically, I’m in close agreement with the protestors in the pink hats. I like equal rights in all its forms and I think women should have the best healthcare they can get. I also think men should sideline themselves on questions of abortion and reproductive rights. Women take the major physical burden of reproduction and I think society is most stable when women take the lead in crafting those laws. I see my best role in society as agreeing with whatever women collectively want in the reproduction health realm. (As opposed to the money realm, which is separate.) My opinion would add no intelligence and no credibility to the outcome.

I mention all of that so you know my analysis of the hats is separate from my political preferences. On a persuasion level, Trump’s hats were a base-clearing home run. But the pink hats are emasculating for men (literally and chemically) and that’s not the unifying message that I assume the organizers planned.

The choice of pink hats predicts that the movement will fizzle out in time (probably months). The color alone is powerful enough to drain the movement of energy over time.

Color matters when it comes to branding. You already knew that. What you probably didn’t know is how much it mattered. I’d put color toward the top of the persuasion stack because we are visual creatures and color is the main thing we see.

When Trump came up with his red hat idea he was operating in the persuasion and branding dimension. And he nailed it.

When the pink hat organizers decided on their branding, they appear to have been operating on what I call the word-thinking level. As I mentioned earlier, the hats are literally a pun about cats and vaginas. That’s too conceptual to persuade. Just because the words fit together in a clever way, that doesn’t make it persuasive. And if you plan to take ownership of an insult, make sure the insult is strong. The N-word was a strong insult. The Q-word was weapons-grade too. Trump turned “whiner” into the strongest voice for change, which is also strong. If your enemy has a strong weapon, it makes sense to grab that weapon and use it for defense.

But if someone associates you with a weak color, such as pink, and the science says the color influences people toward weakness, don’t take that as your brand. Run away from pink unless you are trying to persuade people to drink some herbal tea and take a nap.

If you are the new President of the United States, and you see hundreds-of-thousands of protesters marching in the streets, what do you do? Well, in most cases you would treat that as the nation’s top priority. You don’t want it to escalate to social collapse. I can think of only one scenario in which such a large and vocal movement should be ignored until they run out of steam. That rare situation is when the protesters all wear pink hats. You can pretty much ignore that movement. It will fizzle out on its own. Unless they get better hats.

You might want to try the WhenHub app or Studio because people keep telling me how much they love them.

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Books That Have Timers (by design)

I’ve written three books that have what I call “timers” in the design. And by that I mean I intentionally wrote them before the public was ready to read them, with the expectation that someday they would be ready. That day seems to have arrived. Here’s why.

God’s Debris: Atheism is at an all-time high in the United States. People are looking for a new way to understand their reality that can include both God and science without conflict. I wrote this book in 2001. The book’s time is now. 

The Religion War: This book imagines a future in which a Caliphate is formed in the Middle East and the terrorist weapon of choice is small drones. ISIS is weaponizing small drones now. I wrote this book in 2004. I figured we would be in this position about now.

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: If you are puzzled by the irrationality of humans, especially in an election year, this book can help sort it out. I introduce the concept of humans as Moist Robots, a first step to understanding The Persuasion Filter that accurately predicted Trump’s win more than a year before it happened.

To better understand the idea of a timer, notice how reviews for How to Fail have gone from very good to spectacular in three years. The big idea I introduce in the book, about using systems instead of goals, has seeped into the public consciousness and now you see it all over the place. (Usually without attribution.) You’re also seeing the Talent Stack idea all over. Now that people have been primed, the reviews are showing a different kind of appreciation for the material compared to when it first came out. When the book was published, the ideas were too much of a brain-stretch for some people. That has changed in three years. (I can be persuasive. And patient.)

I don’t write all of my books with timers. My biggest seller – The Dilbert Principle – was written to reflect the current times in the mid-90s, and people bought it for that reason. They related to it immediately. 

