Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

04 Feb 2006, 8:57 a.m.

Running Cliches Through The Cuisinart

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2006 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

Hey Leonard, how did Collabnet work out for you?

Like Leonard, I got book-reading as an initial task at my new job. I accidentally powered through Influence and the Carnegie way too fast because I also read them recreationally. Boy, were they good.

Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion and Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People approach salesmanship from different angles. Carnegie quotes Jesus and Lincoln a lot and focuses on specific tactics you can use to make others more amenable to your requests. Cialdini talks at a more theoretical level but includes examples from scams, sales, and studies to teach the reader to defend herself against manipulative techniques. Where Carnegie advises the reader to get the customer to start saying "yes, yes, yes" to a string of initial questions, Cialdini cautions the reader against the urge to accede to disproportional requests just to be consistent with earlier statements or behaviors.

Both authors mention that sincere persuasion is nothing objectionable. Carnegie stresses that it's also more powerful than sleazy tricks. I'll be using tips from both authors to do honest sales work for Fog Creek.

On my way out the door Friday I borrowed a copy of DeMarco & Lister's Peopleware, which I probably should have read years ago. I delayed reading it to read Book 6 of Y: The Last Man (a page-turner but not as politically awesome as earlier books, and with less captivating badinage, and more gratuitous skin, but I'll keep reading the series). I was especially struck by Chapter 3, "Vienna Waits For You." It quotes Billy Joel's song "The Stranger," [Belated update -- whoops, Zed reminds me that "The Stranger" is the name of the album and not the song] which made a huge impression on me when I saw it for the first time in 13 Going On 30.

But you know that when the truth is told
That you can get what you want
Or you can just get old
You're gonna kick off before you even get halfway through
When will you realize
Vienna waits for you?

Now, I was evidently not alone in thinking that the Vienna of the song was the dreamed-of wish, a paradise of our own making, the chance of happiness here on earth if we would only get up the gumption to reach out and grab it.

I'd not considered another view. DeMarco and Lister:

The Vienna that waits for you, in Billy Joel's phrase, is the last stop on your personal itinerary. When you get there, it's all over. If you think your project members never worry about such weighty matters, think again. Your people are very aware of the one short life that each person is allotted. And they know too well that there has got to be something more important than the silly job they're working on.

The bit in the song about dreams not always coming true speaks to the Peopleware view, while I find support for my interpretation in this bit:'s the life you lead
You're so ahead of yourself
That you forgot what you need
Though you can see when you're wrong
You know you can't always see when you're right

Here's where I pull a species of cheap conclusion trick: the fact that contradictory well-grounded interpretations of this song can exist is a testament to the enduring power of this classic! And maybe they don't contradict at all somehow!

(If you Google for "vienna waits for you", the top results are for tourism in Vienna. So the various Austrian tourism councils probably don't lean towards the Vienna=death side.)

Something like a decade ago, I was denied a spot as a page editor for my high school newspaper because (I was told) my people skills were insufficient. They were right. I was told to read Carnegie, which I did. They made up a copy-editor position so I could learn and practice editorial skills that year, which I did. The next year I got to be a page editor.

Carnegie was great for me because it systematically spelled out reasons for tactics that other people (e.g., my parents) advised haphazardly. Instead of just bumbling through a billion use-cases I got to learn the rules of the thing. Why shut up and let other people talk? Because they like to talk about themselves and their own problems and triumphs, just like you do, and if you listen to them they'll like you. That sort of thing.

My dad once told me to stop bringing books to read when we went to family friends' houses. "Bringing a book to a party is like bringing a sandwich to a dinner," he said, and I got it. And my mom tried to get me to listen better: "Listen to what people mean, not just what they say," she said, but I didn't get it.

My mom and dad tried their best, but I needed a handbook, something to memorize and apply, with lots of examples, and Carnegie helped a lot.

I wonder, in the same fashion as Leonard, how little teenager me would feel if I told her: the next time you read How to Win Friends and Influence People, it'll be to brush up, not to become a functioning member of society. You'll have self-confidence, a great job, a paid newspaper column on the side, a wonderful boyfriend, and a posse of superlative friends, who miss you because you've just moved to New York. Vienna waits for you.