Recently, I found myself thinking about Street Epistemology (SE, to its adherents) and how some of the lessons I learned in the business world dovetail neatly with SE concepts. I spent some time thinking about how selling and marketing concepts can be incorporated into the SE lexicon: expanding SE’s reach, and making SE interactions more efficient and trenchant. A concept known as SPIN (not the political type!) can change minds and alter the way SE practitioners engage with ILs (interlocutors) in a positive way.

SPIN is an acronym that stands for Situations, Problems, Implications, and Need Payoffs.  The book, “SPIN Selling”, written by Neil Rackham, describes how the best salespeople listen to their clients attentively with “Elephant Ears”, ask good questions, and in turn, sell more.  Rackham and his team of investigators interviewed and observed the best salespeople and investigated what made them successful.  According to Rackham, SPIN works when a salesperson carefully examines how they currently sell, recognizes where they are deficient, and carefully navigates the SPIN process to arrive at a sale. 

One afternoon in the office, I was engaged in a conference call with a company that was trying to identify problems they had with their business of breeding expensive puppies. My company was established to provide cloud-based monitoring for all things analog and digital.  From temperatures, switch positions, humidity, to most anything else, my company’s hardware and cloud-based software solutions could monitor, trend, analyze, and alarm as well as or better than almost anything on the market.  My product was the “Internet of Things” (IoT) before there was an official IoT. When I asked, “What is the main problem you’re hoping to resolve?  The customer responded, “Of our eight puppy delivery trucks, on average, two puppies die during every delivery trip and on each truck.  My first thought was, “This must be costing them in the pocket book and they need a solution to their problem!”  The SPIN process teaches that almost everyone, when asked questions about their problems, will respond with their implied needs.  Initial answers are typically brief and sound something like this:  I need a car, I need a haircut, I need a new girlfriend / boyfriend, etc.  Rarely, if ever, will someone respond with their explicit needs such as: I need a car because mine caught on fire and my parents won’t let me use theirs, mine is costing me too much money as it’s old and the door handle is falling off on the driver’s side, my girlfriend / boyfriend cheated on me and I found a note to their lover inside their diary, I need a haircut because I have a job interview tomorrow and I know how important nice hair is to the person who’s going to interview me because she used to be a hairstylist, and so on. To extract explicit needs, it’s important to follow the SPIN process very carefully and skillfully and put on your “Elephant Ears”.  For me to identify the true explicit needs of this company it was necessary for me to do some skillful SPIN selling. What they had given me was their implied need. They wanted to stop killing the puppies.  This is simply an outcome and not the problem itself.  To fix their problem, I needed to ask a lot of questions.   SPIN is about drilling down and listening with Elephant Ears to identify explicit needs.  People only change beliefs after they realize their explicit needs are not being met.  After many discussions about the problem, what they’d done to correct it to date, and other things about their business, I finally asked, “What’s actually killing these puppies?”  The conversation went on without my involvement on the other end of the phone for at least 10 minutes. They argued back and forth making points and counterpoints until it was agreed it was likely the temperature in the back of the trucks or an accumulation of ammonia vapor from the urine which was causing these puppies to die. I then inquired, is there anything else about delivering puppies which causes you and your team to lose sleep at night?  A conversation ensued, and someone suggested knowing where the trucks were at any time would be very helpful. (Implied Need) I probed more as to what the implications of this would be if fixed and if not fixed.  A discussion began, and the answers were: 1) this would help them predict when the puppies would arrive at their destination, or 2) it would help them with customer service. I said, “If I hear you correctly, either the high temperature, the ammonia, or a combination of both is likely killing the puppies on long trips around the country?”  Almost in unison, I heard the response on the other end say, “YES!”  I then asked, “What are the implications to the business if your business doesn’t solve this problem?”  Once again, another discussion ensued.  The responses were: 1) upwards of $600.00/puppy if it dies, 2) clean up after a dead puppy, 3) inability to deliver what was promised to their customers, 4) social media backlash and protesting if puppies keep dying, and the list went on and on.  In sales and in changing minds, it’s imperative to have the customer think on and express the implications of resolving and not resolving their explicit needs verbally.  By doing so, you can address them in the “Need Payoff” portion of the SPIN sell.  I reflected my understanding of their implications in my own words and they responded “Yes, there were, in fact, many negatives associated with not solving this problem.”  I then asked them, “What are the implications to solving this problem?”  The feedback to this question was swift and heartfelt: 1) they would all likely keep their jobs, 2) most if not all the puppies would live, 3) the company could live up to investors and public expectations, 4) social media couldn’t fault them for dead puppies, 5) the drivers could be more careful if notified of dangerous puppy conditions and pull over to ventilate the cage area – the list went on and on.  Then I went in for the (excuses the pun) kill.  I asked, “If I could monitor both the temperature and ammonia of your puppy delivery trucks while they’re traveling down the road and notify both the company and the truck driver of the situation in time for the driver to pull over and ventilate the puppy area, would this be a benefit to the company, puppy store owners, your investors, and the public?  The answer I received back was a resounding “YES!” I then asked, “If I could track each and every truck while its moving down the highways and byways of our country and display this information for you on a website, would this be of benefit?”  Once again, I could imagine the heads nodding on the other end of the phone as they said emphatically, “YES!”   