The book I’m writing now will also be written without a timer. The new one comes out in October. It’s about the Persuasion Filter, with lots of lessons on persuasion wrapped around my experience of predicting the election. 

Anyway, the point of this blog (aside from mentioning my books) is that a writer has to pick a target “time” for a book. Sometimes you know the public is not ready. Sometimes you are trying to match their current mood. It is important to decide which way you are trying to go.

If you’re a new writer, write for the current market, and the current public consciousness. That’s where the money is. I was already a successful writer before publishing God’s Debris and the other two books that have timers. Don’t write books with timers if you have no mechanism to get them noticed later. First, get famous by telling people what they are ready to hear because they already think it is true. They just want to see you explain it better than they are thinking it. Hypnotists call that pacing (matching the subject in any way). Later, when people believe you think and feel the same way they do, you can lead.

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A Look Back at My Trump Predictions

Many of you asked me to provide a quick index to my Trump-only blog posts. I did that for you here in a Whencast. Feel free to share on social media or embed in your own blog. My updates to this will flow automatically to wherever it is shared.To expan…

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Listen to Me on The Harvard Lunch Club Podcast

I’m putting together the studio equipment I need to do my own podcasting and livestreaming. But in the meantime you can hear me on the Harvard Lunch Club podcast.

Several people have asked why I’m trying to do my own engineering for my podcasting studio. I could hire someone who knows how to do this stuff and be done with it tomorrow, as opposed to my current process that has taken months and had lots of failed starts. I’m doing it this way to augment what I call my Talent Stack. Every time I add a new talent to my existing inventory it makes me more valuable. I’m an autodidact, so I enjoy figuring out new stuff on my own, even if it takes far longer. I remember it better that way.

When I’m done building out my podcast studio in my home I will have learned a lot about proper audio, lighting, and video streaming. And that means someday I will be in a position to know if one of my future ideas – or someone else’s idea in this realm – is feasible or not. Every talent you add to your stack allows you to see farther into the future.

How did I predict that Trump would win when most others thought it impossible? That’s because my talent stack includes hypnosis, persuasion, branding, and business strategy. I could see Trump’s potential in ways that others could not.

Likewise, my new knowledge of video streaming, lighting, and audio capture are likely to inform lots of my future projects. I’ll know ahead of time what kinds of ideas are easy to execute and which ones are not. It will be like seeing into the future a little bit farther than people who don’t have those same skills.

And what about all of of the minor celebrities of my kind who would like to do podcasting but can’t figure out the equipment side of it? I won’t be competing against them for attention. My Talent Stack will give me an advantage. Every talent you acquire makes you unique. If you pick the right combination of talents you can be both unique and economically valuable. And you can see into the future.

I’m hearing from people who have augmented their Talent Stacks after reading my book. Strategy-wise, that is probably the single most important thing you can do for your career.

If I seem extra busy this month it’s because I’m writing a book, working on my startup that just launched, and building a podcasting studio on top of my normal workload.

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Could a Climate Science Expert Change Your Opinion?

It seems to me that the big problem with the climate change debate is that no one would recognize a good argument if they saw one. We only think we have the ability to recognize a good argument. What actually happens is that cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias generally keep a wall between us and reality. We live in our own little movies in our heads while being sure everyone else is watching the same movie. They aren’t.

Here’s a thought experiment:

Let’s say you are new to the debate about climate change and I put you in a room with the most well-informed climate scientist in the world. The scientist spends as much time with you as you want, answering every question and making her case that climate change is a human-caused disaster in the making. Let’s say this scientists is also the best communicator in the world, unlike most scientists. So now you have the best information, from the most knowledgeable person in the world on this topic, communicated in the best possible way, and answering all of your questions. Would you be persuaded by all of that credibility and good communication?

We know that a die-hard climate change skeptic would not be persuaded by this excellent source of information because humans rarely change their minds about important things. Instead we hallucinate reasons for why we were right all along. But in my thought experiment I said you are new to the climate change debate. So let’s assume you came to it without bias. Would you be convinced by the scientist?

