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Crocodile Brain

In Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff stresses going after the “crocodile brain.” Allegedly, the three basic parts of the brain are the neocortex, mid-brain, and crocodile brain.

Proponents of this croc brain idea (or at least the ones I’ve come across) hold an evolutionary presupposition that this is how the brain evolved. The croc brain being the original brain of our earliest ancestors, the mid-brain forming next, and then the neocortex (which is highly involved in rational thinking).

I don’t hold the same presuppositions. I actually think you could use the basic traditional Christian understanding of the soul and come to some of the same conclusions about how the mind works. Klaff makes the point that the three parts of the brain work independently and together. That is, they are distinct but can’t be fully separated. This is how Jonathan Edwards viewed the soul. He presupposed and argued that the soul consisted of the mind, the will, and the affections. These three work independently and together. They are distinct but can’t be separated.

I make that point simply because Klaff’s main point is that when you’re pitching an idea, you should go for the croc brain as much as possible. I think you could just as easily say, “Go for the emotions or affections first” and get the same result. I’ve come to accept the idea that we rarely make decisions with reason/rationality first. It’s more likely that we make decisions based on our gut/emotions and then use our rationality to make arguments after the fact that we made the right decision.

Klaff’s simple description of how the croc brain operates is as follows. The crocodile brain is concerned primarily with boredom, danger, and complication. The croc brain says, If the idea is boring, ignore it. If it’s dangerous, fight or run. If it’s complicated, radically summarize it (p. 14).

If you’re going to make a pitch or presentation (or even preach a sermon) with this in mind, you need to remember the main points:

  1. People are going to ignore you if possible
  2. They’re mainly worried about the big picture rather than intricacies
  3. They will respond emotionally first, especially is something scares them
  4. They’re worried about the here and now with a short attention span that craves novelty
  5. They want concrete facts rather than abstract concepts (p. 16)

We want to use the intellectual mind to pitch and preach things with a lot of details and abstract concepts. But people will primarily pay attention to things that touch their emotions, deal with their fears, offer some type of novelty, and are more concrete/image-based than abstract.

While I don’t believe there’s really such a thing as a croc brain or a lizard brain (I’ve heard that term used of the same concept), I do know that Jesus, when he described the kingdom of heaven, didn’t give a theological treatise. Instead, he said things like, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.” So often he went straight to emotionally-loaded imagery and narrative rather than giving logical syllogisms.

Pitching an Idea

In Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff summarizes his basic outline for pitching an idea like this:

“For [target customers]
who are dissatisfied with [the current offerings of the market].
My idea/product is a [new idea or product category]
that provides [key problem/solution features].
Unlike [the competing product].
My idea/product is [describe key features].”

Here’s what that looks like if we use it to describe the book we’re working on:

Recognizing Christ in Fight Club is for Christians who are tired of being told to avoid secular culture. Our book equips 21st Century Christians to engage secular content with the purpose of seeing and worshiping Christ in places where others tell you not to look. Unlike books that tell you to withdraw from culture, like The Benedict Option, our book teaches the average Christian how to see the glory of Christ in movies, songs, novels, TV shows, and culture in general. And our book does this without compromising biblical authority or the importance of the Scriptures.

You Too?

Whenever I hear someone say they write to “express themselves,” my first thought is, nobody cares. Life is hard for everyone, some more or less than others, but it’s hard enough that a complete stranger demanding attention in order to express feelings about whatever is significant to them, personally, smacks of entitled bulls**t, aka privilege. I tell my students over and over, the purest way to express an emotion is to elicit that emotion from your reader. I say purest, not quickest or easiest. The expression is purest because the emotions are the reader’s, unadulterated and straight from their own motherboard.

The purest way to express an emotion is to elicit that emotion from your reader.

Conveying an emotion—fear, joy, anger, love, contempt—by eliciting that response from the reader makes the feeling shared. It’s those moments that make reading so worthwhile, those moments when we come across a passage that speaks to us, where the author simply nails it by putting into precise words a feeling, perception or experience that is so fleeting and nuanced we thought we were alone with it, or lacked the capacity to express it, to share it. Those lines that make you stop and think, Yes, that’s it, exactly, those are the moments when the writer and reader meet each other halfway. It’s the shared experience of emotion taking place above some chasm of time, distance, age, etc., that is the very nature of empathy. “Yeah, I get it.” “Me, too.” “I thought nobody else felt that way.” It’s the same note struck at the beginning of a friendship or love affair. “Yes, you get me.”

-Craig Clevenger, from The Safety of Transgression versus the Risk of Honesty (LitReactor.com)

In Jack Gilbert’s poem, Poetry is a Kind of Lying, he says,

Degas said he didn’t paint
What he saw, but what
Would enable them to see
The thing he had.

Preachers, evangelists, writers, people take note: it is not enough to be excited. It’s not enough that something gives you goosebumps. It’s not enough to tell someone that you love it or how it makes you feel, or to tell them that they should feel the way you do. You need to communicate it in a way that will actually make them feel the way you feel and see what you have.

Asking Questions, Answering Stories

During my reading for a summer course on interviewing, I found this interesting take on the importance of narrative and the aptness of asking questions in order to elicit such stories:

The advantage of asking questions to initiate conversation is that it encourages the other person to talk about him or herself, an approach that Fisher (1984, 1987, 1989) called the narrative paradigm…According to Fisher, five assumptions underlie the narrative paradigm theory: ‘(1) Humans are essentially storytellers, (2) human communication is achieved fundamentally through stories, (3) through discourse humans use “good reasons” for believing or action, (4) humans have an inherent narrative logic that guides their assessments of communication, and (5) the world as we know it is a set of stories that allows each of us to construct and adapt our realities” (Fisher, 1987). Interview techniques can be particularly helpful at eliciting such stories and getting people to talk about themselves.

-Jonathan Amsbary and Larry Powell, Interviewing: Situations and Contexts, p. 19

I’ve made it a practice in my daily life to be constantly asking questions of people. I was first made a conscious decision to do this after reading Isaac Watts’ book (which I highly recommend) called The Improvement of the Mind. He writes,

If you happen to be in company with a merchant or a sailor, a farmer or a mechanic, a milk-made or a spinster, lead them into a discourse of the matters of their own peculiar province or profession; for every one knows, or should know, his own business best. In this sense a common mechanic is wiser than a philosopher. By this means you may gain some improvement in knowledge from every one you meet (p. 80).

Becoming an ‘interviewer’ has resulted in me getting to hear many stories I would never have otherwise heard. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Questions often illicit stories. And stories can lead to all kinds of good things. Besides from the entertainment value, you might learn something new. Do not be so prideful as to think that you cannot learn something from everyone.