If you only listen to one episode of Seeking Wisdom, this should be it. Why? Because this lesson is essential to understanding, well – everything. Here, DC and Adam dive into psychology – the science of how and why we make decisions. Together they unlock how to gain influence, how to persuade, how to avoid past mistakes, and so much more.
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Essential reading/listening for this episode:
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- Human Misjudgment (a talk by Charlie Munger)
Like this episode? Be sure to leave a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends. You can connect with DC and his co-host, Adam Schoenfeld, on Twitter @dcancel @schoeny
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David Cancel: We’re back. Seeking Wisdom is back better than ever. The universe is only six star podcasts here with the young nephew, Adam Schoenfeld, otherwise aka known as the young and the last Jedi. Adam, what are we talking about today?
Adam Schoenfeld: Today we’re going forward in what you wish you knew when you were younger and this one’s on psychology and you say, study it and restudy it. You’ve got a lot to stay on psychology.
David Cancel: An endless amount on psychology, boom. But let’s go all the way back in time. There was a point in time, not too long ago, that it didn’t care about psychology. I didn’t know anything about psychology aside from the few classes that I took in college, and I really didn’t understand the importance of it. But back then I was the young DC, youngest Jedi. I really came from a background that was focused on building products, being an engineer, being super logical and ones and zeros so I didn’t really understand a couple of things. I didn’t understand the importance of people. Now, I always say it’s 99% people and 1% everything else, 1% being the product, the process to go to market the strategy or that kind of stuff, because it’s the people part that’s actually the difficult part and the part that continues to evolve and continues to get and become more and more difficult over time as you scale because there’s the human dimension.
David Cancel: It took me a long time to figure that out and I stumbled my way into it and really came from wanting to understand marketing. Even though I had built marketing and sales software for a long time and had a lot of empathy for marketers and appreciated marketing in all its different aspects, I didn’t really know the essence of marketing. Why things worked? How did you get someone interested in the thing that you were talking about? How did you get someone’s attention? How did you hold someone’s attention? How did you lead them in whatever direction that you were trying to lead them in further down kind of the life cycle of that relationship?
David Cancel: So I started by first trying to zoom all the way out and not focus on the tips, the tactics, the techniques, but to focus on that question of how do you gain someone’s influence?
David Cancel: How do you influence someone? How do you get your message across? I had read a Cialdini’s book, Influence. Influence talked about cognitive biases, and that was eye opening thing for me so it blew my mind. That was kind of I took the pill and I entered The Matrix at that point. For those people old enough, Adam might not be old enough to know what The Matrix is, but some of us have watched The Matrix. I began that journey and understanding cognitive biases, starting to study that led me towards then really geeking out on social psychology and psychology in general, and then into human decision-making and all these three areas, obviously all related, but it really fundamentally is how do we make decisions as humans? What are the things that influenced that? And what are the traps that we fall into over and over again as humans?
Adam Schoenfeld: What is some of the things that were surprising as you dug in down that path from cognitive bias into social psychology? What broke your existing mental models or changed the way that you think or act?
David Cancel: Well, for me personally, it was that we are emotional creatures, right? That’s no surprise to most people, but to someone like me of my personality type, my personality type would be compared to Spock from Star Trek. I’m very logical, very robotic in some ways my EQ can be, and I’ve worked on it so that I can fake it at this point but my EQ is not naturally very high. So someone’s taking into account someone’s feelings, even my own is very hard for me. It’s not natural for me. It’s not a natural thing so I like to think about things in a very logical rational way.
David Cancel: Getting past that and getting to this point of understanding that most people aren’t like me and no matter how rational and spark I may think, I, too, am an emotional creature and I am making mistakes and I’m making decisions based on emotional cues and emotional biases that I may have. Really cracking through that, I almost thought I was impenetrable. I almost thought that I was too robotic, that everything was perfectly logical and how I made my own decisions. Of course, I infer that or wanted that to be true for everyone else that wasn’t true. So that really mind blowing for me.
Adam Schoenfeld: That’s so funny to me because nowadays when you’re in meetings with, let’s say, Amaria or Will Collins and me, and we’ll try to make everything logical. You’re like, “Don’t forget, this is all about emotion.” So now you’ve almost flipped where you’re playing that other role, at least inside Drift. So that’s interesting for me to hear.
David Cancel: I flipped so hard to the other side, but remember I’m so logical and rational debt for me to flip all the way to the other side is probably still not that emotional. It’s still probably not that high of an EQ, but I have to overcompensate because I’m so weak in that area. But now I start everything from that lens not only because I understand the importance of it, but it’s really because I understand that’s where all the decision-making really comes from. That’s how we make decisions. No matter what we try to convince ourselves, what I tried to convince myself up, this is how we make decisions. So we have to start there first and then work our towards more rational, logical part. The rational logical systematic approach is actually the easiest part, even though we’d like to spend time there, like to geek out there and it’s mentally stimulating to spend time there.
David Cancel: I like it as much as anyone, but that’s actually the easy part. The hard part is this emotional part and understanding that the different types of emotions that may play into a decision and appealing to those or not appealing to them, or we’re just at least understanding what they are before you can appeal or control, you have to understand it. Before you have mastery of something, you have to first understand and recognize and be able to identify when you see it.
David Cancel: I think that has been super difficult for me, but it has blown my mind now. And I think about everything in those terms. I wish I would’ve spent, this is what I’m telling my younger self, any young Jedi out there in training spend a lot of time here, right? If I could prescribe one thing for anyone, really understand this id, no matter what you do. You don’t have to be entrepreneurial. You don’t have to be a manager. You don’t want to have to ever manage people. You only want to have anything that we normally talk about here.