Probably yes. If your first introduction to a topic involved a clear and detailed explanation from the top expert in the world, you would probably be persuaded because there is nothing stopping that persuasion from happening. You have no bias to overcome and the scientist is both credible and clear in her message. 

The unbiased mind is likely to be totally convinced in this thought experiment. And that mind would also think it had engaged in rational behavior. After all, what could be more rational than getting the best information on a topic, from the best expert in the world, communicated in the clearest possible way?

But your new certainty about climate change would be a fraud that you perpetrated on yourself. If you don’t yet see in my thought experiment why the best information from the best source is still unreliable, even when clearly communicated, you probably don’t understand enough about the world to participate in decision-making.

I’ll simplify this even further so you can test your hallucination. Here’s the summary of the situation. Tell me why you should not automatically trust the scientist in this thought experiment. Assume the following three things ARE true. What’s missing?

  • Best expert in the world on Climate Science.
  • Currently works in the field.
  • Great communicator, answers all of your questions.
  • See what’s missing yet?

    The thing that is missing is that you can’t know what the expert didn’t tell you. If you are not an expert in the field yourself, how could you possibly know what has been left out?

    You also don’t know if the scientist is suffering from cognitive dissonance. It would look exactly the same to you. And cognitive dissonance is common to all humans, including scientists.

    But wait, you say. The whole point of science is that the scientific process controls for human bias. The peer review process scrubs away bias over time, and climate science has been around for long enough that lots of scrubbing has happened. The peer-reviewed science is heavily on the side of temperatures being influenced by CO2 in a potentially disastrous way. If you believe in science, shouldn’t that tell you all you need to know?

    Well, it might. Except for the fact that prediction models are not actually science. Correct me if I am wrong (and that is likely in this case) but it seems to me that the prediction models are just tools that scientists use. They are not derived from the highly-credible scientific method any more than stock-picking models are. And stock-picking models generally don’t work over time even though they are great at hindcasting (predicting the past, basically).

    How about political forecast models? Those aren’t science either. And we observed in the recent presidential election that they performed worse than “cartoonist has an opinion.” Yet political models perform great in hindcasts.

    I’m also confused by the fact that apparently there is more than one climate model that gets the “right” answer for climate scientists. Shouldn’t there only be one? Why wouldn’t science pick the best one and call it a day? And if they can’t agree on which one is best, what does that tell us?

    My position on climate change is that BOTH sides of the debate are completely credible to the people already on their side, thanks to confirmation bias. But that’s where the persuasion ends. Neither side has the tools or talent to sell their beliefs to the other side in any wholesale way. 

    Imagine putting the leading expert from both sides on a TV show or a podcast with an objective moderator who is trying to get to the truth for viewers. Would that work? I doubt it. It would look like this:

    Moderator: Explain why your side is right.

    Expert 1: Look at my chart here.

    Expert 2: That chart is wrong. You forgot to include the (whatever).

    Expert 1: It wouldn’t make any difference.

    Expert 2: Yes it would.

    Moderator: Okay,  I guess we’re done here.

    If you are frustrated with the people who are on the other side of the debate, no matter which side that is, I think you should give them some slack. There is no way for this sort of information to be credibly conveyed to human beings. And the problem is not always on the receiving end. 

    That said, I’ve ordered some new studio equipment for doing podcasts and live streaming. If I can figure out how to make it all work (which is harder than it seems) I’ll bring on some guests to show you how they fail to communicate this topic to me. We won’t learn anything about climate science but you might enjoy watching me dismantle both sides.

    You might find great value in using WhenHub (my startup) because I keep mentioning it in my blog.

