How to persuade the world you are right

How to persuade the world you are right


Dear trolls,

I shall be writing about gender, but I am not entering into a debate about gender with you or anyone about that now. I am going to write about the mechanics of swinging public debate.

I want to explore about persuading people en masse - at a societal level. How do you ‘win’ a public debate? The topics du jour are for instance abortion, climate change, homophobia and gender equality - and given the audience’s likely interest, I am focussing on the latter.

The lense that I am viewing this through is that of behavioural economics and neuroscience. I will focus on how and why the current approach fails - which is not a comment on whether the approach is true or false.

That is, I am going to criticise you for over-cooking the steak, and that does not mean I don’t like steak or that I am a vegan. My dietary preferences are irrelevant to the topic at hand.


How do you win an argument with half the society? How do you pitch your proposition so that your target audience buys your version of events?

The argument for and against Abortion is an example where an argument was had at a socio-cultural level. Few people will argue that abortion is today commonly accepted as a woman’s right. (Whilst I am personally anti-abortion, ‘my side’ lost the debate.)

In the 60s the era of free love heralded an era of sexual promiscuity (or sexual liberation, depending on your frame) and unwanted pregnancies increased dramatically, raising the need for abortion as the only viable post-coital solution to the problem.

For decades the debate raged within a frame of Pro-Abortion and Anti-Abortion. Progressive, secular leftists were typically pro-abortion and conservative, religious traditionalists were typically anti-abortion.

The abortion issue was resolved when the framing of the debate shifted.


Imagine if you were given the following choices:

A. Be given $240 - guaranteed

B. Be given 25% chance to gain $1000, and 75% chance to gain nothing

Statistically and rationally, which is the best option? Which would you choose?

In the research of Tversky & Kahneman it played out as follows:

A: 84 percent

B: 16 percent

That is, even though Option A is statistically/logically the worst option, people still choose it. Why?

Because most people choose to avoid loss rather than chase the potential of gaining even more. When it comes to making many of life’s choices their default frame is that of ‘loss aversion’.

The debate about ‘diversity’  - specifically gender equality - is a case where those in favour are trying to persuade those against to pick ‘option B’. Diversity proponents think they have logic on their side and want to win the argument on that basis.

The argument for and against Abortion is an example where an argument was had at a socio-cultural level. Few people will argue that abortion is today commonly accepted as a woman’s right. (Whilst I am personally anti-abortion, ‘my side’ lost the debate.)

In the 60s the era of free love heralded an era of sexual promiscuity (or sexual liberation, depending on your frame) and unwanted pregnancies increased dramatically, raising the need for abortion as the only viable post-coital solution to the problem.

For decades the debate raged within a frame of Pro-Abortion and Anti-Abortion. Progressive, secular leftists were typically pro-abortion and conservative, religious traditionalists were typically anti-abortion.

The abortion issue was resolved when the framing of the debate shifted.

Instead of discussing the issue as a wanting to kill vs not wanting to kill an unborn baby, the debate was framed instead as one of being Pro-Choice vs (by implication) Anti-Choice.

Most people don’t think too deeply about these types of things. When such a proposition is considered, it simply sounds stupid and feels it stupid to claim you’re NOT Pro Choice.

Who in their right mind would want their ‘right to choose’ denied, right?

Not long after that the idea of abortion not being an issue of the life and death of a baby became an issue of civil liberties; the frame was ‘the freedom to choose’ as opposed to  a frame of ‘killing the unborn’.

That was how the debate was won. That is the neuroscientific insight that can be used to tackle the Gender Diversity issue.

What is the status quo?

Organisations are struggling to articulate where they stand on the issues of gender diversity, equality, human rights and sexual identity, all the while not even being sure that they should even be claiming a position on these matters.

The Guardian called 2015 the year in which companies will take a stand on social issues.

●     Some companies are leading the charge: Qantas, led by a gay CEO (in Alan Joyce) being the exemplar for affirming publicly their position on these social issues.

●     Some companies remain silent, trying to quietly get on with business.

●     Some companies are bullied into adopting a stance that ostensibly supports the popular social justice narrative. (Hello Coopers beer.)

●     Some companies are taking a stand that supports an alternative view. From the lonely baker not wanting to bake for a gay wedding to Saudi national soccer team who did not support the minute of silence in memory of the London attacks, not everyone subscribes to the popular narrative.

The battle lines are drawn and the strategies that are typically employed :

●     Appointing Diversity and Inclusion Managers

●     Launching Women-in-XYZ Industry programmes

●     Setting gender-based targets

●     Making loud public statements

●     Feminist tweet storms

●     Publishing ‘think pieces’ on popular blogs

●     Virtue-signalling Gamma males

●     Boycott and bullying tactics

These are the ‘Option A strategies’ attempting to sell the positive ‘gains’ of diversity.

