Provoking thought

Zef’s Bookshelf of Mindfuckery

Zef’s Bookshelf of Mindfuckery
I'm reaching for it, beware...

Tell me about one of your most strongly held beliefs.

I will crush it. Set fire to it. And then laugh at the moon, all evil-like.

Sorry, I let myself go there for a second. I’m good now.

So. I started a fun little project.

Working title: Zef’s Bookshelf of Mindfuckery

Once more, excuse my Canadian French, it’s another management term.

This is the concept:

You and I talk about some topic. You seem very confident about it and have a lot to say. You are happy, with your mind at peace. At last, you have one part of your life all figured out. You have the answers.

This triggers some alarms in me. Not enough chaos. Need to act.

“One second,” I’ll say, “that reminds me of something...”

I recommend you run, or disconnect the call for some obscure reason. Bad Internet. A rat bit a cable. Come up with something. Anything.

Or else I'll hit you with a book from the shelf.

“So, this person did that thing.”

“Intriguing, why do you think they did that thing?”

Get out. It’s a trap!

“Well, I don’t know, they just freely decided to do so.”

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

At this point I attempt to dramatically scoot over my office chair to the left towards a closet you cannot see within the camera frame. You see my arm stretching out towards a shelf.

The shelf.

“Funny you should mention that. Have you considered that free will does not exist? At least, this is what this impressively thick book claims, and seems to prove.”

At which point I dramatically move my hard-bound copy of Determined by Robert Sapolsky within the camera frame.

“And see this?” I flip some pages and hold the last 20% between my fingers. “This is all the research that backs it up. It’s the thickest book on my shelf.”

Welcome to Zef’s Bookshelf of Mindfuckery.

Let’s do another one.

“I just don’t understand why other managers don’t praise their people more!”

Praise — you say. Intriguing...”

Run, Forrest, run.

“Do you happen to know who Alfie Kohn is?”

“Err, no?”

Always say yes. Just claim you do, make this go away.

“Ok, he’s one of the world’s experts on education, parenting and human behavior. He also wrote a big volume on the effects of rewards — praise is a type of reward. Do you know what he concluded?”

No, but I bet you’re going to do some sort of big reveal involving your office chair any moment now.

I scoot over my chair to the left again. This is a cool move. It gets more convincing the more I do it.

I reach for my shelf and pull out Punished By Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn.

“Guess what?” I say in a dramatic voice, “rewards, such as praise kill intrinsic motivation. It’s a toxic practice, you shouldn’t do it. No more rewards!”

Fun fact, Alfie Kohn also wrote an excellent book on parenting consistent with these findings. It’s approach we try to follow with our own children, who may be having a pretty traumatic childhood as we speak, but we’ll only really know for sure in thirty years or so. Will keep you posted.

Yes. People love working with me. I get a lot of praise and gold stars. And I think you can see why: to please, please, make me stop.

But this type of reverse-psychology doesn’t work on me. I’m a machine.

One last one, we’re getting a feel for it now. We’re having fun.

“So what I’ll do is lay out this perfectly logical argument in a document. That should convince everybody!”

“Oh, so you think logic is what convinces people. Intriguing...”

I think it’s when he says “intriguing” we’re in trouble.

“Are you familiar with the ancient greeks? Aristotle and his philo-bros?”

“No, I think this was slightly before my time. But I bet you hung out with them all the time when you were my age.”

“Indeed, indeed. Are you familiar with the ancient art of rhetoric? Do you know about ethos, pathos and logos?”

“Sure, whatevs.”

“I’m not buying it. Let me show you something.”

At which point I make another attempt at my dramatic chair scoot, my chair makes a bit of a strange swooping motion, and I smack my head against the shelf.


After a bit, my chair appears back into view, with me in it.

With one hand on my head, some blood seeping down, I hold up a book in front of the camera: Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion by Jay Heinrichs.

“This book says that it may be even more important who you are, and the amount of drama that you generate presenting your idea, than the quality of the logic behind your argument.”

At which point I pass out.

Yes. There’s more on the shelf. But I won’t reveal all my secrets all in one go. The element of surprise matters. Perhaps I’ll start a premium subscription one day and you can buy exclusive access to my shelf. On that topic, somebody recommended to me to use Amazon affiliate links for all the books in this post, so opportunist that I am, that’s what I ended up doing. I need rewards to be motivated. Ka-ching!

Visually, you can think of my bookshelf as a progress bar. What happens when I fill it up?

I suppose at that point it will be time for an insurrection. I’ll have to flip this whole society up side down, and do things completely differently.

Or I start my own company, with a radically new management approach.

Or I add another shelf.