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    The Plan for Immortality

    As part of my long-term strategy to achieve immortality, I’m building a permanent digital record of my life online. Someday there will be enough video, audio, biographical, and linguistic information about me to recreate me in software form. Maybe that future software will take into account my DNA too. Eventually there will be enough of a record of my life for future software programmers to recreate my voice, my preferences, my priorities, my thought processes, and even the way I move.

    You might think I am not serious. But I totally am. The odds that I will someday be resurrected in software are probably close to 100% because the technology will no doubt exist and I’ll have the most complete digital record available for the researchers to experiment with. Or one of the most.

    I plan to keep updating this biography to fill in details as I go. This is just one of a thousand things you can do with WhenHub.

    This looks best if you expand the window to fullscreen by clicking the icon in the lower right of the Whencast. (It won’t be awesome on your phone.)

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    Sorry I can’t comment on my own stupid blog

    I can’t comment on my own blog. Disqus requires me to verify my email and never emails me the verification email. (Yes, I do know what a spam folder is.)

    That’s why I turned off blog contents last time. Disqus is so bad that I could never leave a comment or moderate properly without a struggle. I’ll look into replacing it.

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    A Startup with the Risk Profile of an Incubator? (A WhenHub Post)

    Note: If you’re a business model nerd like me, this post is likely to interest you despite the fact that it also involves a transparent promotion for my startup. However, if the normal mechanisms of capitalism feel icky to you, I understand. Feel free to skip this one. But I promise it is interesting.

    The big problem with startups is that most of them fail. Still, lots of people are willing to take that risk because the upside potential is so high. Also, failing makes your odds of succeeding with the next startup much higher. It turns out that failure is an excellent teacher. But any way you look at it, startups are risky business.

    Startup incubators reduce their risk by pooling a bunch of startups together and hoping that at least one is a big winner that pays for all the losers. This is similar to the concept of investing in an index fund instead of picking individual stocks. Diversification is a great way to spread risk, but the tradeoff is that the upside potential is watered down by the losers in the pack.

    In a perfect world you would have the upside potential of a startup with the risk profile of an incubator. The closest anyone gets to that perfect world is an initial product and a few pivots before running out of cash. A three-pivot startup is like a mini-incubator in itself. It takes three separate swings at the ball and hopes at least one of them connects. But three swings is not many when you consider how often startups fail. Is there a business model that does better?

    I hope so, because my startup WhenHub is designed from the ground up to be similar to the risk profile of an incubator but in the form of a single startup. We accomplish that by creating useful products that have universal appeal across thousands of different applications. If the public gets excited about any one of those thousands of applications, we probably have a way to monetize. 

    Our startup’s domain is time, including any kind of schedule, historical timeline, curriculum, itinerary, you name it. We take those “stories” of time and turn them into interactive visualizations you can share. That means literally every human over the age of 12 has dozens of potential uses for what we do. It’s good for families, businesses, schools, and any other kind of organization. 

    We like to compare WhenHub to office applications such as Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the Google equivalents. If you ask me who the target market is for any of those applications, I would say the question makes no sense. People of all types use those products for thousands of distinct reasons. WhenHub is like that, by design. 

    Obviously we can’t completely match the risk profile of an incubator because we have one team of people, and ideally you want to diversify both the people and the products to get the best risk control. But our team has happily worked together for a long time, no drama, and that’s all good news. I don’t see that changing unless the people change. And we all seem happy at the moment. (Thrilled, actually. This phase is the most fun.)

    WhenHub is both a Studio product that you access with your web browser plus an app that does real-time travel visualizations. Both parts of WhenHub are designed to have thousands of potential uses. 

    Before designing WhenHub we met in person with some of the smartest investors in the startup world. One well-known billionaire told us he only likes startups that have the so-called network effect, and so we designed to that. WhenHub gets more valuable as more people use it, and it is hard to leave once you are in it. (Like Facebook, for example.)