Fast forward a couple weeks, I had a purchase order and a trial under way.  All this was because of SPIN.   Anyone who’s capable of “putting on their elephant ears” and “asking good questions” could have done the exact same thing.

In my opinion, SPIN can change minds and the way SE (Street Epistemology) practitioners engage with ILs (interlocutors) in an extremely positive way. When someone says, “I have a belief in a God,” some SE practitioners follow with questions such as, “What specific God are you referring to?”  “What leads you to believe the Bible is true?” etc.  Unless the cost of making a decision is low, it is difficult to change one’s behavior or consider another alternative.  When you buy milk at the store, the decision and risk of what to buy among the available alternatives is low.  If you buy the wrong milk, say 2% instead of Skim, or 1%, it’s only a couple bucks, right? It’s not a big deal.  Low-risk decisions are evaluated more quickly and without much consideration of the alternatives.  We may not go through all the mental gymnastics of our decision or seriously consider our explicit needs for a low risk purchase or change of perspective.  We may only require our implied needs be met in this case.  If, for example, you are put in charge of buying a new phone system for your company, there is a very clear implied need for a phone system.  What about all the explicit needs therein such as the ability for conferencing, muting, interfacing with other telecom devices, forwarding to cell phones, etc? The decision here is much more complex and the implications to you and the company can be extensive.  These implications are the explicit needs which must be met before any meaningful choice of what system to purchase can be made.  As SE practitioners, if we in any way start questioning an IL’s God belief, it’s a “BIG” deal to the IL. If we enter our questioning lightly and only consider the obvious and implied issue, “This person believes in a God, why do they believe in a God?” we are missing a very important step in what should be a successful process.  I wonder how our IL’s responses would change if we asked the following questions?

  • Is it a problem for you if someone you know holds beliefs you believe are wrong and possibly dangerous to him/her self and others?
  • What is life like for people who believe in true things over false things?
  • What would be the implications of someone only believing in true things?
  • What would be the implications of someone believing in a false God?
  • What are the implications of someone having a belief (or non-belief) in a God?
  • What are the implications of believing in a God to a person’s immediate Family?
  • How would someone’s life change if they didn’t believe in a God, or Ghosts, or Karma?
  • How do you think most God-fearing families would treat their family member if they left the church?
  • How is a person’s life who doesn’t believe what you believe in X different from yours?
  • What would be the implications to you personally if you stopped believing in X?
  • How might a person approach their family if they firmly believed something others may disagree with?
  • Would it be worth it to change ones opinion if it may indirectly cause derision within oneself or others?