None of the above initiatives will work the way they are intended, however laudable the intentions and however noble the ambitions. In fact, I argue that they actually have the opposite effect of harming the cause.


Proponents of Gender Equality frames it variously as issues of:

●     Fairness

●     Diversity

●     Better Performance

●     Gain

The proposition is failing to get traction because it is framed incorrectly.


OR: Why the current strategy won’t work - counterintuitive truths and unintended consequences

Whatever you are choosing to persuade the people on must be TRUE.

You can NOT say abortion is about choice, if choice does not play a role. Having a different frame/lens does not change the ACTUALITY OF REALITY. It simply changes how you look at things.

None of the arguments proposed by proponents (of gender equality) are logical and neither are they valid. The truth is, people wear the default lense that is more concerned with loss, and what they are hearing in your argument is:

●     It is not fair. Only the men are going to sacrifice something.

●     It is not about diversity; it is about ideological conformity.

●     It is not about performance: the facts say otherwise.

●     It is not about gain, it is about loss of male privilege.

A fact is a fact, even if it is unpopular

When you want to frame the debate in a way that that does not recognise the ‘losses’ then it is likely to fail. The current debate has multiple factual and logical flaws that make it easy for sceptics to dismiss the validity of the proposition all together. Space limitations prohibit the full exploration of the supporting evidence, but the following are facts and/or reasonable conclusions. Please bear in mind that your own ‘lens’ may want you to see things differently, so just settle down and read on:

  1. There is such a thing as male privilege.

  2. The rarefied atmosphere of Blue Chip Boards is a closed shop - not only females, but even for highly competent males.

  3. The debate is dishonest. It is ostensibly about equality, but in truth it is about something else. It is rarely about underrepresentation of women in the roof tiling or profession or amongst the grave diggers. And the debate is never about getting equal representation in the prison population - which is overwhelmingly male.

  4. If the actual debate is about economic power and the concomitant freedoms, it is a legitimate debate to have.

  5. There is little benefit in giving up the male power base, so let’s not pretend diversity is about equality that has benefits for all.

  6. Men know they have to give up something, and loss aversion is a thing – and asking them to embrace it anyway is not realistic nor smart.

  7. Men are generally hardwired to be somewhat pragmatic and are typically less emotional about things. (And that is a fact.) Appeals to emotion won’t work in this case.

  8. Claims of equality are irrational. The differences between genders are obvious and the only way you can accept ‘equality of gender’ is to actually deny reality. Most men are simply not romantic enough to accept that version of reality. Mr Friedrich Nietzsche said it as follows: “Equality is a lie concocted by inferior people who arrange themselves in herds to overpower those who are naturally superior to them. The morality of 'equal rights' is a herd morality, and because it opposes the cultivation of superior individuals, it leads to the corruption of the human species.”

  9. Many men don’t really believe in these initiatives, but are acquiescing to public pressure or making these moves for personal career advancement. Sadly, some may not even recognise it in themselves. Virtue-signalling is now a thing. (The reason they don’t believe are because of the multiple erroneous/ dubious claims being made in the process of attempting to win them over.)

  10. Whilst women are underrepresented in certain roles, it is highly unlikely that it is so on the basis of overt gender-discrimination. A sceptic might ask where all these CEOs endorsing ‘diversity’ today were a mere three or five years ago. I think the truth is simple: none of them spoke up five years ago because no one thought five years ago that women were being discriminated against, because they weren’t! I have never (in three decades, across multiple organisations and on multiple continents) even heard a rumour where men conspiring to discriminate against someone because she was a woman. This is a sample of one, but it is a fact.

  11. If the people don’t think they have a problem, you will have a hard job fixing it. Have you ever met an executive male who will admit that HE is the problem? Or one that would give up his board seat for a woman?

  12. The fact of the matter is that there is wage disparity between genders, but most likely for several reasons that has nothing to do with male privilege. Here is an article that lists a bunch of facts which should at least indicate to an objective reader that such a sweeping statement about income disparity is not a simple, universally accepted one.

  13. The research also does NOT suggest that ‘diversity’ in Boards or Senior Management perform better. Read this piece by Wharton management professor Katherine Klein that summarizes academic research on the topic and comes to the simple conclusion: “Rigorous, peer-reviewed studies suggest that companies do not perform better when they have women on the board. Nor do they perform worse.”There is also research that shows that, in the US, unmarried women in full-time work in big metropolitan centres actually out-earn men.