David Cancel: You don’t need to want any of those things professionally, but to understand how people make decisions, how your decisions are made and how to stop yourself from repeating mistakes or being led down the wrong path, super important. So I would really prescribe this for everyone. If my daughter is listening and she’s 15, this is the one thing that I would prescribe to her from this podcast to really spend time on.
Adam Schoenfeld: I’ve seen you in action and doing this ad drift and how we make decisions about what products we build, how we position, how we price everything, how we go to market…
David Cancel: Even internal announcements or internal ways that we talk about things I kind of crazy on language, on what it means and how those things can be taken by someone who would be receiving that language. So I zoom in a lot on that. I’m very particular about that. Not only in the copy of the external stuff that we do, but the internal ways that we talk about things and trying to put myself in the shoes of the different types of personalities that may be receiving that language, that message.
Adam Schoenfeld: Can you talk about what your process looks like in bringing this to the forefront and you’re evaluating your own decision-making or recognizing your own biases, your own tendencies, or is there like a good example of where now that you understand psychology it’s helped you work through a decision or think more effectively, I guess, and not fall into these traps?
David Cancel: I definitely still fall into these traps. So when that say, I don’t fall into these traps, I think I fall into these traps quicker. I think the biggest thing that’s changed is I’m quicker to recognize when I’ve fallen in the trap. So that doesn’t mean that I avoided the trap in the first place, but I’m quicker to see that I fall into this trap. Luckily in some cases, these decisions are reversible and some of them they’re not, but like I can see it happening more and more. I think it’s a thing where I have to continue to do it over time. I don’t know if it ever will become a habit that helps me totally avoid things, but there’s going to be some subset of decisions that I make that I can recognize that I’ve fallen into the trap again.
David Cancel: I think I’ve created approaches or guardrails or things that I do to try to avoid that. One I’ve spoken about in the past, which is to try to sleep on things and not react immediately to things that naturally works for me anyway, because I’m a processor, I need to process things, but it goes beyond that. It also is a check that I’m trying to put in place to cause me not to immediately fall into a bias or to react in a certain way because of the way that I might be feeling or the interaction that I might be having with someone or the attention that there is, or non intention that there might be. But in this to fall into bias or to fall into kind of social kind of trap there, I tend to try to zoom out of these things, try to give myself time to actually process it so that I can at least try to hopefully avoid some of those traps and not reflect to them.
Adam Schoenfeld: I think I heard Danny Conoman interviewed and he was asked if he’s even good at avoiding bias after all the work he’s done. He said, “No.” He said, “No.”
David Cancel: I don’t think anyone is.
Adam Schoenfeld: Maybe we’re all doomed to some extent.
David Cancel: That’s the case in point of just that was the thing that blew my mind. We are emotional at the end of the day, no matter if you wrote the book and a kind of men wrote the book that I recommend a lot thinking fast and slow, but it’s usually too hard for people to read, but it’s a great book. But even he, the authority on the great book in human decision-making, cannot avoid these traps. I think the best that you can hope for is to recognize when you are in a trap and to try to pull yourself out of that or reverse yourself out.
Adam Schoenfeld: Right. But to your point, if you don’t study it or understand it, even at a basic level, then you’re dead on arrival, right? I mean, if the guy who knows everything, can’t avoid it entirely.
David Cancel: Not only will you fall into the traps to your point, but you will be controlled by them. That’s the thing that I’m trying to avoid. It’s not so much whether or not I fall into one of my own traps or biases, but that they control me then that they consume me and that I can have no control or understanding of them. That is the thing that I’m trying to avoid. So to gain some level of control and that comes from first being able to understand and reflect and see you’ve fallen into these.
Adam Schoenfeld: So where would you recommend people start with this one? Where should they start their journey in terms of the things to read or the way to go about it, if they’re younger and still just want to start scratching the surface on understanding these things?
David Cancel: I would start in this year podcasts. We’ve done a number of episodes in the past talking about parts of this, like the reviews of thinking fast and slow. We’ve done a review on influence. And so you can search on the Seeking Wisdom podcast, you can search on YouTube and you can see those things. Charlie Munger has done a great talk, which I’ve listened to, maybe an embarrassing number of times where he talks about human misjudgment. Search for Charlie Munger, human misjudgment on YouTube and you’ll find a video or set of videos on there of people who have recorded this talk. And I forgot what school he gave this talk at a long time ago. But anyway, I would start there that one’s easy. It’s basically a high level, his version of influence. That will probably be the first book that I read and the easiest book to read.
David Cancel: And the one that I prescribed the most, which is Influence Cialdini, save Conoman and some of the other books for later. I’ve also have a number of social psychology textbooks that I’ve gotten over time. I think textbooks are the hidden, I won’t say hack, but like the hidden tool that you can use. They’re easy to find use textbooks on various websites, Amazon and others. Those books are easy to understand and written in a way that’s a little bit more digestible for your average audience. So I would start there. Old textbooks on social psychology, look at human misjudgment and look at past episodes of this podcast that have to do with cognitive biases. We’ve written blog posts and all these kinds of things.
David Cancel: Hopefully we can link these things up in the show notes down here. While you’re down here, if you’re on YouTube, you can like this thing, leave a comment for us. Talk about the young Jedi to young’s Adam Schoenfeld, so that I can send them a comment and he can jump in and comment back to you and then go over to Apple podcasts’ Stitcher, wherever, leave a six star rating. Look at that one, two, three, four, five, six star rating for this podcast, because this is the first and only universal certified six star podcast, Seeking Wisdom. Thank you, Schoenfeld, for joining me.
Adam Schoenfeld: Boom.
David Cancel: All right. We’re out.