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My interview with a pickup artist

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About 18 months ago, I was in a strategy meeting with my publisher. There were about 7 people around the table — all women. (Most of publishing is women.) We were discussing which markets to promote my book to, and we’d discussed all the obvious ones: Men 24-35, women, moms, parents, etc.

Then I spoke up. “I want to talk to the pickup artists.”

The room got quiet. “Who?” somebody asked.

“There’s a huge sub-culture of guys who help other guys learn how to be more confident and get a girlfriend,” I said. “They’re all interested in self-development and psychology — which is exactly what my book is about.”

“Ugh,” somebody else said. “Is this like those guys who ‘neg’ women to try to take them home from bars?”

I was not surprised to hear the skepticism. Pickup artists (PUA) have gotten a terrible name — and rightfully so. They first become famous through the fascinating book, The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists, and have gone on to create a multi-million-dollar market.

The main idea was to help men learn how to approach and engage women. It could be used for short-term gain or to help men become more confident and get into long-term relationships. Personally, I have many friends who could benefit from some coaching.

Predictably, many people saw only the surface applications and were angry. Common complaints include “How dare they use tricks on women,” “Only certain kinds of girls fall for this crap,” and “This is only for weirdos who have no social life.”

However, I was hearing dozens and dozens of stories from guys who’d had success from using the principles. Notice I said principles — not tactics. Principles underlie everything you do and are critically important to long-term behavioral change.

For example, I can teach you a cool negotiation script — a tactic — and it will probably work. But once you use it, have you changed anything long-term? No. That comes with automating the behavior and changing your overall mindset.

So I got interested. I investigated the field. I examined the principles and tactics. I made friends with some people in the field.

And I became simultaneously fascinated and disgusted.

I was fascinated because pickup artists employ extremely sophisticated applied persuasion techniques, including inoculation, commitment, and social influence. They rigorously test their ideas to find out which works. And they are committed to deeply understanding their approach.

However, pickup artists quickly became ethically questionable. The first players in this game kept it to themselves and a small group of people, who all shared techniques to encourage self-development. Once The Game launched, the market exploded — and where there are young guys with money, there is a rich market.

To many, pickup artists became less about self-development and more about extremely expensive seminars and bootcamps.

Now, I have nothing against expensive educational material. In fact, I sell some of the most expensive material you can buy on earning more money. And it is extremely good. But I can only sell it for such a high price because my free material works — and my premium material works even better. Slowly, steadily, I’ve built up trust with my readers over the last 6 years.

Some of the PUA guys are very, very good. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But many are bad and sleazy, and the field is now filled with a combination of excellent instructors and disenchanted customers who were promised a quick fix but failed to see it — even after spending thousands of dollars.

The importance of being interdisciplinary

It’s controversial to talk about pickup on this site. Women get angry, men scoff publicly (but secretly go Google “PUA forum”), and nobody likes thinking that we’re susceptible to scripts and techniques to get us to go to bed with someone else.

But I’m going to talk about PUA anyway.

Do you know why?

Because you need to be more interdisciplinary.

Enough reading 50 blogs about the same topic.

For example, I’m honestly bored by most personal-finance sites. With a few excellent exceptions, most of it is trite, conformist, and reveals very few new insights about money. Instead, I read books and blogs on psychology, persuasion, deception, biology, health and fitness, entrepreneurship, and gender relations.

And that is why I like to think this site keeps you engaged.

This is why I bring you exclusive material like my interview with BJ Fogg, a Stanford psychologist who is one of the foremost experts on persuasion.

It’s why I did an interview with my friend Derek Sivers, a successful entrepreneur who’s a keen observer of human behavior that’s systematically studied how to get disproportionate results.

It’s why I emphasize negotiation and testing and the psychology of money, not just saving money on cat food.

And that’s why I did an interview with a group of pickup artists.

I hope this doesn’t offend you. There are critical insights to be gained here, even if the topic is controversial. And I think you’ll find that I presented my argument respectfully.

If you are offended, let me remind you that skepticism is not a strategy.

If you’re open to the ideas, I invite you to listen. I covered some material that will challenge the way you think — specifically about the similarities between the personal finance and pickup.

How are personal finance and pickup similar?

  • We all think we “should” know about money — and meeting women (or men) — but nobody really teaches us
  • Friends give us random “tips” and “tricks” (say this! invest in that!) but we never have a holistic, systematic understanding of the process
  • It’s taboo to talk about money — and it’s taboo to talk about how you’re failing with women
  • Quick wins are important, but BIG WINS — attitudinal and behavioral changes — provide the best long-term benefits
  • We can read book after book about investing…but it means nothing until we implement
  • Testing is critical
  • 99% of people will stop at the surface of both topics — PUA and personal finance — but the very few, the very best, will see them as deeply connected in the area of self-development. This is why so many people who succeed in automating their finances go on to improve themselves in health & fitness, public speaking, and relationships
  • Many more

Making connections between fields is so important. For instance, in undergrad and grad school, I took courses on negotiation, deception, cults, magic, minority influence, organizational development, group dynamics, arbitration, personality/social psychology, persuasive technology, and social systems.

Some were controversial. But every one contributed to my views on human behavior.

And I hope to bring that to you through this site and my premium products.

If you’re interested in checking out my interview with Jordan Harbinger of The Art of Charm, I’ve put together the full 69-min recording for you. I’ve included a transcript, too.