  14. The proponents of diversity have not taken the time to study their opponents, taking a self-righteous approach without recognising that the utopian view is fraught with logical fallacies.

  15. Your gender does not make you a good or a bad boss. The worst boss I ever had was a woman. The best I have ever had was a woman. It is a sample of one, but it is still a fact. (And this is why the argument that you need more female bosses fails - any gender can make a good/bad boss.)

  16. Making a Board reflect an ideological commitment to diversity for the sake of diversity will fail because you are simply replacing one failed ideology (chauvinism) with another alienating ideology (feminism). It is a fact that feminism alienates most males (which is why women still do most of the house work.)

  17. If you choose gender as the basis of selection, you set up the selected people for failure. Tim Newman wrote on his blog about the Executive Team of the responsible entity for the building that went up in flames in London and gleefully pointed out how ‘diverse’ the Board is.

  18. Diversity peddlers ignore the very essence of Marketing: Punters ask themselves ‘what’s in it for me’ before they buy. In this particular debate, the honest answer is a bit of self-righteousness and not much else.

  19. Diversity activists are tackling the wrong problem: The problem with boards is not that they are filled with Old White Dudes. The problem is that they are filled with people - who happen to be OWDs - who all think and act alike. Cialdini popularised many of these factors, and in particular, the neuroscience behind ‘Liking’, ‘Social Proof’ and ‘Consistency’ are well established. And these are the factors that drive the decisions we make, including who gets the job.

  20. Evidence of under-representation of one gender does not equate to subversive discrimination against that gender. Correlation is not causation, right? There is likely to be a systemic problem, but it is not necessarily male vindictiveness.

I am convinced (so this does not qualify as a fact) that women of competence don’t want to be given roles because they are women. Was Christine Holgate appointed as CEO of Australia Post because she was a woman or because she was the best candidate? What about Julia Gillard or Gail Kelly?

Whether you agree with all of the above is irrelevant. Whether you like it is irrelevant. I am suggesting that the public (whom you are trying to persuade) believe that the above IS the reality, your frame will not succeed if runs counter to the reality.


By reframing the debate, we re-think and we re-affirm what we mean by, teamwork, leadership, effective communication and decision-making. By focussing on these ‘frames’, people realise there is is nothing to lose, and consequently that there is nothing to fear.

By redefining what success looks like, we are establishing the new attributes we are looking for in a leader. The lazy alternative is that companies are simply saying that we need more female leaders, which will bring those ‘new attributes’ to the table.

Both approaches achieve the same outcome, except that the latter is resisted because of the implied losses for the incumbents.

What we should be doing is to stop defining the only successful leaders as being aggressive, ball-breakers, connected to some ‘network, etc.; which are typically masculine traits and few women will ever measure up.

A good communicator is not the person with the loudest voice who can make others listen.

An effective team is not one who drinks and plays golf together.

If equality is framed as ‘success looks different’, and if equality is framed as ‘everyone can be successful in a different way’, and if equality is framed as ‘it takes all kinds of people’ to make the world go around; how could anyone argue with that reality? Importantly, there is nothing to lose, male OR female.

Any man who currently feels excluded from the boys’ club, and most importantly all of society would intuitively embrace the idea of ‘different strokes for different folks’ as coherent with their view of the world.

Just like everyone feels they should have the right to choose, everyone feels that it should be good to allow for differences since they believe we are different. (The logic notwithstanding.)

In the practical world we need diversity and you need unity. When you are considering a workforce or a board, you need to accommodate both these elements.

You want unity and similarity in that everyone who is elected to the board must have a certain type of experience and must have certain level of intellectual horsepower. You may want unity in their commitment to a cause or a passion for a particular market.

You want diversity in temperament, diversity in styles. You want action-orientated people and you may want strategic long-term thinkers. You may want conservatives and you may want progressives. Sometimes you need the ball-breaker and sometimes you need the diplomat.

If you only aim for diversity, then you will create discord. If you only aim for unity, you foster groupthink. Neither one is a recipe for success.

If Women accept that ‘equality’ is to be achieved by reframing what success looks like, they have to be willing to forego the illogical insistence that there is never a valid reason why there may need to be gender-specific roles.

It has been done it before. Not so long ago, the idea of  ‘commitment’ was re-framed in organisations. People can now leave at 5:30pm or drop the kids off before work and not be branded as lacking commitment or being lazy. Commitment and your work ethic is judged on your output (a new frame) and not your hours spent at your desk (the old frame).

Focussing on gender to remedy gender diversity is fixating on the symptom, not the problem.