    One of the most successful angel investors in the country told us he likes startups that can grow without advertising, so we designed to that standard too. Our “time stories” piggyback on any headline that is already viral and we add visual appeal to make sharing attractive. For example, at the end of this post is a Whencast of the NFL Playoff season. (Sports schedules are a tiny part of what we do.)

    Another famous investor told me he doesn’t like to invest in anything that a teen wouldn’t use. The WhenHub app is perfect for teens heading to casual meet-ups. And the we expect schools to be big adopters of the WhenHub scheduling features. So teens will be all over it, we hope, once we get their attention. And their parents and teachers will do that for us. The Network Effect will drag them in.

    We’ll be looking for several million in funding in the next month or so. If you are a qualified investor and you want a sneak-peak at the pitch deck, you can contact me at Investor@WhenHub.com. We like advice too. 

    Business reporters are welcome to use the same email if you want to hear more about our business model.

    Here’s an example of how WhenHub piggybacks on current events that the public already cares about. This example is the NFL playoff schedule, but it could be any current event. You can add the schedule to your own calendar, or share with others via email, or on social media, and we will keep it updated throughout the playoffs. You can even embed it in your blog with a copy-paste to HTML, like I did below.

    This map-style visualization is one of many options. click the icon in the lower right corner to see full screen. 

    image

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    The Master Persuader Scrambles the Frame

    What was Trump’s biggest persuasion problem in the election? 

    Answer: His opponents did a great job of framing him as some kind of Hitler. Do a Google search on Trump and Hitler and you get an avalanche of comparisons. 

    It was sticky persuasion, and it still hangs over the country like a chorus of stale farts. I’ve said before that half the country believe they are living in 1930s Germany and the other half think we got a better economy and some free entertainment. Those are two completely different movies running on the same screen at the same time. So how does the Master Persuader deal with the second-largest case of national cognitive dissonance in our history? (Slavery was first.)

    Ignoring the Hitler branding from the other side won’t work. It’s too sticky.

    Denying the Hitler branding won’t work either. That would just make people debate the details and harden the association by reputation. In the 3rd dimension, where persuasion matters and facts do not, brains recognize “Bob is totally NOT like Hitler” as “Somehow Bob and Hitler are connected.” So denying doesn’t work. Not even a little.

    What’s left? You can’t ignore it and you can’t deny it. There’s no solution, right?

    Well, there’s no solution if you operate in the 2nd dimension. That dimension is out of ammo. But the 3rd dimension is not. A Master Persuader neither ignores nor denies. 

    He plays offense and scrambles their frame. 

    But he had to wait for the right time and the right opportunity. That opportunity came to him in the form of an intelligence meeting leak and some fake news. Here’s how the Master Persuader played it:

    Trump Tweeted: 

    Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to “leak” into the public. One last shot at me.Are we living in Nazi Germany?

    — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2017

    How do I know this was calculated and not just a Godwin’s Law universal reference to Hitler? Because he played it exactly the way I would have done it. And I have a similar skill set in persuasion. This was the only play that can work. It won’t solve for the Hitler branding the other side put on him, but it’s a start.

    Update: Now this…

    President-elect Trump calls for an apology on the Russia report: “That’s something that Nazi Germany would’ve done and did to.” pic.twitter.com/qYi4m4G7st

    — Fox News (@FoxNews) January 11, 2017

    You might enjoy using my start-up’s app, WhenHub, because it makes you happy to know exactly when your friends and family will arrive. I’m hearing great things about it from users. Feel free to get some free happiness for youself by downloading the free app.

    image

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    OCD and Creativity

    The other day I was wondering about the relationship between OCD and creativity. People with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) have thoughts that they can’t get out of their heads. But creativity is the opposite of obsessing over a single idea, at least the way I experience it. 

