how to become impossible to ignore

#46 – Impossible to ignore by Carmen Simon

dear kafka,

when we meet people and try to persuade them, we work hard on the words we use, what we show them and how we dress. let’s call that meeting Point A.

Point B, however is the other person’s decision-making moment. that could be days, weeks, months after the initial meeting.

In our persuasion efforts, we need to work on Point B and not just Point A.

We need our audience to remember what we say and act on it.

“People act on what they remember, not on what they forget.”

“Forgetting hurts business.”

Our role, as persuaders, is to influence our audience’s memories.

“Getting people to act on what they remember always starts with an intention—an intention they already have or one you wish to place in their minds.”

“The sooner we identify people’s existing intentions or clarify a new intention they would benefit from having, the better we can plan on how to be part of their memories.”

When people act on what they remember, they follow 3 steps:

1. “Notice cues that are linked to their intention”

2. “Search their memory for something related to those cues and intentions”

3.  “And if something is rewarding enough … execute.”

An example of how it works:

1. Cue – I have been thinking about losing weight (intention) when I discovered an old favourite shirt that is now too tight for me.

2. Memory – I remember when I used to go dancing in the shirt and how good I look and feel.

3. Rewarding – I want to feel good again so I execute my plan to lose weight.

Kafka, obviously this is not me as I don’t dance. At least not in public.

The book has made me think a lot about cues.

“When analyzing your own content, ask this: When you are no longer in the room with your listeners, what type of cues will be available in their lives to trigger the appropriate memory and entice them to act?”

For a workshop I conducted, I told the audience that it was their job to make their presentation come alive for our clients by telling stories and using strong case studies. To help them remember and act on my message, I gave them wind-up toys and instructed them to put in on their tables and to look at it when they are preparing their pitches.

Looking back, I could have done more by improving the toy’s linkage to a presentation with good stories and case studies. This way, I could help them retrieve the memory of a good presentation and strengthen the feeling of the reward.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert recommended this book. He has a Persuasion Reading List.

Tips to strengthen your persuasion efforts

Use cues that are linked to existing habits – if you’re a doctor trying to persuade your patient to take their pills regularly, you can ask them to put their pills by their coffee machine. Since the patients drink coffee every day, they will see the pills and this will increase the chance of them taking the medicine.

“Tie your message to a current but unfulfilled goal. People tend to pay greater attention to and remember more of what is not finished because the brain seeks closure.”

“Link cues to social desirability because impression management is a strong motivation driver. People tend to pay attention to what makes them look good in front of others.”

Save your most important messages for early in the day where people’s willpower is  stronger.

Use what is familiar to the audience – “Our audiences form expectations so that they can predict the next moment. When you give them something they expect, you satisfy a human need for accurate predictions, which generates pleasure.”

“Use the word “imagine” to create anticipation and invite action. People don’t just think about the future; they feel the future, and emotion influences decision-making.”

Strong opening, then delay gratification – “Give people a valuable tool in the first five minutes of a presentation and announce five more for later on.”

The challenge is to create repeatable messages – “we tend to repeat what we hear or see frequently (“I’m lovin’ it”), what carries strong emotions (“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn”), what is short (“I’ll be back”), what easily rolls off the tongue (“Wax on. Wax off”), or what rhymes (“I feel the need … the need for speed”).”

Use disfluency strategically and sparingly – you could make an important word in your presentation especially hard to read, this forces your audience to put in more effort to read it.

Create a distinctive message that emphasise rewards – “The brain is constantly looking for rewards. In business, when many messages are the same, we can create distinctiveness, and therefore improve recall, by being specific about these rewards, which we can frame as tangible results.” E.g. – “Using our predictive analytic tools, we helped our shipping customer save 39 million gallons of fuel and avoid driving 364 million miles.”

Invite your audience to be active, not passive by asking questions – E.g. ask: how do these 3 words on the slide describe your business?