The women I know who are great candidates for promotion, would prefer to be picked because of their abilities and not because of their vaginas. No matter how many times you squeeze the tomato, it won’t ripen any sooner. On the contrary, you are simply ruining something great, no matter how noble your intentions.

If your ladder is leaning against the wrong wall, it doesn’t really matter how fast you are climbing it.

The ‘right’ frame is the one that minimises ‘regret’

This is the way (the new frame)works in the real world:

  • You are respected for your position, your capabilities and talent - not merely your gender.

  • If you screw up, you are judged on your failures, not your gender.

  • If you succeed, you are admired for your success, not your dress sense.

  • We admire certain traits and attributes for what they are.

  • We recognise that women and men are different, but of equal value.

  • We are willing to be surprised by people’s abilities which may not conform to preconceived expectations.

  • We believe our differences are what makes us better together.

  • You need different notes to make good music.

  • We can all learn that neither of us make decisions with our genitals, despite the popular conceptions that we do.

  • If we both accept that equality is about opportunity, fairness and mutual respect, we may be able to accept that some jobs are naturally and practically more suited to another.


We ‘spot’ when someone is telling a lie, without even knowing how we did it. We don’t have to process things rationally to pick up a problem. Our brain simply registers the signs (behaviours like touching your lips) and the the actual words you are speaking.

That is the easiest way for our (lizard-) brains to make decisions - to be attuned to incongruence. The ‘frame’ you talk about needs to correspond what you do about it. Your WALK must match your TALK or people will notice, even when they don’t know they do.

The ‘special initiatives’ (noble as the intentions might be) reinforces the stereotypical roles of the benevolent male (we will give you certain privileges) and the weak female needing special assistance.

Affirmative action is an ACTION that is INCONGRUENT with the BELIEF and the statement that ‘women are equal’.

Danie Craven was a revered rugby coach in South Africa. He forbade his players to celebrate when they scored a try. His rationale was that scoring tries is what is expected of his team, and they should NOT act as if it is a rarity. I don’t know if that contributed to his success as a coach, but the idea is psychologically powerful: don’t celebrate your success as if you are surprised by it!

In early 2016 there was a story about a female pilot (Tracey Curtis-Taylor) who flew from Britain to Australia in a 1942 biplane. The news anchor (I forget the channel) gushed about the achievement of this brave woman who flew the plane single-handedly all this way.

Acting surprised when a woman achieves something (that wouldn’t make the evening news if you are a man) is not a smart way of spruiking the strength and bravery of females. Just do the story and let the fact that it is a woman who was brave (or whatever) speak for itself.

I have lived through Affirmative Action programs as beneficiary and as victim. Even the benefits have unintended consequences and the key disadvantage is that these programs are like a virus that infects and eventually paralyses the host. All round, it is a bad idea.

People may believe fervently in an idealised reality where things feel good and everything is just fair. Unfortunately, that is not reality. And the only way to fix this is to deal with the reality we face.

Re-distributing wealth and re-assigning Board seats are all strategies that inflict pain on one side of the ledger. People are naturally averse to this. By re-imagining and re-framing the debate to be about the gains both sexes will make, you rewrite the narrative and stand a chance of persuading them. Of course, those who don’t subscribe to the idea of parity will continue to frame the debate to be about what men (all incumbents) will lose.


To persuade the world, the successful approach requires that (1) it must be true, then that you (2) pick the right frame (that minimises regret) and finally, (3) ensure beliefs and behaviours match up so that you don’t undermine the message.

I have illustrated this approach with the gender equality debate. The same ideas work for any scenario where you want to persuade someone.

A better frame for Climate Change will be about benefits of innovation, job creation and the like; i.e. the things you will gain. The current frame is accentuating the losses. We won’t be able drive everywhere, we need to give up air conditioning. We are going to LOSE jobs. Proponents are trying to claim (with religious ferocity I might add) that we should do the right thing and ‘save the environment’. All we hear and all we think about is what it is going to cost us. In fifty years when the sh*t hits the fan, I will be dead, so that particular calamity is not particularly real. Having to give up my car, here and now, is a real pain and few people think it is worth the price.

The only aspects of the climate change debate that succeeds occasionally is when they excessively appeal to science, but articulate it in a way that makes people fear looking stupid by denying it. But that applies to only some people. Real climate change deniers actually know a little bit about climate change - at least enough to know the science is not as settled as climate apostles would want you believe.

Which brings us to the most important question: which is the best way to cook a steak?

Have you got your copy of THE BEAT OF THE MALL yet?

Have you got your copy of THE BEAT OF THE MALL yet?

There is a Michael Collins is all of us

There is a Michael Collins is all of us

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