Beta Traps and Crocodile Brains

Are you job interviewing in this down economy? Pitching a book idea?  Picking a jury? Trying to convince a loved one they really need to go to that football game with you? Raising venture capital?

Life’s about sales, no matter if it’s business or personal relationships. 

I recently read a book by Oren Klaff called Pitch Anything! Klaff chased down every useable theory in the field of Neuroeconomics and formulated an answer to both how he could better forge a connection with the people he was pitching to, which led to multi-million dollar deals in venture capital.




Klaff says that for more than 40 years, sales trainers have been teaching techniques and methods that help “situationally disadvantaged” salespeople (low social status) get an appointment, build rapport, package a business transaction in a thin and fragile emotional wrapper and, if they’re lucky or doggedly persistent, close a sale.  But it’s all WRONG. 

He talks about how people preparing to pitch ideas have several things to overcome:

1. Beta Traps

2. Crocodile Brains 

You’ve all sat in lobbies or conference rooms before being interviewed, pitching a product or giving a presentation. The moldy magazines, the indifferent receptionist, the bored audiences…you’re stuck in a Beta Trap. Klaf discusses how to change the situation and become an Alpha. It’s crucial in order for people to give attention to you and/or your ideas. 

Then, all the ideas you’re sharing that have been developed in the neurocortex of your brain are being heard by Crocodiles. Their brain says:

1. If it’s not dangerous, IGNORE IT.

2. If it’s not new and exciting, IGNORE IT.

3. Crocodiles will NOT send anything up to the neocortex for problem solving unless they see         
a)  a situation that’s unexpected and out of the ordinary or

  b) you have a product as sexy as the iPhone when it first came out that triggered dopamine and sent the brain a reward about pleasure. 

After reading his book, I saw the ideas he discusses can be applied to a wider audience. When I began my career as a prosecutor, the first thing I focused on learning was how to pick juries. I thought, if I didn’t have twelve people who would listen to my case, I might as well pack up before I started. 

Jurors might initially excited to be there, so that helps get around their crocodile brains, but if you can’t sustain their attention they’re going to SHUT DOWN.

If you’re interviewing for a job, if you don’t change up the situation and make them view you as an alpha and keep their attention, you might not get hired.

I highly recommend reading Oren Klaff’s book with a mind to how it can be applied on a broader basis in your life.

Selective Memories



Let’s face it, I have a selective memory. People can quote things I’ve said and I wonder what they’re talking about. Sometimes, I’m not even sure who these people are. 

But, books. Those I remember. 

The memory of leaving the local library with the first book I checked out as a child, Cowboy Andy. Its solid, thick cover felt good in my small hands and I beamed with pride. Over time, I moved out of the children’s section and rooted around through the remaining stacks. If a book was out of place, I knew it.

The blue or yellow covers of the Nancy Drew books. Going off to fish at a lake in the White Mountains of Arizona, more intent on the story of Brains Benton than my bobber. Sitting on the back of a truck while taking a break from driving a tractor and reading The World According to Garp. 

Reading at stop lights, in lines at banks, at a restaurant over a meal. Reading and re-reading certain poetic sentences from The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz-Zafon. Marveling at Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Beating up a bad guy with Jack Reacher, listening to jazz with Harry Bosch, trying to figure out a way to marry John Taylor and learning that my towel is indispensable when traveling the Universe. 

Crossing the Delaware, hurtling through the night down a steep mountain with Vice President Teddy Roosevelt after he learns President McKinley has been shot, standing on Little Round Top with Joshua Chamberlain’s troops, riding through Iraq with the First Reconnaissance Marines…

These things I remember. And if I’ve had to push out a few real world memories to keep them, I can live with that. 

Was 2013 Really That Bad?

It’s January 1,  2014. Yesterday, I ran 2013 through my head. It was depressing! I hadn’t accomplished what I’d wanted to, lost a case I’d put years of time into, hadn’t finished the book I’ve been writing and those 15 pounds I need to lose are still there. The negative stayed in the forefront of my thoughts. I was going to be happy to see 2013 go! Don’t let the door hit it in the metaphorical butt on the way out, I thought.

Then my family dumped out the gratitude jar. Last year,  I read about this idea on Facebook. Get a jar and put things you’re grateful for in it. It seemed like a quaint idea, but somehow appealed to me. Starting on January 1, 2013, we’d begun to throw slips of paper in a large, lidless jar. We included things that made us smile, cartoons, ticket stubs, titles of good books, daily things we were grateful for. Last night, as we sat around the kitchen table, unfolding and reading things, we came to realize 2013 had some great moments. We were grateful for the small things, like caffeine or persimmons and the big things like having my best friend recover from breast cancer. We laughed at the cartoon of San Diego mayor Bob Filner at Comic-Con dressed as “The Groper.” We remembered going to see movies and concerts or listening to my teenage daughter read the Confessions section in Cosmopolitan magazine with her own hilarious commentary.

This morning, I tucked all the things that filled the jar away into an envelope labeled “Gratitudes 2013.” Years from now, it will be part of the true memorial to that time.

So, was it a good year or a bad one? I guess it’s how you’re choosing to recall it.