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How not to be a turkey this holiday season

“Civilization advances by extending the number of operations we can perform without thinking about them.” –Alfred North Whitehead

The following story about turkeys has been brought to you by the science of ethology—the study of animals in their natural habitat.

Here goes: Mother turkeys are loving and nurturing and protective.  They warm and clean and feed and do all the things that good mothers do.  But there is one very odd thing about turkey mothers.  All of this mothering behavior is dependent upon a very specific trigger—the “cheep-cheep” sound of the chick.  If a baby turkey makes this sound, all is well.  If not, the mother turkey will ignore the chick.  Sometimes she will even kill it.

Of course animal behaviorists found this fascinating, so they took a replica of a polecat, the natural enemy of the turkey, and had a little fun.  First, they presented the stuffed polecat to mother turkey and, as expected, the turkey attacked it.  Next, they put a little recorder inside the fake polecat.  This recorder played, you guessed it, the same “cheep-cheep” sound that the chicks made.  With the recorder on, the turkey accepted the polecat into her flock, treating it as one of her own.  The scientists then turned off the recording and the turkey again attacked it.  Scientists are great practical jokers.

So what have we learned?  Mother turkeys are very silly.  They will kill one of their own just because it doesn’t go “cheep-cheep,” and will nurture a natural enemy just because it does.  The mother turkey’s maternal instincts are on autopilot, and the button or trigger for that autopilot is the “cheep-cheep” sound of her chicks.

These autopilot scenarios, called “fixed-action patterns,” are actually quite common in the animal world.  All that’s needed to engage them is a trigger.  Mating rituals, maternal instincts, migration, hibernation, and nesting are all fixed action patterns dependent on a trigger.  Presenting a trigger is like pushing a button to start a computer a program.

Silly animals.  We humans never do anything so ridiculous, right?  Actually, we do it all the time.  In fact, many people seek special training and build careers in order to trigger these automatic behaviors in us.  These careers are in sales, or marketing, or politics. Others just have a talent for it.  They know how to push our buttons, load up the programs, and suddenly we’re standing at the checkout counter with a fistful of flowers and a guilty feeling in our gut.  He who knows the most buttons wins.

Consider the following story, brought to you by social psychologist Ellen Langer of Harvard.  Langer and her team have become quite famous for what has come to be known as “The Copy Machine” study—an ingenious experiment created to measured students’ willingness to allow someone to cut in front of them in a line at a library copy machine.

“Excuse me,” she’d say.  “I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine?”  Put this way, the students allowed her to skip ahead 60 percent of the time.  Not bad, but Langer found she could do better stating it this way: “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush?”  Put this way, the students allowed the intrusion 94 percent of the time.

At first, Langer and her team thought the key persuasive trigger was the reason, “because I’m in a rush.”  Just to be sure, they tried one more phrase–one without any real reason: “Excuse me, I have five pages.  May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make some copies?”

“Because I need to make some copies”?  What the heck! That’s just restating the obvious.  Still, 93 percent complied with her request.  The persuasive trigger was not the reason at all.  The trigger was the word “because.”  That’s it.  Science of influence technique #1: Push button labeled “because” to run compliance program.

This experiment has been repeated and the results verified hundreds of times, proving that people can be triggered to run on autopilot almost as easily as mother turkeys.  Which begs the question: Who’s pushing your buttons? And is that button driving you into the big box stores to comply mindlessly yet again this holiday season?



Are your enemies to defining you?

Schadenfreude: pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.

A quick fill-in-the-blank exercise if you will:

Vikings/Packers fans are __________.

Republicans/Democrats are _________.

Public/private sector employees are ______.

Union members are _____.

Rich/poor people are  ______.

Liberals/conservatives are _______.

Homosexuals are _______.

Your dander up at all?  If not, try a different combination, and consider the following excerpt from a very real sports blog I changed just slightly in order to make my point:

“. . .we Packers/liberals/republicans get to bask in the joy and ecstasy of not just a victory, but also in the delicious Schadenfreude that comes from a debilitating Vikings/conservatives/democrats loss. That makes it twice as sweet!

Their loss and pain is our gain. Why? Because the Vikings/unions/conservatives and their fans/supporters are our enemies. They and so many of their fans/supporters epitomize all that is soulless and wrong, albeit inept.

Given the good nature of most Packers/liberals/private sector employees, the importance of this is sometimes lost. We know how to love our Packers/republicans/union members, but sometimes we forget how — or why — to hate the Vikings/liberals/public employees and those who support them.”

