From Brainwashed POWs to Hyped-Up Business Trends

Netflix has a documentary “Don’t Pick up the Phone” which is a true story of how a sexual predator called fast food stores in small towns all across the United States and just by pretending to be a police officer over the phone, instructed and succeeded in getting managers to strip search and sometimes sexually assault young coworkers.

Robert Cialdini in his book “Influence,” observed how appeals to authority and social pressure can easily influence people to take actions that run counter to their own interests.

A clear example was the experience of US POWs at the hands of the Chinese.

A higher percentage of American POWs collaborated or just became docile and passive at the hands of the Chinese than the American POWS held by Germans and Japanese roughly 10 years earlier.

It wasn’t an issue of being brutal. The Germans and Japenese were horrific captors.

But the Chinese understood the subtle power of human persuasion and used the pressure of consistency and conformity to their advantage.

As Cialdini noted, the Chinese captors who subjected American POWs to “re-education” tactics were able to break down their resistance and persuade them to adopt a submissive and compliant attitude, despite the horrific conditions and mistreatment.

The Chinese used psychological techniques like isolation, deprivation, humiliation, and fear to achieve this. Making the prisoners feel powerless and dependent weakened their resolve and made them more likely to comply with captors’ demands.

While only a minority of prisoners actively collaborated with the Chinese, a larger number became passive or neutralised, stopped resisting, and adopted a compliant or acquiescent attitude.

So what does this have to do with business owners and fads?

It’s a cautionary tale to beware the power of social influence and being seduced by promises of quick fixes and easy solutions.

Just as the Chinese manipulated their prisoners through psychological pressure and propaganda, so too can business gurus and marketing experts appeal to our desire for success and recognition by promising “easy” growth and success from the latest and greatest hacks.

The sales guy saying to you.. “You want to feed your children..right? So how can you say no to XYZ that will put more money in your pocket to easily feed your children…”

And don’t worry about missing out.. usually the only thing missing is the money in your wallet after falling for such a pitch. Just look at how many Felons have been featured in Forbes. The con-artists made their gains by preying on FOMO (fear of missing out).

(That said, if you are a criminal attorney, following Forbes might not be such a bad idea.. but I digress.)

If you’re not careful, blindly following the latest trends and hacks can backfire on you.

Trust your core values and stay grounded.

And when you feel like you’re being manipulated… walk away and beware of anyone who tries to manipulate or persuade you for their own benefit.