Your content should balance the abstract with the specific. E.g. The Burton Company’s vision statement:

“We stand sideways.
We sleep on floors in cramped hotel rooms.
We get up early and go to sleep late.
We’ve been mocked.
We’ve been turned away from resorts that won’t have us.
We are relentless.
We dream it, we make it, we break it, we fix it.
We create.
We destroy.
We wreck ourselves day in and day out and yet we stomp that one trick or find that one line that keeps us coming back.
We progress.”

Use gain messages – We can frame messages to emphasize gains or losses. Research in the health industry, for example, looks at gain-framed versus loss-framed messages and concludes that for prevention medicine where the risk is low, gain-framed messages are more likely to lead to behavior change. For instance, “Join us to find out how an increase in your walking regimen helps to prevent heart disease” works well because there is little risk in walking.

Understand what the audience is thinking about the future: “If our audiences’ brains are constantly on fast-forward, then to be on people’s minds, we have to be part of their future.”

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.

advice from the wisest americans

#45 – 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans by Karl Pillemer

dear kafka,

the author and his team interviewed over a thousand elderly Americans in search of their wisdom. He believe this can “serve as an excellent guide to life for people of all ages”.

there are actually more than 30 lessons listed in the book if you count the additional advice at the end of each chapter. this contradicts rule #21 – “Always be honest”.


“don’t keep score” is lesson #3.


1. “Marry someone a lot like you” – same core values and backgrounds.

2. “Friendship is as important as romantic love” – do you feel deep friendship with your spouse?

3. “Don’t keep score” -it’s ok to give more than take.

4. “Talk to each other” – silence kills.

5. “Don’t just commit to your partner – commit to marriage

Common advice –  “Don’t go to bed angry”


6. “Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones. ” – sense of purpose and passion are important.

7. “Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy. ” – persistence is the key.

8. “ Make the most of a bad job.”

9. “Emotional intelligence trumps every other kind.”

10. “Everyone needs autonomy.” – freedom and independence.

Common advice – “You should ask yourself this: do I wake up in the morning looking forward to work?”

“If you can’t wake up in the morning and want to go to work, you’re in the wrong job.”


11. “It’s all about time” – spending as much time as possible with them

12. “It’s normal to have favourites, but never show it.”

13. “Don’t hit your kids.”

14. “Avoid a rift at all costs.”

15. “Take a lifelong view of relationships with children” – how can you keep positive relationships with them even after they leave home?

Common advice – “The message is clear: abandon all thoughts of raising the “perfect child” or being the perfect parent, and do it as early as possible.” Be a good-enough parent.


16. “Being old is much better than you think.”

17. “Act now like you will need your body for a hundred years” – bad habits will cause years of suffering

18. “Don’t worry about dying—the experts don’t” – experts recommend “careful planning and organisation for the end of life”.

19. “Stay connected”

20. “Plan ahead about where you will live (and your parents too)” – a senior home may be a good thing.

Common advice – “the ultimate lesson about aging is “don’t fight it.” Instead they encourage all of us to accept the aging process and to adapt our activities to our changing physical abilities and circumstances.”

Regret Reduction

21. “Always be honest.”

22. “Say yes to opportunities” – more likely to regret saying no than saying yes.

23. “Travel more.”

24. “Choose a mate with extreme care” – don’t rush.

25. “Say it now” – “the only time you can share your deepest feelings is while people are still alive.”

Common advice – “go easy on yourself regarding mistakes and bad choices you have made.”


26. “Time is of the essence” – life is short, do important things now.

27. “Happiness is a choice, not a condition” – you don’t need things to happen to make you happy.

28. “Time spent worrying is time wasted.”

29. “Think small” – simple daily pleasures.

30. “Have faith” = religion helps.