Now, relax.  This propagandizing is just all in good fun right?  To be fair, surely Vikings/democrats/conservatives use this sort of language too.  And so do Bears fans and Pistons fans, and Minnesota drivers, and deer hunters, and loggers, and DNR officials, and business owners, and city council members, and terrorists, and hate groups.

The key step here–and it’s amazing how easy this is to do–is to separate or distance oneself from another in order to create an “Other”: an entity that different from you. Once that distinction has been made, this “Other,” just naturally becomes less human, more monstrous and much easier to hate or fear.  This “Other” then easily becomes the enemy, and the more pain and misfortune he or she suffers, the better.

In any contest, we prefer the side that is more like us.  Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as the Association Principle.  The distinguished and prolific author, Isaac Asimov put it this way:

“All things being equal, you root for your own sex, your own culture, your own locality . . . and what you want to prove is that YOU are better than the other person.  Whomever you root for represents YOU; and when he (or she) wins, YOU win.”

The ego-self is clearly at stake.  Our prestige rises when our side wins, and it falls when our side loses.  We feel real and escalating emotions of joy and pride the higher the perceived stakes.  Just listen to the language fans use after a victory.  We say, “WE won!” and “WE’RE number one!” not “They’re number one!” or “Our team is number one!”  Unless, that is, our team has just lost, in which case we will often distance and protect our fragile ego-self by saying, “They lost. . . the bums.”  The devil is in the pronoun.

Looked at objectively, this is insane.  Seen through the lens of a sports fan or political junky or religious fanatic however, not only does this make perfect sense, it’s an admired trait!  The more emotionally invested a person—the better fan or voter or follower he or she is.  The more pain they feel after a loss, the more euphoria they feel after a win.  We call these people true and diehard fans/constituents/believers.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit that I am Viking fan/public employee myself.  Over the years, this association has given me the unique opportunity to feel very real and physical stress responses during the course of any game, political contest, and professional career—muscle tension, increased heart rate, sweaty palms—as well as the emotions of joy and agony—lately, mostly agony.

Love me or hate me, it is clear that somewhere deep within in our warped and fragile psyches, we believe that the Vikings and public servants everywhere really are me.  For many, this makes me less human, more monstrous, easier to kick when I’m down.  The enemy.

Perhaps however, bigger questions loom, like: Who are you? Are we really that much different?  Do our associations really make us winners and losers?  And, what is it, exactly, that you win, when I lose?

Story Starters (for adults) I

2:00 a.m..

Waiting for clarity, John glanced down from the steam softened image in the mirror to a sink full of whiskers and the letter outlining the exhilarating debauchery of this night.  He closed his eyes.  It was the letter that did it. Decision made, John touched his reflection and turned. His dignity, he believed, he took with him. His ideals however, he left dripping in the symbols traced in the glass behind him.

The Mysterious Mr. Ridley

Meanwhile on a Horror Writing Discussion Forum

Name:  Ridley

Date/Time: 3/12/2001 8:23 pm

Subject: RE: The Course


Give Up Your Day Job and Stick To Writing.  It’s not often I tell someone this; after all, most non-published writers (and especially those who’ve invested with PODs for the privilege of belching out “my novel” to anyone who will listen) suck at story-telling.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: When you find something at which you are talented, you do it until your fingers bleed or your eyes pop out of your head.  I suggest starting out by submitting to small town magazines.  Get a few under your belt, then find yourself a reputable agent.  You have talent.  Enough said.

Name: 1dra

Date/Time: 3/13/2001 1:40 pm

Subject: Do it ’till your fingers bleed . . . eyes . . . pop out . . .


. . . Hmmm . . .

I’ve heard that before . . . somewhere . . . or read it . . .  just recently . . .

. . .Hmmm . . .

Could be just my imagination.

Anyway, gosh and golly.  Thanks for the encouragement!  I printed that one out and will tape it up when those doubts start start to crawl back in from their dusty corners, like they so often do.  You speak with so much authority. So much confidence. . .

. . . Hmmm  . . . Could it really be?

Would someone go to such lengths to imitate?  Guess it wouldn’t be that difficult to use the lame language–give the same advise  . . . in the same way.

But  . . . what if.


Thanks again,


Name:  Ridley

Date/Time: 3/13/2001 5:48 pm

Subject: RE Men do what men do . . . and usually it’s for a woman


Life is full of many questions.  They’ll edge at your mind until it explodes.  If you read it in some book, then good for you.  Sales are up.  Good for me.  I suggest you browse through it once and then throw it away, burn it in the fireplace, give it to your neighbor, or use it to wipe your whatever clean.  It’s not a bible; it was never intended for that purpose.  You either have what it takes or you don’t have it at all.  No book will ever change this fact.


