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3 Examples You Can Use To Promote Causes Honestly and Effectively

I've been seeing discussions about dishonest promotion recently (mostly sparked by what happened with Intentional Insights). I'm contributing the examples I have that show why we need to challenge the idea of using dishonest promotion. I also included where you can find quality information on how to do promotion in an ethical and effective way. You do not need to be dishonest to be effective at promotion, persuasion, or marketing, and I want to make sure everyone has quick access to good arguments and sources about why. I also want to make sure that ethical alternative methods are easy to find.

In case it seems like the choice is between being dishonest or weird, I'd like to add that there is no need to accept the "fate" of being dismissed as "too weird" when promoting unusual ideas and causes. There are both effective and ineffective ways to say something weird. I've seen a lot of discussions over time about this (for instance, discussions about ideas from Eliezer Yudkowsky). I disagree with the idea that ineffective weirdness is unavoidable. I think we can do better than accept "fate", and I'm sharing what I've read that convinced me of this.

Example one: when I was a sales person, I refused to mislead people. I was so good at giving accurate presentations, I won the quality award eight times in a row. At the same time, I sold enough that I made it into the top 25% of the sales team. A large part of the reason I was effective at sales is that people *trusted* me. People don't want to give you their payment details if they don't trust you.

Earning trust is a necessary part of doing sales work. You do this by treating people with respect. You demonstrate that you're committed to holding yourself to high standards and that you *want* to give them accurate information.

Notions like "You need dishonesty or you'll sacrifice effectiveness." just look like false dilemmas to me, and it's not just me:

Example two: the author Dale Carnegie did a huge project to collect all the information he could find on persuasion and test it. He wanted to find out what actually works to persuade people. What Dale concluded is that basically you need to really understand what people want in order to facilitate trading with them. His book became a bestseller and is still a popular go-to book eighty years later. The most effective strategy Dale found has nothing to do with lying. Instead, this requires skill with modeling people's minds and communication skills. You have to model people's minds correctly in order to understand what they want and also to communicate across inferential distances. Understanding what people want helps you relate to them and offer them something *they* value. If your idea seems weird, understanding how they think about things helps you find a way to explain your point of view so that *they* will relate to *you*.

It gets complicated to model people well, but the basic principle of understanding people to facilitate trading is simple and there's nothing inherently harmful about it.

Example three: I've read several books by Seth Godin, a very popular and well-regarded author, and I don't remember a single time when Seth advocated lying in the books of his I've read. Often, being popular and well regarded doesn't matter, but arguably, for a *marketing* author, these are mandatory signs of quality. If you think weirdness can't be marketed, read "The Purple Cow" where Seth recommends building your whole business around something weird, from the ground up, in order to do marketing *better*!

The Purple Cow by Seth Godin

This purple cow stuff is carefully done, of course. One does not simply go out and do something strange, expecting it to succeed for its strangeness alone. One does testing on each flavor and type of weird presentation to determine what works and what doesn't. Having weird ideas is *not* in your way. You can use the unique advantages of your weird ideas to do ethical and effective promotion. Weirdness definitely is not a reason to give up.

I have explained various weird things to people without it harming my reputation, and sometimes people like me better afterward.

Quality Information on Marketing and Persuasion: There is a successful person among us with a Goodreads book list which is relevant to you and you can read books about marketing and persuasion that he listed there. All my friends who know Matthew Fallshaw say he runs his business with a high level of integrity. Friends who work for him tell me stuff like how impressive it is that Matt actually cares about stuff like potential privacy issues that could arise and will actually have them prevented! Matt is a successful business executive who also gives to support effective altruism and practices rationality, so it is fairly probable that if Matt likes a book related to business, the book is useful. Because he's one of us, it's also probable that you will find the books on his list likeable. Now you know where to find good how-to books for this.

Matt Fallshaw's Book List (shared with permission).

My Point:
These myths will set you up for failure if you believe them, and they encourage mediocrity in other effective altruists rather than integrity and ambition. To those of us who have relevant experience, these are obvious uninformed opinions. Spreading myths and advocating for dubious practices makes us all look bad. When people are alarmed at low integrity practices, they often paint everyone affiliated with the same brush. This is called stereotyping bias, and it's a common human reaction. A lot of us don't want anyone taking the risk of giving EA a reputation for being affiliated with liars and weirdos. Those of us who are willing to educate ourselves about marketing and persuasion shouldn't have to tolerate the damaging effects of other people's uninformed opinions.

How this can be solved: If I encounter a leader advocating for dubious promotion practices or spreading myths, I will ask them if they can list at least three qualified professionals they hired who all failed to get results and who actually gave reasons for failure like "insufficient dishonesty". If I encounter someone else spreading promotion myths, I will ask them whether they have read at least five books on marketing, persuasion or similar. You can challenge dubious claims the same way: by asking whether the person did their homework.

Comments (5)

Comment author: DavidNash 20 January 2017 10:24:04AM 6 points [-]

This may be a community based thing but I haven't seen anyone advocating for lying in the UK and haven't heard of it much online either apart from one persons experience in California.