Lastly, after asking probing questions to expand implied needs and beliefs into explicit ones, it is imperative to ask good “Need Payoff” questions. This closes the loop on all the questioning and puts a ribbon and bow on your efforts.  Without the Need Payoff questions, the individual or IL cannot easily and mentally connect your suggested solution to the identified explicit needs / beliefs.  Some examples of Need Payoff questions might look like this:

  • If a person could find a way to believe what is true, shed themselves of what is false and keep the peace in their family, would this be a benefit?
  • If a person had more time to spend with their family on Sunday and had acquired a belief in something which fulfilled their life in a better way, would this be a benefit to them and their family?
  • If someone believes their spouse is abusive and there is a solution that can rid them painlessly of this situation, would they see any benefit in taking a chance to make a change in their life?

As you know, this site is called Gateway Beliefs.  This being the case, it’s important (in my mind) to draw a clear parallel to this point  Whenever we engage in any sort mind expanding activities as SE practitioners, we are selling critical thinking, whether we are conscious of this or not.  When SEing we’re helping people open their minds to the possibilities outside of their traditional way of thinking. It’s important we enter these conversations thoughtfully and with great care.  If we enter our conversations with a mindset believing the implied beliefs posited by our IL are their explicit need, we are selling a solution without in many ways drilling down on to our IL’s true needs. How these people will feel and the implications of changing their own minds is huge and risky.  Most beliefs have much deeper meaning to our ILs.  Our job is to blow up implied needs to explicit and help our IL’s better understand all the implications of doing nothing or doing something to fix the situation they find themselves in. I believe if SE practitioners put on their Elephant Ears and drill down with thoughtful and probing Socratic questions, they can actually expose the deep seeded and hard to draw out explicit needs and beliefs of our IL’s .  In doing this, SE practitioners can truly help our IL’s move their lives in a positive way one Socratic question at a time.



The “new” MOAB – It’s worse than the bomb

You’ve likely heard of the abbreviation MOAB before.   From a military perspective, this stands for “Massive Ordnance Air Blast”.  The other nickname for this 11-ton weapon is the “Mother of all Bombs”.  The MOAB of the U.S. military has nothing on the MOAB of religion: the new meaning I’d like to attribute to this acronym proves more powerful than its weaponized counterpart.  From this time forward, MOAB should stand for “Mother of all Beliefs”

Believing in a God is the “Mother of all Beliefs”.

At this point you’re probably asking, “Why is believing in a God the Mother of all Beliefs?”  Believing in a God comes with an incredible amount of baggage which affects nearly every believer for his or her entire life.  It’s far worse than the bomb.  A belief in God affects:

  • How you view yourself
  • How you view your family
  • How you view your friends
  • How you view your actions
  • How you vote
  • Whom you love
  • Whom you hate
  • What you do with your thoughts
  • How you feel about your thoughts
  • How you feel about your actions
  • How you interact with others
  • How you view science
  • What direction you pray and how often
  • Whether or not you believe in the supernatural
  • What you believe about science
  • What you keep
  • What you throw out
  • Your position of social issues
  • Your position on ethical issues
  • Whether to seek medical attention
  • If and when you pray
  • Whom you date
  • Whom you marry
  • How you raise your kids
  • How you view sex
  • How much you enjoy sex
  • How often you have sex
  • What positions you have sex
  • If you can masturbate without guilt
  • What you read
  • The words you use to speak
  • How you interact with others
  • What you do with your money
  • The type of people you hang out with
  • What you do with your time
  • How much guilt you carry with you during the day
  • How much guilt you carry with you into your dreams
  • How you’re judged by others
  • You’re view on Reality

I know of no other belief which required this much “Brain Time”: it’s all encompassing.  All other beliefs you may have pale by comparison and are almost always viewed through your God-lens and belief.  Think about it.  Belief in a God is infectious and truly deserving of the label “Mother of all Beliefs”.