The Course


DATE: 1/8/00

TO: Sandy Gruber, Human Resource Manager

FROM: Stan Francis, Vice President—Division Operations

RE: Performance Review for Daniel Peters, Plant Manager—Socket Assembly

Ms. Gruber:

I am writing to explain to you the performance review packet I have sent for Mr. Daniel Peters, the plant manager of our socket assembly facility.  I have just completed his annual review.  Please see the accompanying graphs and charts for more detailed information.  What the packet will demonstrate is that Mr. Peters is failing woefully in his position.  His responsibilities are to ensure the efficient operation of that manufacturing plant, and to satisfy customer expectations related to quality and service.

It has been one full year since his promotion into this position.  As time has passed, I am disappointed to see that the reports have gotten increasingly worse.  I sat down with Mr. Peters yesterday and explained my disappointment, and my reasons for withholding any compensation increases until we see improvement.  Since he took over operations last January, work center efficiencies are down a staggering 50%.  Quality complaints are up 25%.  On time deliveries have dropped to 30%.  Cost to produce has increased 25%.

I informed Mr. Peters that this type of trend is unacceptable.  I believe he understands.  My problem is this — despite the plant’s numbers, I believe Mr. Peters is trying very hard to do this job.  I don’t believe his performance stems from a lack of effort—rather a lack of good time management and leadership skills.

Are there any courses available right now that might assist Mr. Peters in his efforts to improve his performance, and the performance of his plant?


DATE: 1/10/00

TO: Stan Francis, Vice President—Division Operations

FROM: Sandy Gruber, Human Resource Manager

RE: Course to improve managerial performance and leadership skills

Mr. Francis:

Thank you for taking the time to look into this matter.  It is my opinion that too many supervisors are quick to terminate employees for lack of performance.  The result is a turnstile effect.  Employees are shuffled in and out of positions that they never get a chance to grow into.  The cost of this type of turnover is staggering.  It is refreshing to see a supervisor that is willing to “invest” in an employee’s education before turning to termination.

I believe I have just what you are looking for in terms of a course that will help Mr. Peters.  It is called, “Managing for Success,” and is facilitated by a Dr. Franklin Stevens at the University.  A new session of this class begins in two weeks.  I have included the necessary enrollment forms.  If you want him to attend, please fill them out and return them to me.  I will take care of the rest.

I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of this course.  We have had several employees complete work with Dr. Stevens.  Every one of them has experienced dramatic results. One excellent example is Wendy Cooper, an administrative assistant in the accounting office.  Her supervisor has reported an outstanding increase in Wendy’s performance—despite the very recent and tragic loss of her husband.


DATE: 1/12/00

TO: Daniel Peters, Plant Manager—Socket Assembly

FROM: Stan Francis, Vice President—Division Operations

RE:  Required course work

Mr. Peters,

In response to your recent performance review, I am requiring you to attend the attached course. Hopefully this will help you to solve some of the problems you are having in your plant.  The course hours will be counted toward your continuing education credits.  Please document them well.  I hope very much that this will help you.  As a company we can not continue to support the Socket Assembly plant as we have over the past year.  If we do not see marked improvement in the next two fiscal quarters, I will be forced to make a leadership change.



INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Franklin Stevens

What to expect from this course:

I am glad that you have decided to enroll in this dramatic, results oriented class.  The information presented here is based on my groundbreaking research linking the unconscious mind to human behavior patterns.  Please keep in mind that this is a truly revolutionary way of thinking about your personal success.  You will most likely be exposed to thought patterns that are very different from the ones you use now.  All I ask is that you withhold judgment about this material until you have put the concepts into practice.  If you follow my instruction, I personally guarantee that this course WILL change your outlook on life.  You WILL become a more efficient and effective person.  This won’t be as hard as you may think.  The daily stress you experience now WILL greatly diminish, and you WILL become a much more confident manager and leader.  All this is possible, and more—if you have the WILL to make it so.

What is required of you:

If you have signed up for this course, it means that you are seeking to improve some area of your life.  If you are serious about taking the steps necessary to transform yourself, you must agree to the following:

  1. Attend every classroom session—6 in all.

  2. Assimilate the following concepts and behaviors into your daily life (the course shows you how to do this).







  1. You will document your transformational journey in a weekly journal.


Dan Peters

Journal Entry #1


Why I am here:

You have asked us to write why we are taking this course.  The reason for me is simple—I don’t want to lose my job.  About one year ago I was promoted from Manufacturing Manager of the Freeburg plant, to Plant Manager of the Millburg Plant.  It was a great career move, and the right thing for my family, so we packed everything into a U-Haul and set up shop.  Since then I’ve worked very hard, but I just can’t seem to make this plant go.  I don’t understand it.

