What I’ve Learned From the Inventor of Soft Skills

On a farm in Missouri, a young man walked three miles each day to go to college. He was a smart boy, had good grades, and aspirations to become a great novelist. There was only one problem — he wasn’t any good.

Nevertheless, the boy would end up writing one of the most influential books ever written. It wasn’t the next big American novel. Instead, he wrote a book about people. More specifically How to Win Friends and Influence People. It sold over 30 million copies. 

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Donald Trump — the Master Persuader

2016 election night. Donald Trump faces Hillary Clinton in the fight for the presidency.

The election was quite frankly a shitshow. Trump’s candidacy took everyone by surprise. People thought it was a joke. Maybe a cheap shot to gain some publicity for the Trump brand. They’d be in for a surprise.

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The Founder of the Persuasive Arts

366BC a young man joined Plato’s famous academy to learn about philosophy and the sciences. His name was Aristotle and he became Plato’s most successful disciple and a subsequent teacher at the academy. Aristotle is known today as a polymath and especially as a philosopher. He wrote about and studied subjects from physics, biology, over metaphysics and ethics to poetry.

During his lifetime he made a variety of groundbreaking contributions to the sciences, however, there was one that isn’t often recognized by people. One of his vast interests was a field his teacher Plato called “immoral, dangerous and unworthy of serious study”. It was the field of persuasion.

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The Godfather of Persuasion

In November 2012 Barack Obama made history and won the presidential election. His more experienced rivals were stunned. How could a young upstart and senator become the first black president of the United States?

Was it Obama’s charismatic personality that made it possible?

Was the historic moment just right for the young senator?

Both these factors had an impact for sure. But there is another one I think was incredibly impactful. The same factor that entered the presidential election 2016 on the side of Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump and turned a failing campaign into close competition.

It was a person that Scott Adams, author, and blogger on the topic of persuasion, coined “Godzilla”. His name is… Continue reading

Why Clickbait Works (Even Though We All Hate It)

Dammit! You did it again. You clicked. You bit the bait.

But don’t worry, I promise this will actually be useful (unlike the majority of articles you click on).

If you’re like me, you noticed the sheer flood of clickbait on the internet at large and Medium in particular. With every second headline, you get the feeling that you’ve seen it before:

“I [did some activity] for [number of days]. Here’s what happened.”

“How I [achieved something desirable] in [surprisingly short time frame].”

“[Some number] things you are doing that make you [negative outcome or emotion].”

And yes, the title of this essay belongs in this category too. The thing is, you write at a severe disadvantage if you don’t play the game of clicks. Similar to a TV flashing in the background, clickbait is impossible to ignore and it takes an almost inhuman amount of self-control not to engage. With ten lit up flashing TV screens, who is paying attention to the bad lit poster?

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The Craft of a Storyteller

“For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

This six-word story, often attributed to Hemingway, is an emotional tragedy. With just six words a writer can communicate a whole story.

What do you think of when you hear the term story?

Probably books and movies come to mind. Long narratives of heroes and foes acting in their worlds. But story is more prevalent than that. Because our brains are wired to think in stories. We virtually see them everywhere.

A story doesn’t have to belong either. The one above unfolds its power with just six words. It changes your emotional state after two seconds and makes you sad. That’s how powerful story is.

We’re all storytellers. We all know the language of story. But in case you’ve gotten rusty, let me fresh up your memory.

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The Undervalued Skill Set of Human Persuasion and Communication

Human communication and persuasion skills might be the most important skillset in life that I have come across so far. It is all the more valuable because there is no distinction necessary between work and the rest of life. What do I mean by communication and persuasion skills? Under my definition it includes all skills related to improving a person’s ability to communicate and collaborate with, as well as understand and convince other people. This includes for example public speaking, conflict management, copy-writing, reading body language, etc. Communicating effectively is essential for both your professional life as well as your personal relationships. Isn’t it baffling that communication skills are not really taught in school or university?

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Crack the Human Code and Truly Understand People

Humans are social animals. Through the course of our lives it’s inevitable that we have to communicate and collaborate with others. We are constantly influencing each other, manipulating consciously or unconsciously the thoughts and decisions of those around us. This is not good or bad, it’s just the way humans function.

If we want to perform together as a team to solve difficult problems, we need to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that may halt our progress. Often there are people that want to do us harm, or that are solely out for their benefit and don’t shy away from using emotional manipulation to get what they want. We need to be able to recognize those people so we can protect ourselves against them.

In our personal life we want to deepen some relationships, while avoiding others. Winning friends and avoid making enemies both need considerable skill. So does finding a partner and having a healthy relationship, which too depends largely on our ability to communicate with each other.

All of this comes down to one concept: Emotional intelligence.

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How to Build Systems That Don’t Break

Our world is nothing but a system with countless sub-systems. A system is a group of elements or variables that interact and interrelate with one another. In our own lives and society as a whole we create systems to organize us towards defined goals. A good system makes us succeed in reaching those goals while a system fails if it leads to unintended negative consequences. Everything is a system in society, your daily routines, how your workplace is structured and how our governments are set up.

If things are not working how we want them to, what do we usually do? We add stuff, do more, increase to-dos and research more. When our health is not like we want it to be we add a new exercise routine or supplements. When a company grows it starts adding more and more rules and hierarchy. When problems arise in a state the government introduces new laws and regulations. On all levels of society we approach problems by addition and our organizational and governmental systems have grown all the more sophisticated over the years. But is this the right approach?

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