What other belief affects people as much as the belief in a God?  I bring this up because I don’t view it as a good thing.  Sure, many good deeds are done on behalf of God and these can clearly be a positive addition to society.  However, most are done with all praise and glory to be given to a deity instead of the people doing the hard work.  Is it worth it? Sadly, the damage done by a belief in a God far exceeds the good done in his/her/its name.  A belief in a God monopolizes people’s minds and forces strict compliance.  It blurs the boundaries between religion and politics. A belief in a God greatly affects the resultant propensity shown by religious people all over the world to ignore evidence of reality.  To me, the negative downsides to religion and the belief in a God clearly outweigh all benefits religion may provide toward the positive.

Here’s a quick chart I put together to illustrate my point

As my chart clearly indicates, belief in a God appears to be far more devastating to people and the world than even the largest non-nuclear bomb ever dropped to date.

If I had done a comparison to the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I know the number of people killed would be higher.  And yet, on balance, a belief in a God is still worse than these bombs in terms of its long term devastating effects on the world. Belief in a God (and how we should consider organized religions and their adherents) remains a greater threat both to our democracy and to our sanity.


Have we been duped, again ?

Lately, when contemplating my “Gateway Beliefs” and how these have effected me to this day, I felt the need to document my thoughts and answer a few questions I’ve been considering. Why did I apparently feel the need for Santa Clause in my life when I was young.  How could I have believed in a fat and jolly Santa? How does the belief in Santa bearing gifts and watching over people in their youth compare to the belief by many adults today in an all loving and powerful God interacting with their daily lives? Why have I been so gullible to myths all my life?

When I was a child, I remember coming downstairs in our family home and heading straight to the Christmas tree to see what awesome things Santa had brought me overnight.  I remember driving around the neighborhoods looking at Christmas light on years where Santa brought the gifts the night before X-mas (a story my parents concocted to accommodate family get togethers) Somehow Santa always showed up when we were out looking at X-mas lights. It astounded me how he sometimes brought me what i wanted, other years brought me something close, and on other years completely missed the mark.  I’m now 53 years old and have lived through the upbringing of my own four children.  I remember the many nights I stayed up late wrapping everything from small video games to even bicycles.  I remember taking bites out of the cookies and drinking the milk my kids laid out the night before the big day.  I remember going to church and hearing all about the birth of a God boy and how he was sent to be born, die for us, and save us all from eternal damnation. The joy on my kids faces on X-mas morning made it all worthwhile for me and my wife.  I also remember the faces on my children when I revealed who Santa really was.  “Santa is a hoax your mother and I were exposed to when we were children, and we consciously decided it was a good idea to impose this same hoax on you kids.” Ok, I didn’t actually put it this way to my kids because at the time I still had a belief in things outside of Santa which were supernatural.  Why did I do this?  What drove me to perpetuate the myth? How might I now tell my kids about things which are viewed by many as supernatural if I could do it all over again?

The reason I created this site was to examine all the “Gateway Beliefs” of my youth to see how they effect me to this day.  Hopefully, by examining my own beliefs, i can shed some light not only on how these faux beliefs have effected me over the years, but also shine a bright light on how others beliefs are effected.  I welcome any information from other cultures exemplifying similar indoctrination.

My belief in Santa Clause came crashing down when I was in early middle school.  I remember others making fun of me for still believing in Santa.  I thought at the time, “How can these people not believe in Santa, the evidence is there every Christmas?” “Why would everyone I love tell me lies and make up these outlandish stories?” “Can i ever trust my family again?”  My young mind had conjured up many many questions for my parents, family, and friends over the years.  Looking back, I was trying to wrap my brain around this mythical and evasive jolly guy who brought me awesome gifts every year like clockwork.  I clearly remember thinking and asking people:

  • How can Santa make it to every house in the world in one night?
  • How does he know when I’m sleeping?
  • He knows when I’m awake?
  • He knows when I’ve been bad or good?
  • He knows almost as much as God?
  • Why can’t anyone see him at night?
  • Why don’t I always get exactly what I want?
  • How can he eat cookies and milk all night and fit his fat ass in the chimney?
  • Is he God?