Kathy, my wife, is beginning to lose patience.  I spend a lot of hours at work (between 70 and 80 a week).  She says enough is enough, and that I need to pay more attention to my family.  We have a two-year-old son, Kyle.  She says Kyle needs his father.  But I leave early in the morning before Kyle wakes up, and I often get home long after his bedtime.  I miss him.  And I miss Kathy too.  I love them so much.  But I’ve been working my whole life for this opportunity.  I can’t just let it slide!  If this plant tanks, then so do I . . .so do we.

The money is great—but it’s all we’ve got.  Kathy can stay home with Kyle because of this job. That’s what we wanted—her to be a stay-at-home-mom.  At least Kyle can be with one of his parents.  Then, once I get over this hump, we can be a real family again.  I tell her to be patient. She says I’m running out of time.

It’s all very stressful.

Journal Entry #2


I am so frustrated!  I mean, I hear what you are saying, but to be honest, I have a hard time buying in to all this positive thinking mumbo jumbo.  I mean, I live in the real world!  I’m not some ivory tower writer or teacher.  I have to make things happen NOW!  And I can’t because my vendors don’t deliver on time, or my people don’t show up for work, or my machines break down.  I mean, how is shit like “VISUALIZE MY GOALS” and “BELIEVE IN MY DREAMS” suppose to help me get 5,000 units out the door in one week, when I only have the capacity for 3,500?

So on one end I’ve got Customer X screaming on the phone because I can’t get him the sockets he needs, then I come home and Kathy yells at me because she needs more attention, or the sink needs fixing, or the roof is leaking, or the grass is getting too long and the lawnmower won’t start. Meanwhile Kyle fusses in his high chair with mashed peas and carrots in his hair.

And I’m just supposed to “BELIEVE IN MY DREAMS?”  HA!

Journal Entry #3


Well I just went over the information about taking responsibility, and it kind of rang a bell with me.  I liked the phrase; “There are no excuses, only choices.”  I thought I WAS being responsible.  I guess not.  The more I look at it, the more I realize that I tend to make excuses about why I can’t do something (vendors, absenteeism, machine breakdowns) before I look for other ways to skin the cat.  I guess I’ve got options I’m not seeing because I’m looking at the excuse.  If I only BELIEVE and EXPECT, my subconscious will find away around the excuse and make it happen.  Fascinating!

Journal Entry #4


It works!  We needed to ship 2,000 socket assemblies today that we didn’t even have the raw material for.  But I did not give up.  I put the theory to the test.  Not shipping the 2,000 was not an option, and guess what!  We found a substitute material sitting around in inventory that worked perfectly!

Today we shipped an order on time!  We also managed to reduce our inventory by using up some old scrap material!  A victory!  A victory!  A small one, but now that I see how this works . . .look out. There is no stopping me now!

Problem is, I was so excited that I forgot that Kathy had arranged for a sitter for Kyle for the evening.  I was supposed to meet her at the Olive Garden for dinner.  Guess I really screwed that up . . .I feel terrible about it.  I tried to tell her about my success today but it fell on deaf ears. Can’t really blame her.

Journal Entry #5


We are really on a roll now!  Failure is no longer accepted around here!  I can’t say that we are always 100% successful, but maybe 90%. And we never give up till the very last second. Shipments from this plant are going through the roof!  And the employees are really fired up! They see the success we are having and are coming up with more and more ideas about how to make things better, faster, cheaper.  I’m riding high!  I can do this!  I can do this!

Journal Entry #6


Well, all reports show that this plant is running at peak efficiencies.  I looked back over history and not only have we broken every production record since I’ve been here, but also every production record for this plant, ever–under any leadership.

Got to stay aggressive though.  Can’t rest on our laurels.  Like the course says, “Grow you must!”  If I don’t keep seeking out obstacles, we’ll start to slip back.  We’ve made incredible progress, but I can see how that can be just the tip of the iceberg!  I also understand now that,  “If it is to be, it’s up to me!”  Look out world!


DATE: 3/23/00

TO: Daniel Peters, Plant Manager—Socket Assembly

FROM: Stan Francis, Vice President—Division Operations

RE: Congratulations!

I have been watching your recent success with keen interest and you are to be congratulated.  In an unprecedented time frame, you have transformed your plant into the best performing facility in our company.  Keep it up and someday you might have my job!

