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Reading Minds For Fun And Profit

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With all due apologies to the physical universe and to Gene Roddenberry, creator of the “Star Trek” television and movie series, Im here to propose that space is not “the final frontier.”

Rather it is the mind of man, studied and ruminated on since the birth of written records (and probably prior to that), that is truly “the undiscovered country” (sorry again, “Star Trek”). For despite all that examination, experimentation and cogitation, the mind remains, for the most part, an inscrutable mystery.

It seems to me, though, that efforts to promote the practice of mind reading could shed a great deal of light on the minds workings, not to mention having huge practical value. If we knew what our spouses were thinking, for example, thousands of marriages might be savedor quickly ended. OK, that was probably a bad example, but you get the point: Mind reading could promote better communication between people in all walks of life.

Now I know what youre thinking (ahem), but before you go pooh-poohing the notion of mind reading, let me offer some evidence in its defense.

One evening some years ago, I was playing a particularly competitive game of “Trivial Pursuit” with some friends when a question from the Science and Nature category completely stumped me. I like to think I know a lot of things, but this particular question had me absolutely bumfuzzled. I couldnt make an educated guess at the answer. In fact, I couldnt even think of a wild guess that made any sense whatsoever.

As my opponent, holding the answer in front of him, observed my apparent lack of knowledge with a smile of smug satisfaction, a thought came into my head. It was a nonsensical thought, a ridiculous thought, a thought that could never in a million years be the answer I needed. But it was the only thought that came, so I sighed, rolled my eyes and blurted it out.

Lo and behold, my random thought did indeed turn out to be the correct answer, and this upset my opponent to no end. “You got that from my mind!” he insisted, whereupon he threw the cards down and quit the game, leaving me the undisputed winner.

Now youre probably thinking you need a more convincing example than this one instance of seeming ESP. OK, then consider this.

I once saw a performance by The Amazing Kreskin, a “mentalist” and magician, in which he was able to zero in on the thoughts of one lady in a crowd of hundreds, then ask her whether she had a brother named John, and if that same brother was not at that moment suffering from cancer. The woman, in obvious shock and surprise, broke into tears before a stunned crowd (and a stunned Tech Guru) and admitted that it was indeed the truth.

One thing that puzzled me, though, was that Kreskin has claimed many times that he has no special psychic abilities. In doing some reading later, however, I discovered that mentalists often employ confederates who do “research” by mingling with the crowd before a show and picking up tidbits of information that may later be useful to the performer. I cant say for sure this is what happened, but it certainly would explain the facts.

Admittedly, this wasnt mind reading in the way we normally think about it, but it is precisely this kind of mind reading that Im recommending here for virtually everyone in this industry.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presiding over a lunchtime chat session at IBMs Global Insurance Executive Conference in San Francisco. One of the things that had impressed me the most at the conference was a presentation by Bill Pieroni, general manager, Global Insurance Industry, for IBM Business Consulting Services in White Plains, N.Y. The presentation was a summary of IBMs research into the worldwide insurance industry; the word technology was barely mentioned, even though that is IBMs business. One might have expected a treatise on IBM products, but Pieroni had something even more important to say to the insurers present. It was simply, “I know what youre thinking; I know your business.”

Those in my lunchtime discussion group agreed that dealing with someone who knows your business and knows what youre thinking is a definite advantage. Insurers at the table noted that some software companies especially will come in knowing a lot about one part of the carriers business, say claims, but virtually nothing about the rest of the business that is still tied to that function. These software vendors havent done their homework, and the result is that meaningful communication is difficult and that a sale is less than likely.

Whether youre a carrier trying to reach agents and brokers, an agent trying to communicate with insurers, or a technology vendor trying to sell to virtually any audience, the lesson is clear: Be a mind reader.

If you cant perform the actual brain scanning feat (and lets face it, theres only room for so many of us gurus), you can at least get out and mingle with those people youre trying to reach. Be patient. Keep your mind and your ears open, and do the homework you need to do so thatwhen that opportune moment arisesyou can say with confidence, “I know what youre thinking; I know your business.”

So, anyone for a game of “Trivial Pursuit”?

Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, October 10, 2003. Copyright 2003 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.