The Smart Friend Maneuver

In this post I will explain why it is useful to imagine asking someone smarter than you what to do. The short version of it is that if you believe your smart friend can solve the problem, a solution must exist. Therefore, you too can find the solution. It’s name is The Smart Friend Maneuver, in homage to the person I am stealing from.

I think the long form explanation is worth understanding.

When you study persuasion, one of the first things you accept is that there is an objective reality, but we don’t have access to it. That’s part one.

Part two is imagination. The realm of possibility is completely unknowable. Is something really impossible? We have no way to tell.

As a simple example, the can opener was invented 40 years after the can itself. You know the prerequisites for creating a can opener were around at the same time as the invention of the tin can. But it took half a lifetime to figure out a faster way to open one.

One of the stories we hear over and over again is the importance of belief. There are many possible variables that go into succeeding with ambition. You can mix luck, good choices, hard work, determination, luck, belief, and a few other common variables. It seems like many different combinations are possible. But everyone would agree that belief is an important factor.

This mystery is explained by psychology.

When you believe something, your mind begins to seek out information that supports the belief, and filter out conflicting information. Confirmation bias is part of why this happens. The name of the feature isn’t important though. Note that understanding why it happens is not as important as understanding that it happens. And the effect of belief can be pretty powerful.

Now that you understand the importance of belief, let me tell you a story.

A friend of mine brought me along to walk his new dog. He’s a smart dude, but I sometimes think his imagination is lacking a bit of fun. You’ll see.

One of the first things he pointed out to me is that having a dog is great for starting conversations with attractive women — in that they do it for him, because his dog is cute. I bounced the idea back to him as a non-serious puppy rental service.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with the idea of a thought experiment, I should explain. It’s not serious. You entertain the premise of a thought experiment as a sandbox for possibility. Give the initial variables, and see where your mind takes it. You don’t have to consider any parts of it that don’t contribute to your desired outcome. In my thought experiment, the dog is obviously not harmed by this. That would detract from the fun of thinking about it.

I explained that puppies could be rented out from their owners to go on walks with strangers for a fee. The fee would cover the costs of raising the dog. The renter would have an hour to visit a park and score phone numbers. Simple, with plenty of room to imagine humorous outcomes.

As a persuader, I recognize that my friend was primed with “care-for-the-dog” type thoughts and feelings, so it was natural that he told me, “That won’t work because…”. I replied by asking if he could come up with some ways in which it could work. He was stumped.

Any persuasion student will recognize this as cognitive dissonance. His mind had picked its side. It literally barred him from imagining the alternatives. I took this as an opportunity to experiment further and said, “What if Elon Musk had proposed this idea? Would you believe it could work then?”

He immediately agreed it could work if Elon Musk had proposed it. Citing Musk’s track record, of course the idea could be fine tuned. Suddenly, the idea was possible. I believe that if I had asked, he would have then been able to come up with scenarios in which the puppy-rental worked.

I then pivoted to talking about Neuralink, which is Elon Musk’s most ambitious project yet. Neuralink intends to enable two way communication between the human brain and a strong AI. No more keyboard and mouse. Just a computer that understands your imagination, and sends signals back to respond. I can’t get more specific than that, because Musk’s team hasn’t invented the specifics yet. But they will.

I closed my explanation of Neuralink by saying, “If I had proposed this idea, you’d say it would never work. But because Elon Musk came up with the idea, it seems possible.”

He replied, “Well, of course. He has a great track record.”

It would be easy to overhear this conversation and miss the sink hole sized opportunity for understanding. Luckily you have me.

We agreed earlier that belief is a crucial part of making an idea work. If you don’t believe in an idea, you will give up on it years or even days before inspiration hits you. And for a truly ambitious project, inspiration needs to hit you over and over again.

My argument is that belief is necessary for your mind to even accept the possibility of solutions existing for your problem. Propose an idea that is too ambitious for your ego to handle, and your body must immediately deflect the task of working on it.

This applies in a similar fashion to ideas that come from other people. A person who lacks credibility can say the exact same words as someone who is fully credible and get an entirely different result. I mean, my buddy wasn’t exactly using a control group when he said, “Yes, I believe it because Musk said it, and not you,” but I assert that this works anecdotally.

At this point, I was going to end the story. But something happened on my drive home. The idea rubbed together in my head with a new idea, and I had a flash of insight.

I was wondering if it would be possible to undo the damage recorded music brought on musicians. I didn’t look this up, but “musician” used to be a career before the gramophone came along and ruined everything. Now we are left with a “winner take all” effect. 99.9% of musicians who ever pick up an instrument will never make a penny from their work.

My initial conclusion? Impossible. It seems dubious that I could figure out a way to uninvent the .mp3. The solution would have to involve a new technology or social change that brought back music as a common career. That’s far beyond my capabilities right now (or so I believe).

But I do have a smart friend who I believe is capable of creating a solution. For a second, I entertained the thought of asking them to think about it for a few days and get back to me. And then it hit me.

I believed that my smart friend could invent a solution. Therefore, there must be a solution waiting to be discovered. I even came up with a (bad) solution while I was typing this out. Suddenly, the realm of possibility has a crack forming. I can see something on the other side.

I call this The Smart Friend Maneuver because this individual gave me explicit permission to consider them my “smart friend”. So far, he hasn’t let me down.

If you need help using the Smart Friend Maneuver, you can always ask me.