I agree with all the examples you have and think everyone should learn more about honest persuasion, but I'm not sure the myths to be bust are with the EA community rather than some peoples perception of the community.

Comment author: Kathy 20 January 2017 02:03:57PM *  3 points [-]

Edit: I agree that there aren't a large number of people advocating for dishonesty. My concern is that if even a small number of EAs get enough attention for doing something dishonest, this could cause us all reputation problems. Since we could be "painted with the same brush" due to the common human bias called stereotyping bias, I think it's worthwhile to make sure it's easy to find information about how to do honest promotion, and why.

I updated my post to mention some specific examples of the problems I've been seeing. Thank you, David.

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 20 January 2017 11:14:58AM 1 point [-]

Agreed wrt. honesty. (I’m from Germany.)

That weirdness is costly, though, is something that I’ve often heard and adopted myself, e.g., by asking friends how I can dress less weird and things like that. There’s also the typical progression that I’ve only heard challenged last year that you should first talk with people about poverty alleviation, and only when they understand basics like cost-effectiveness, triage, expected value, impartiality, etc., you can gradually lower your guard and start mentioning other animals and AIs.

Maybe Kathy doesn’t even contradict that, since the instances of weirdness that are beneficial may be a tiny fraction of all the weirdnesses that surrounds us, and finding out which tiny fraction it is (as well as employing it) will require that we first dial back all weirdnesses except for one candidate weirdness. I should just read that book.

Comment author: Kathy 20 January 2017 02:09:01PM *  2 points [-]

I agree that most people will not understand the most strange ideas until they understand the basic ideas. Ensuring they understand the foundation is a good practice.

I definitely agree that the instances of weirdness that are beneficial are only a tiny fraction of the weirdness that is present.

Regarding weirdness:

There are effective and ineffective ways to be weird.

There are several apparently contradictory guidelines in art: "use design principles", "break the conventions", and "make sure everything looks intentional".

The effective ways to be weird manage all three guidelines.

Examples: Picasso, Björk, Lady Gaga

One of the major and most observable differences between these three artists vs. many weird people is that the behavior of the artists can be interpreted as a communication about something specific, meaningful, and valuable. Art is a language. Everything strange we do speaks about us. If you haven't studied art, it might be rather hard to interpret the above three artists. The language of art is sometimes completely opaque to non-artists, and those who interpret art often find a variety of different meanings rather than a consistent one. (I guess that's one reason why they don't call it science.) Quick interpretations: In Picasso, I interpret an exploration of order and chaos. In Björk, I interpret an exploration of the strangeness of nature, the familiarity and necessity of nature, and the contradiction between the two. In Lady Gaga, I interpret an edgy exploration of identity.

These artists have the skill to say something of meaning as they follow principles and break conventions in a way that looks intentional. That is why art is a different experience from, say, looking at an odd-shaped mud splatter on the sidewalk, and why it can be a lot more special.

Ineffective weirdness is too similar to the odd-shaped mud splatter. There need to be signs of intentional communication. To interpret meaning, we need to see that combination of unbroken principles and broken conventions arranged in an intentional-looking pattern.

Comment author: Telofy  (EA Profile) 05 February 2017 09:53:39AM 1 point [-]

Fascinating! Thanks for the summary of how you interpret these artists! But even though I didn’t have any insight into their work, I think I still understand what you’re trying to explain based on other experiences. But there I encounter another hurdle, probably parallel to my lacking understanding of these artists’ work.

I’ve been surrounded by design all my life, so I can look at a poster and see that it looks intentional but I can try as I may to create something of the sort myself and still see that it’s not even close. But that’s not actually what I want to say. What I want to say is rather that my exposure seems to have taught me to recognize something even though I don’t understand how it works. That’s a huge advantage for designers or artists who want to speak to me or to any other nonspecialist.

I’m afraid, however, that a lot of EA concepts that I would like to impart are too far removed by inferential distance for most people to ever recognize any intentionality. I hope I’m wrong. My experience with the board game Othello is quite aligned, though: I used to be pretty good, so when looking at some games of players better than me, I would see a move that would give me shivers and make me stare at the board in awe. I didn’t understand it, but it was surprising (“break the conventions”) and looked perfectly intentional. At the same time, it was usually clear to me when one of these better players just accidentally clicked the wrong field. If I hadn’t been pretty good at the game, though, I would’ve seen just a random chaos of black and white chips.

There was some study where people were asked to solve a number of hard language tasks, some of them unsolvable. Somehow people had an intuition for which tasks were solvable long before they managed to actually solve them. Maybe that is related to the effect that artists are using. But again it only worked because these people already had a lot of background in language.

Maybe the only ones whose interest in EA we can possibly pique using the most fine-tuned types of weirdness are a small fraction of young progressives at universities, and not even just for reasons of moral differences but because we can’t communicate EA ideas effectively enough to anyone else.

I should’ve phrased this as a challenge. :-3