Hot Cognition and the Crocodile Brain

Image courtesy Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis

This post isn’t about interviewing skills, but if you get this right, you can get any job. The techniques used to turn on “hot cognition” are the key to pitching – and winning  – million dollar deals. Master these techniques, and you can sell yourself to anyone. Promise me before we go on that you will only use these powers for good. I’ll wait.

Good.  Now we can talk about how to win over what author and business development expert Oren Klaff calls “the crocodile brain.” His book: Pitch Anything: An Innovative Method for Presenting, Persuading, and Winning the Deal, reveals the science of Neuroeconomics, which he describes as “the Rosetta stone for human behavior.”  He goes on to define Neuroeconomics  as the “combination of neuroscience, economics, and psychology to study how people make decisions. It looks at the role of the brain when we evaluate decisions, categorize risks and rewards, and interact with each other. “

Klaff has used Neuroeconomics  to raise over $400 million in deals to develop projects since 2006. He starts out by defining the key to success when you pitch anything: keeping the audience’s attention. But what does that mean, and is there a reliable, learnable, technique for holding attention? Lucky for you, there is. Klaff spends time getting you acquainted with the parts of the human brain and their functions. The crocodile brain is the most primitive part of our cognition, the earliest to develop. It filters most of the incoming messages the brain receives, and is responsible mostly for figuring out whether something is an immediate danger. It’s basically got just two response buttons: danger (run!) and boring (ignore.) It produces strong emotions, too: love, hate and desire among them, but it’s not really good at, well, thinking.

The midbrain, the next most developed cognition center, is used for determining the meaning of things through sensory input and the context of social situations. The Neocortex is the most evolved part of our brain; it’s where we process complex thought and solve problems.

And that’s the problem, Klaff writes.  We prepare for presentations (including interviews) using our complex thought center, the Neocortex. But that’s not where the message is screened; it’s screened in the crocodile brain. And the crocodile brain views new information in only two ways: a danger (something to avoid or eliminate) or not a danger, in which case it can be safely ignored.  Either way, your message is bouncing off without creating any desire for what you’re selling.

Most people try to persuade using facts and figures; they figure that the smarter they sound, the better their chances of success.  But the crocodile brain, the screener, is not good with facts or figures. It simply kicks them upstairs to the Neocortex for processing.  Klaff calls this processing function “cold cognition.” The Neocortex loves to process data, but it doesn’t make buying decisions; we use data to justify decisions only after we’ve made them.

Decisions to like or dislike something – or someone – are made quickly, and generally without thinking. What we want, and what we like comes early in our processing, and it’s the crocodile brain doing the processing. (That’s why it’s so hard to talk yourself out of ordering dessert using logic; logic isn’t what’s at work there.) Wanting or liking something, getting turned on to an idea or a person, comes from the crocodile brain, and Klaff calls this processing “hot cognition.” It’s not based on data; it’s based on stimulating the primitive part of your brain without creating fear.  That’s the secret to selling anything: arousal without alarm. Actually, it’s arousal with just the right amount of alarm; just enough to keep your audience interested, intrigued, and present in the moment.

‘Interested and intrigued’ makes for a great interview, and may lead to a great offer. In your next interview, try selling to the crocodile brain.


4 thoughts on “Hot Cognition and the Crocodile Brain

  1. Thank you. That was amusing. He should have taught the General Psychology course I took years ago Everyone would have failed the course, but the Croc brain would have been well-fed.


  2. […] is really really important for a trader. Why? Because your croc brain can really make you suck. You see, the croc brain is where all the information comes in first. And […]


  3. […] work. It needs cold, hard facts with any new stimulus. Remember English composition class? The croc brain is the who, what, where, and when filtering […]


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