Common advice – The Golden Rule. “Do to others what you want them to do to you,” or “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”

The Last Lesson

Listen to old people.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.

also works when you replace better with worse

walter lippmann:

“The world is a better place to live in because it contains human beings who will give up ease and security and stake their own lives in order to do what they themselves think worth doing.”

how Singaporeans can invest smart and retire wealthy

#44 – Rich by Retirement – How Singaporeans can invest smart and retire wealthy by Joshua Giersch

dear kafka,

i know you’re a 15 year old boy and do not live in Singapore but others who read this newsletter may find this useful.

i like this book – short and easy to understand, has sound principles that can be easily applied, and cost USD 10 on the Amazon Kindle store.

here are the 8 steps to retiring wealthy:

1. Start an emergency fund

  • a simple deposit account with your local bank
  • separate from your regular bank account
  • Six months of your monthly expenses
  • Immediate access when needed
  • Only for use in an emergency

2. Insure yourself

  • Hospitalisation insurance – “Medishield Life plan is perfectly good”
  • Term life insurance – for those with dependents – Buy term life insurance  to cover dependents for minimum 5 years’ worth of expenses

3. “Invest “110 minus your age” into stocks and the rest into bonds” – for example, if you are 40, 70% of your money will be invested in stocks, 40% in bonds.

4. Stocks pile

  • invest 50% in a Singapore ETF  – ES3, SPDR Straits Times Index ETF
  • another 50%  in a global-stock ETF – IWDA, the iShares Core MSCI World ETF.

5. Bonds pile – 100% invested in an ETF of Singaporean bonds – A35, the ABF Singapore Bond Index Fund.

However, if you’re saving for retirement only and not a shorter-term goal, consider putting money into CPF Ordinary or Special Accounts where the interest is higher.

Also, you can treat your CPF savings as bonds, meaning you can invest more in stocks.

6. “Each month, invest a regular amount into those same exchange-traded funds; put it into whichever fund you’re short of.”

Which brokers to use?

investing <$1000 a month – POSB Invest-Saver account for Singapore stocks and bonds; Standard Chartered account for overseas stocks.

investing >$1000 a month- Standard Chartered for Singapore stocks and bonds, and Interactive Brokers account for overseas stocks.

7. “Twice a year, in May and November, rebalance your portfolio—sell and buy the exchange-traded funds to bring your portfolio back to the “110 minus your age” proportion.”

8. “Go to the pub” – relax and go live life.

Other things I learnt

“Term life insurance is vastly cheaper than whole life insurance: anywhere from 80% to 90% cheaper for the same amount of coverage; or, equivalently, you can buy five to 10 times as much coverage for the same price. ”

“Let’s assume that you’re about 30 years old right now, and you want to retire at age 65. How much money do you need to save per year to hit that million-dollar goal? The answer is just $800 a month”

“The easiest way to improve your investment returns is to pay less in fees.”

“If your broker charges you more than 0.2% to trade Singaporean stocks, that’s too much. Fire your broker! If he charges more than 0.3% to trade UK or US stocks, that’s too much. Fire your broker again!”

Managing your money yourself is best.

“at the time I write this, Standard Chartered charges 0.2% to buy or sell Singaporean shares, with a $10 minimum”

The secret – Managing your returns by balancing stocks with bonds in your portfolio.

Don’t invest your CPF money. Leave it alone.

Never buy any investment product from an insurance company. Never.

“The 2008 crash was horrendous. A lot of people lost a lot of money, and if they panicked and sold in 2009, they locked in those losses. But the Singaporean stock market bounced back fast. Including dividends, it was nearly back to its pre-crash highs by the end of 2010.”

“The best way to combat emotion is to have a strong set of rules and stick to them”

“A good rule of thumb, then, is don’t invest in anything with high fees or anything with hidden fees.”

How much can you withdraw from your portfolio during retirement – 3% – “that’ll cover 2% inflation and a measly 1% growth in your account… So if you have a million-dollar retirement pot, you can withdraw about $30,000 from that each year—and if you have a good year, you can withdraw a little more to enjoy yourself.”

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.

stupid judges, stupid rules

#43 – Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers

dear kafka,

you may have rules in your life. for example, a rule could be “i must get married”. who made these rules? is it you or someone else? do these rules make you happy?

you may have an invisible jury in your life who judges you – “you must do it this way”, “you must have this by the time you turn 40”.

murder these idiots.

please yourself.

things i learnt

“I’m a student, not a guru.” – a philosophy for life.

make your own path – “Most people don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. They imitate others, go with the flow, and follow paths without making their own. They spend decades in pursuit of something that someone convinced them they should want, without realizing that it won’t make them happy.”

am i pursuing little distractions? stupid question. i am.

when i was young, i daydreamed a lot, creating many perfect worlds. i stopped daydreaming and my world isn’t perfect. – “When you make a company, you make a utopia. It’s where you design your perfect world.”

