Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Crappy! Chart! Thursday! Simple Cons Multi-Edition! The Explanation!

A friend and I very occasionally played a game in high school called: Convince Someone To Give You Their Lunch. The idea was that despite having brought lunch, you conned another kid into giving you their lunch (no threats of any sort were allowed). Was it obnoxious, inappropriate and unethical? Well… sure. But it was also pretty fun.

And it was so easy. People are so nice. They want to believe. Which means that quite often, suckering them takes little to no effort. You can string two unrelated sentences together: “My mom went to Atlanta. I don’t have my lunch” and without having lied (precise, unabridged version of truth: my mom went to Atlanta weeks ago to run a race and has long since returned and never makes my lunch anyway, which, by the way, is in my locker), have left loads of room for the listener to infer all kinds of nonsense. Most people jumped straight to the conclusion that a perfectly able-bodied teenager was helpless in the face of mom being away and so without mommy to make it, had no lunch at all – and possibly no breakfast, either (I didn’t add that I’d made my own lunch since 2nd or 3rd grade – I was the last of 4 kids). And they’d just… give me their lunches. Sometimes I’d hit the same target more than once, and to my amazement, despite the fact that I almost always admitted I’d been running a con on a bet once I won, the con would work a second time. On the same person. Who already knew I’d just been working them over to win a bet the first time I did the same thing to them.

However questionable the ethics of our little game may have been, the lessons I learned from it came in handy when I needed to get a Zimbabwean bank to open during a strike. And look, if you need a third world bank to open in a strike, it's nice to have some skillz to make it happen.

On a simple con like my lunch con, you need to keep three things in mind: chutzpah, truth, implication.

You gotta have the chutzpah to brazen it out and say true but unrelated things that will create inferences (remember: I didn’t imply it, suckahs, you inferred it) in the mind of the person you’re conning (also: using a narrow sliver of truth, instead of a lie, will allow you to keep things straight in your mind). It will be hard not to feel a little bit bad hoodwinking a nice, trusting person. But with practice, the twinge in your conscience will dwindle and let you enjoy the perks of Being A Horrible Person.

Also, look, before you call me dreadful… well, okay. Maybe I am. Still. This is the sort of thing that happens when public schools don’t keep nerds adequately challenged. And I’m talking about running a con, not being nice to puppies and babies. So. Keep your eye on the ball and let’s keep moving.

My youthful experiences with running small-potato lunchroom cons did not, sadly, give me a spidey sense for when I myself am being conned (I can be pretty gullible, and usually, I don’t really care if I’m being conned or not), but it did give me the ability, sometimes, to spot a con and appreciate its structure.

Which (finally!) gets me to my point: SPS is quite, quite practiced at the kind of simple con I used to run at lunch. They’re not ninja-level, but on simple cons, they do okay. They have a secret weapon that the rest of us don’t get: people are too harried not to trust the school district – so they’ll be busy, ask themselves “why would a public school district lie?”, take a look at their overloaded schedule and just… let it go. Basically, SPS gets a serious boost because people want to believe. (I wish I had a secret weapon like that. Instead…I have goats.)

Anysnoozles, SPS’s all-time favorite is linking two unrelated truths and allowing inference to brew and stew. They go to that well again and again (and again. And again).

Let’s chart it, shall we? The format will be slightly different than the usual difficult-to-read powerpoint exported directly from excel. Instead we'll run with several issues, each in its own post, and within the post divided into three categories:

District Statement (pretty much like what it sounds like)

Naked Actual Factual Facts! (me trying to convey the facts minus as much snark as possible)

Truthy SuperAnalysis!™ (um... truthful analysis. Possibly not as super as the TM and exclamation point would like it to be.)

And because... Halloween is coming up? I'm really cranky and tired? I've missed so many Crappy! Chart! Thursday! charts, including a long-promised sequel on performance management? Well, for whateve reason, I've finally gotten off my charting rear, and I've got a coupla days of workbook examples for Everyday Cons™, SPS-style.

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