In my mind, all these questions were good ones.  Much like I do to this day, I pondered and asked good questions of those around me seeking clarification and understanding of the issues, much like those above.  The bigger question I should have been asking was, “How can I possibly believe the bizarre answers I’m receiving from my loved ones regarding these truth claims and the existence of Santa?”  They’d tell me, Santa had a sleigh with flying reindeer… he watches  you from afar…he keeps tabs on your every thought and action…he’s a very evasive person and doesn’t want you to see him … he cares about you… he loves you. he knows what you deserve… In my  mind, and in the minds of many children world wide,  Santa was possibly the best God ever and I even had visible proof.  As a child, I had good reasons to believe Santa was true.  All the available evidence supported this hypothesis.  Any argument to the contrary was easily explained away.

At the same time I’m being taught all about Santa, I’m also being told (indoctrinated) into a belief in another guy who lives a little bit further North than Santa.  He’s the real deal though….  He can and does see into everyone’s homes and he also knows your every thought and action.   Thus, he knows when I’m sleeping, when I’m awake, when I’m bad or good, he’s invisible, he died for me, he only gives me what I deserve, he listens to my prayers and adoration for him, he gives me answers every time I ask, but only on God time and only as he sees fit, because he knows what’s best and what I actually deserve.  Do you see any similarities between the beliefs for the existence of Santa and those of God?

When considering the comparison between Santa and God, i know why i was confused.  I know why I had a belief in Santa.  I know why up until recently i had a belief in an all loving and caring God.  The difference now is, I know all the bad excuses for why I can’t see God, why he doesn’t give me what i want, why he doesn’t answer my prayers, why he hasn’t shown up for the last 2,000 years, why people have different opinions as to who God is, and why he hasn’t done more to alleviate and end suffering all over the world.  It’s because, like Santa, he’s also likely a figment of our imagination.  People have been making up shit about God for two millennium.  People have had thousands of years of practice to refine and answer nearly all the questions one could possibly ask about God.  These answers were developed to fill in the gaps of our understanding so we can believe.  All these answers provide evidence of God’s existence, just like Santa.  They’re equally as dependable.  In the end, the toughest questions about God still require a way to fill the holes people can’t seem to resolve with reason.  Somewhere along the path to understanding God, someone came up with the solution and called  it Faith.  Faith fills in all the holes which can’t be filled with logic and common sense. If you don’t need evidence, then faith works for you.  If you need evidence, then religions have answers for all your questions.  There’s no need to think critically because you don’t need to with faith.  There are questions about the world we live in which we cannot answer at this time scientifically.  It’s ok to say I don’t know.  I’m ok saying I don’t know.  Is there a Santa Clause? – No, the facts prove his existence to be false, thus I no longer have a belief in Santa.  Is there a God? From what I’ve observed, the facts would indicate the likelihood of his existence is similar to the existence of Santa Clause.  I cannot say God is as much fiction as Santa, but I’m ok saying, “I don’t know”

In closing, just like Santa, I now lack a belief in a God. Based upon the preponderance of the evidence, God appears to be a figment of our cumulative imaginations.  All the stories made up to fill in the Santa plausibility gaps are very similar to the gaps made up to fill in the God gaps.  It may be time to sit down with your kids, your family and even your friends and let them in on the secret.  I want to live my life believing in as many true things and as few false things as possible.  I’m nearly sure hanging onto a belief in a God will likely not help me arrive at a happy place filled with cookies, candy canes, milk and honey or even perpetual happiness.  In the end, it likely won’t work for you either.  I think we’ve been duped, again.


Faith vs. Belief

I was recently asked by a friend, “What is the difference between faith and belief?”  This was while I was being interviewed on a local talk show and here’s what I said (albeit slightly improved and summarized).