Good work.


Time: 5:37 p.m.

Date: 3/28/00

Dispatcher: This is 911 emergency dispatch.

Caller:  Yeah, you’d  better get some help here, please.  My neighbor’s in trouble.  I think, um . . .oh God.  Please hurry!

Dispatcher: What’s your name?  Where do you live ma’am?

Caller:  Name’s Carla Kappler, 1529 South Parkway.  The neighbor’s across the street.  Someone’s in there with her.  He’s shouting.  There’s crashing . . .(pause) . . .Oh, God!  Hurry!  It’s bad!  I just heard him . . .

Dispatcher: Okay, Okay.  Just stay calm.  We’ve got a unit en route.  Who is in the house?

Caller: The woman . . .um . . .Kathy.  And a man.  I don’t know.  He is screaming at her.  I hear thumping . . . pounding from inside.  God!  I can’t see.  Oh! Oh God!  Hurry!  Please!  Wait . . .

Dispatcher: Have you seen a weapon ma’am?

Caller: Wait! (pause)  Oh my God . . .hurry please!  Oh please.  I’m going to be sick.  Oh!  Now she’s screaming . . .(pause)

Dispatcher: Where are you?  Can you see anything?

Caller: I’m on my porch.  She’s crying now.   She’s screaming bad.  Can’t hear what she’s saying. They’re inside.  I hear pounding and crying.  Wait . . . (pause) “You killed him!”  That’s what she said!  I can’t see anything.  Oh God!  They have a baby!  Please hurry!  Listen (faint screams heard in the background) Hear that?  She’s hysterical!  Oh my God!  What’s going on?

Dispatcher: Okay, police and paramedics are on the way.  Can you stay on the line ma’am?  The officers can hear you on their radio.

Caller:  Yes.  I am so . . .(pause)

Dispatcher:  Ma’am?

Caller: She’s stopped.

Dispatcher:  What?

Caller: She was screaming.  Then she just stopped.

Dispatcher:  Can you see anyone?

Caller:  Nothing’s going on.  I can’t see.  It’s quite now.

Dispatcher:  Is there anyone in the house?

Caller:  I think . . . I think I hear sirens.

Millburg Gazette, 3/30/00

Husband suspected in brutal murder

In what authorities are calling a disturbing case of domestic abuse, Dan Peters, of Millburg Falls, WI, has been arrested and charged with the murders of his wife Kathy, and their two year old son, Kyle.

Responding to a 911 call, local police found Peters standing above his dead wife—a bloody, aluminum, softball bat in a nearby corner.  Peters has denied the charges, saying that he had recently arrived home from work, and was “just standing in shock” when police arrived.

Peters has been released on bail.

Thank You Letter


Dear Dr. Stevens:

I just wanted to write you personally—to thank you.  Your curriculum has truly changed my life.  No longer are my days filled with stress.  My work is now satisfying and fulfilling. My home life is calm and peaceful.  Your research and approach is indeed revolutionary.  I am a better man for it.

They key for me was when I realized that I had choices—that I don’t have to accept my life as we know it.  I have the power to effectively change my reality.  Your course has taught me how to overcome the obstacles in my life—the demons holding me back.  All I needed was the courage to act.

I have some tough challenges ahead, but all in all, everything is going very well for me now.  I do not feel the stress or the fear that I used to feel.  It is much easier for me to focus and solve problems.  I find it easy for me to ignore distractions, then get to the bottom of things.  I feel almost invincible.

Thanks again for everything you’ve taught me.  I am a changed man.  I feel almost born again.  I believe you are a true genius, and I am thankful that you have shared your knowledge with me.

Your most appreciative student,

Dan Peters



DATE: 1/23/01

TO: Daniel Peters, Plant Manager—Socket Assembly

FROM: David Wilson—President and CEO

RE: Congratulations on your promotion to Vice President—Division Operations!

Congratulations, Dan, on your promotion next month to Vice President of Divisional Operations.  I truly believe that you will follow nicely in Stan’s footsteps.  We are, of course, all saddened by his sudden death.  I know that you and he had grown close over the past year.  He spoke very highly of you.

Dan, you have overcome much in the past year.  And as President and CEO, I want to tell you personally how proud I am of you.  Your ability to overcome adversity is astounding.  You are truly the most resilient and resourceful person I have ever known.  We are lucky to have you here at Custom Tool Manufacturing.  My best wishes as you grieve for your mentor and friend.  And good luck to you in your new position.  Your future looks very bright.