“Your business plan is moot. You don’t know what people really want until you start doing it.”

“The key point is that I wasn’t trying to make a big business. I was just daydreaming about how one little thing would look in a perfect world.”

“Five years after I started CD Baby, when it was a big success, the media said I had revolutionized the music business. But revolution is a term that people use only when you’re successful. Before that, you’re just a quirky person who does things differently.”

what are the little day-to-day things that fascinate me?

“We all have lots of ideas, creations, and projects. When you present one to the world and it’s not a hit, don’t keep pushing it as is. Instead, get back to improving and inventing.”

“If you’re not saying, “Hell yeah!” about something, say no. When deciding whether to do something, if you feel anything less than “Wow! That would be amazing! Absolutely! Hell yeah!” then say no.”

“Steve Blank: “No business plan survives first contact with customers.”

“I’m so glad I didn’t have investors. I didn’t have to please anybody but my customers and myself. No effort was spent on anything but my customers.”

“Never forget that absolutely everything you do is for your customers. Make every decision—even decisions about whether to expand the business, raise money, or promote someone—according to what’s best for your customers. If you’re ever unsure what to prioritize, just ask your customers the open-ended question, “How can I best help you now?” Then focus on satisfying those requests.”

“You can’t please everyone, so proudly exclude people.”

“The Hotel Café, a folk- and rock-music venue in Los Angeles, is a no-talking club. Big signs read, NO TALKING DURING PERFORMANCES! Performers are encouraged to stop the show if someone is talking, and let the person know that he can go to any other club in town to talk over the music. This is the one place in L.A. where you can sit and really listen to the music, which, of course, makes it the most popular music venue in town.”

It’s a big world. Even targeting the 1% of this world is good enough and they will flock to you when they hear you exclude the other 99% just for their attention.

what is a true business owner? you can leave the business for a year and the business will be better than when you left.

“Never forget that you can make your role anything you want it to be. Anything you hate to do, someone else loves. So find that person and let her do it.”

“Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller were at a party at a billionaire’s extravagant estate. Kurt said, “Wow! Look at this place! This guy has everything!” Joseph said, “Yes, but I have something he’ll never have. . . . Enough.”

“The less I own, the happier I am. The lack of stuff gives me the priceless freedom to live anywhere anytime.”

“Business is as creative as the fine arts. You can be as unconventional, unique, and quirky as you want. A business is a reflection of the creator.”

am i trying to impress an invisible jury?

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.

we are asked by life to do something

#42 – Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl

dear kafka,

an important book.

i will make every word count.

what i learnt:

life is a quest for meaning.

meaning is the primary motivational force in man.

many, including me, find that life is boring and meaningless (existential vacuum).

the meaning of life is not found but determined by the individual.

we are asked by life to do something. it’s our responsibility (no one else!) to determine what this thing is and do it. this thing can change from day to day, time to time.

we can find meaning in 3 ways: goals, relationships or courage in suffering.

there is meaning in unavoidable suffering.

you are free to choose your response to suffering.

how to respond to unavoidable suffering: accept, be brave, find answers, grow your spirit, laugh when you can.

make spiritual accomplishment a goal when suffering.

be worthy of your suffering. don’t waste it.

no goal, no future, no meaning – concentration camp prisoners were most depressed about not knowing their release date.

what i am thinking:

what is the meaning of life now?

what is my spiritual (non-religious) accomplishment?

i must suffer to grow.

Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

My previous newsletters are here:

Subscribe to my newsletter.


what is our immediate and exalted task?

dear kafka,

do you listen to podcasts?

if you do, i recommend on being with krista tippett.

i love her voice. just listening to her program makes me feel like a better human being.

when i am too busy, i read the transcripts of her program instead.

i like to share what i found today.

a thomas merton quote.

“It is true that we are called to create a better world. But we are first of all called to a more immediate and exalted task: that of creating our own lives.”