Both faith and belief are often defined the following way:

Faith =  a strong conviction something is true without evidence: an unreliable process which will rarely point one in the direction of truth

Belief =  confidence in the truth or existence of something not
immediately susceptible to rigorous proof

As such, one can come to faith without much consideration at all: it’s a conviction without evidence.  Technically, by virtue of the definition, a faith is often defined with the use of the word belief.  When one has faith in something, it means they are embracing something solely without examination, without evidence as to whether that something is correct or incorrect.

In the case of belief, this is a state of having looked at or heard what is confirmed or trusted to be evidence, and which leads someone to the belief that something is true or false.

Can faith lead someone to truth?  I’d suggest, when someone has made a decision in the absence of evidence and they stop looking for proof to substantiate their position, they cannot find truth.  Faith cannot lead someone to truth without exploration of facts and evidence as opposed to a belief that is based upon evidence. It’s possible someone’s faith claim is true but it’s happenstance at this point.  I’d put belief one step up on the ladder of knowledge just above faith.  Even a modicum of evidence is enough to change someone’s position from a faith to a belief.  

During my conversation, I put forward the following scenario: I’m walking down the street when a stranger makes an odd request. They tell me to turn around and fall backward so they can catch me (this is sometimes called a “trust fall”).  Because I don’t know this stranger, I have 0% faith in their ability to catch me, and tell them no, I won’t fall backward.  At this point, I can’t have a belief because I have no evidence one way or another.  The moment this person provides me with some type of evidence as to their ability to catch me, I can choose one of three reasonable positions.  1)  I can have the belief based on the evidence if I fall back this person will catch me,  2) I can have a belief this individual won’t catch me,  or 3) I can say I don’t know if this person will catch me.  Any of these three positions are completely valid and reasonable in this situation.  Until I actually fall backwards, I have no hard evidence this person will catch me.  If after further discussions, I learn this individual has a successful hobby of doing this to help others get over their fears, is married, and has three kids.  Over the duration of subsequent discussion, I gain a bit of knowledge as to who this person is and finally recant my initial rejection of his/her request and agree to fall back and let them catch me.  My belief or lack of belief at this point can be softly justified based upon the information provided and will likely be different for each person evaluating the information provided.  I submit, at this point I have what I would call a “Soft Belief”: one that is based upon believed evidence and can change rapidly when faced with hard evidence.  At the moment a person falls backwards and is caught by someone, a soft belief can transition to a “Hard Belief.” The more times this exercise is successfully completed (i.e. – the stranger catches someone), the more rigid this belief becomes.  If a person fails to catch someone, the person falling backward will most likely obtain a quick “Hard Belief”  in this person’s inability to be trusted.

I’d like to apply this thinking to people of religion.  To my knowledge, there have been no supernatural claims ever confirmed scientifically.  However, many religions claim with God’s help, they can cure the sick, heal the afflicted, soothe both internal and/or external human pains, guarantee life after death, forgive sins, speak on behalf of God, speak in tongues via the holy spirit, convert wafers into flesh and wine into blood, etc…  Many believe these sleight-of-hand tricks as reality, and use them to justify a belief.  When someone professes a faith claim regarding God, (whether true or not) they can easily transition into a belief in a God.  Individuals who say they believe in a God based upon hearsay proof, should be said to have a soft belief.  Individuals who say they have proof for their God and can provide some personal evidence to support their belief claim (whether true or not) should be said to have a hard belief.  Any “religious person” who cannot produce evidence for their religious stance is basing their religious position solely on faith.

Lastly, can people’s beliefs be inaccurate? Absolutely.  When one’s faith converts to a belief in something, it’s based upon the facts as they are interpreted by the individual.  Faith and beliefs are subject to change and not all faith converts to belief.  Just like faith, belief can also crumble or morph into other beliefs or lack of beliefs after further evidence.