    For me, creativity is a process by which I rapidly FORGET the thought that is currently in my head so a new one will fill the space. Your brain isn’t good at thinking of nothing, so when you eject your current thought, another rushes in to take its place. If you flush-and-replace enough thoughts in a row, you have experienced creativity. And if any of those new thoughts made your body respond with a laugh, a sigh, or chills, or anything else physical – you might have created art. I think of creativity as a system of cycling through ideas until one of them “moves” me, literally. If an idea doesn’t create some sort of physical change in my body, I rapidly reject it and move to the next thought.

    The reason I am curious about OCD and it’s relationship to creativity is that I wonder if OCD sufferers could sometimes hack their brains by using creativity to crowd out the OCD. Your brain isn’t good at having more than one thought at the same time. And it also isn’t good at flushing your current thoughts when you have OCD. So instead of trying to actively lose an obsessive thought – which is nearly impossible for someone with OCD – perhaps it would be more helpful to try to solve a creative problem that automatically activates the imagination circuitry of your brain. If I’m right, trying to solve a creative problem would be more effective as a distraction for OCD sufferers than any other kind of mental distraction.

    I Googled “OCD and creativity” to see what the science says. One study suggests that OCD sufferers are far more likely to “rely heavily on their imagination” compared to non-OCD people. The researchers concluded that this correlation might mean that having an extra-strong imagination is a necessary condition for OCD. And they might be right.

    But consider another explanation for the correlation between imagination and OCD. Could it be that OCD sufferers use their imaginations more often than others because doing so is an escape from the OCD? And could it be that continued use of the imagination makes you better at it?

    Humans can change the physical composition of their brains by choosing what they spend their time doing. Musicians strengthen one part of the brain and athletes strengthen another. I have to assume that continuous use of your visual imagination also changes the brain over time. And the more you practice something, the better you get. So if OCD sufferers have been self-hacking their brains by using their imaginations to avoid compulsive thoughts, you would expect them to have more vivid imaginations than the public because of all the practice.

    For the first 30 years or so of my life I had obsessive thoughts about childhood traumas. Whenever my brain was under-occupied, it drifted to those horrors. When the bad thoughts came, my only defense was to crowd them out with stronger and better thoughts. So I used my imagination to create little movies in my head that were so engaging that my mind had no choice but to focus on them.

    Is it a coincidence that my imagination is so strong now that I make my living using it? I don’t know. It feels as if I was born with a good imagination, but it also feels as if I exercised it more than other people. Lots and lots and lots more. And it also feels to me that my powers of imagination have gotten stronger every day of my life because of practice. 

    You should never take health advice from cartoonists. This is no exception. But I would be interested to hear from any OCD sufferers as to whether they use imagination to escape obsessive thoughts. And if not, why not?

    My startup’s app, WhenHub, is solving an irritating problem for divorced parents that share custody of the kids. The last person in the world that a divorced person wants to communicate with is an ex. The WhenHub app eliminates all of the angry “Where are you???” texts and phone calls that inevitably happen when one is late dropping off or picking up the kids. And you know one of the parents is always late. The geostreaming automatically times-out whenever you want so exes can’t track each other after the kid exchange.

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    How To Know Your Product Will Succeed

    People often ask me if it is possible to use the tools of persuasion to predict which types of products or businesses will succeed. I’ll tell you a trick for doing just that. But keep in mind that this is NOT backed by any studies or science as far as I know. This is based on my experience alone, and it is subject to all the usual biases. I recommend looking for the pattern I’m about to describe in your own life to see how often it predicts winners. You might be surprised how well it works.

    I’ve started dozens of businesses if you count the ones that died before they even got named. And that experience has given me a fairly reliable pattern for predicting which types of products will succeed. At least I hope it is reliable. So far it has been spot-on. The pattern is this:

    Look for unexpected positive physical action from potential customers.

    I’ll have to give you several examples before you can see what I mean. 

    When Dilbert first appeared in newspapers in 1989 it was not a success. It appeared in fewer than a hundred newspapers and didn’t grow much for the first several years. With syndicated comic strips, that sort of slow uptake and modest demand almost always predicts a slow decline to failure. My syndication company at the time (United Media) moved their marketing focus to newer comics and left me to fend on my own.

    And fend I did. I started running my email address between the panels of the comic. This was when email was still so new that most people didn’t even have it. My inbox exploded. The number of people sending me email was far beyond what made sense for a failing newspaper comic. The email response was unexpected, and it required physical action from the sender. As you probably know, Dilbert went on to be one of the biggest comic properties in history.

    As Dilbert grew in popularity, people started emailing to say they were sorting my comics into themes and using photocopies and glue to create their own physical books with chapters for each topic. Literally dozens of people emailed to say they were doing this exact thing. They said they would love to buy a book of this type from me if I also added some text to go with the comics. This type of reaction was unexpected and it required physical action. I designed my first non-fiction book, The Dilbert Principle, exactly the way the fans asked me to do it. The book went on to become a number one New York Times best-seller.

    After I got rich with Dilbert, I decided to create a business that would benefit the world so I could give something back and be a good citizen. I thought I could engineer a food product that was convenient and tasty and had all the nutrients one would need for the entire day. I invested millions and worked on the product for years. It was called the Dilberto, a frozen burrito brimming with vitamins, minerals, protein and complex carbs. Lots of people said it was a good idea. Some even said they loved the product. 

    But no one ever did anything unexpected and physical. They just bought the product and ate it, as expected. And not often enough. It never took off. Eventually I closed the business.

    I experienced a similar reaction to my earlier start-up, Calendartree.com. The product solved an important problem in scheduling, and thousands are using it today. But no one did anything unexpected and physical because of it. They just used it the way we expected. But not often enough for us to someday monetize it.

    More recently I co-founded WhenHub.com. It does everything CalendarTree does but it is an order of magnitude larger in scope and features. WhenHub is a way to create and share interactive visualizations of any events over time. And the related WhenHub app is like the Uber app without the Uber car – a way to watch people approach a meeting on a map. WhenHub is already generating unexpected and physical action. Specifically, people I have never met have been contacting me via social media and asking if they can invest.

    That doesn’t happen for most startups. It certainly didn’t happen with CalendarTree. This sort of reaction is unexpected and it requires physical action to contact me. We have also been contacted by companies that want us to add some feature so they can use it internally. That’s not normal either. Based on the initial public reactions that are both unexpected and physical, WhenHub should succeed.

    I’ve also started a new book that will tell the story of how I used persuasion techniques to be the most accurate political pundit of the last election. At least a hundred people have asked me to write a book of that type. That type of reaction hasn’t happened since i wrote The Dilbert Principle. This too is a good sign. (My 2017 is looking great.)

    The reason I call this a persuasion-related prediction is that it doesn’t involve facts or reason. Prediction-wise, I don’t care if someone thinks my product is both useful and a good value. I’m happy about that, but it doesn’t predict anything. I need to see people doing things that are so unexpected that it borders on irrational. That’s a good indicator. Facts and reason are not.

    But enough about me. Let’s talk about you. If you are involved in some sort of new product or business, ask yourself how people are already reacting to it. If all they are doing is complimenting you on your idea, or perhaps sharing some links on social media, that doesn’t predict success. But if people are asking to bring a friend to see your product, or offering to invest, or using the product in some new and unexpected way, you might have something there. Look for the unexpected and physical reactions to predict your product’s fate.

    My book that talks about this topic in one chapter is here.

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    WhenHub: Movies Coming in 2017

    Here’s one of the billion of things you can do with WhenHub, the startup I co-founded. It’s available now. Free. Anyone can use it to make shareable visualizations for any kind of timeline, schedule, or series of events over time.

    This visualization works well for movies. But for other types of data you might want to use one of these looks. (Or build your own with our API, coming soon.)

    We also have the WhenHub app that is like the Uber app but without the Uber car. See your friends approach a meeting spot on a map. The app automatically times-out for privacy.

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