This is free to readers of “I Will Teach You To Be Rich” — but in exchange, I ask that you trust me with your name and email address so I can continue to challenge the way you think.

You can get the recording of my pickup podcast interview, here:

(Can’t see the form? Click here to sign up.)

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77 Comments

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  1. This is extremely fascinating. I think one of the traits of extremely successful people is their uncanny ability to achieve effectiveness through unorthodox measures. Great article, Ramit.

  2. Hi Ramit,

    The problem I see with many when it comes to money is that either one ignores all there is they need to know (maybe some basic knowledge – putting one’s check in the bank doesn’t count), or when it comes to investing anyway – skip the simplicity of buying stocks and go right for options trading. I cringe every time I meet new investors that tell me they have blown hundreds of dollars learning the basics of options trading. The words, “Basic” and “Options Trading” don’t belong in the same sentence! This is a results-now society we live in, and when it comes to investing, it can often lead to a bad first taste when it comes to investing. People tend to take their first stock tip from their friends, relatives, or someone that they have no business listening to when it comes to a successful investing track record. Trust me, some of the gurus you see on business television aren’t that much better. Personal finance is a fairly routine subject that most gurus tend to spin ever so slightly to make it sound as if they have discovered any hidden secrets. Investing and trading successfully (something I did for 15 years before launching Dividend.com) is all about leaving your emotions at the door and finding a successful strategy that does not have you biting your fingernails every time the market has a down day. Confidence in your ability to adjust to any situation is also key, as I’m sure any PUA with a good track record can attest. I often find street smarts is more essential to book smarts when it comes to better investing. Thinking you are smarter than the markets will only get you in trouble. I’m sure a good PUA can tell you that having amazing looks is not as important either, when it comes to landing your prey. As you said above, without testing or implementing, you will never get to taste the big wins that could be sitting there for you, whether it is your career, money, finding a spouse/girlfriend, etc. I am always urging my readers to automatically get some of their hard-earned money into a brokerage account, so there are no excuses to not being in a position to build wealth. Whether you like investing in index funds, dividend stocks (which is what I do/teach), mutual funds, ETFS, or whatever, the key is getting yourself and your money in position to do so. Great topic Ramit!

  3. [NOTE FROM RAMIT]

    I deleted this comment. It was left by a troll who has been using multiple names and email addresses and has left only negative comments — over 10 of them, in fact — with no constructive feedback.

    • This is interesting. I haven’t been following Ramit long enough to get this impression of him, but this is almost the EXACT impression from many other bloggers who make their income solely from their blogs, such as Everett Bogue, Tammy Strobel, and Karol Gajda. The products I bought from them didn’t seem to help me achieve anything extraordinary that I wasn’t already achieving in my life.

      I guess the point of a service like this is to conglomerate information into an easily digestible format for people who don’t want to figure things out on their own. Once again, I haven’t been through Earn1K, so I’m not judging Ramit – I’m judging all the other similar programs on the web.

      Sorry to hear you didn’t get what you wanted out of the course, but I’m glad to hear a critical review.

    • Interesting, I thought that the step-by-step worksheets, like the scripts and other practical tools, were what set 1K apart for me. I definitely didn’t work through everything, but have been able to apply it to my existing business. What was your experience with the *activities* as opposed to the passive *content*?

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by jpelker's top news and Reader, pok rap. pok rap said: My interview with a pickup artist: About 18 months ago, I was in a strategy meeting with my publisher. There … http://bit.ly/f3UcJL […]

  5. Interesting choice of image – I guess you’re referring to the ‘peacocking’ technique? A lot of PUAs are actually moving away from using scripts so interesting choice :P. From the ones I’ve talked to, its more about concentrating on things like ‘inner game’ and actually improving yourself. Can’t wait to check out the interview!

  6. Ramit, most finance blogs cover the same topics as your book did. Seeing as how you consider yourself an expert in personal finance, it’s pretty logical that you would not want to read more about something you already know well.

    Similarly, I purchased your book, but I’d say about 90% of it was information I already knew and did. I did get some value out of a handful of chapters as well as reading it from another person’s viewpoint rather than a mixture of financial websites.

    As a result of my experience with your book and the name of your blog, I mostly dismissed it as “another finance blog.” Still, I gave it another shot recently and it has surprised me. Some of your stuff is great (e.g. your interview with BJ Fogg) and some of it is lacking (e.g. your interview with Noah Keagan, no offense, felt very unfocused and overall forgettable).

    Anyway, the topics you tend to cover fall into the same topics I enjoy reading about, and I recently resubscribed to the RSS and the mailing list.

    • Just finished listening to the podcast. I didn’t expect it to be mostly about personal finance. Good if you haven’t read I Will Teach You To Be Rich or if you need a refresher on the concepts. Would love if you did a case interview on them and about what their goals for personal development are, and how they set about achieving them.

      Also, to clarify, I am not bashing Ramit’s book. Ramit’s book is a sound primer to personal finance. Even if you already have experience with personal finance, it’s still worth it to have all the information presented in a single voice.

  7. Hi guys, I’m looking for some feedback that is indirectly related to personal finance. I use the term indirectly because if the project works, I can negotiate a raise out of it. Instead of asking people to pay me for a service, I want to pay them for their time. Yet, I’m at a loss for how to build a rapport that get the results I want.
    I work for a company that conducts clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies. Often, we rely on word of mouth and purchased databases to recruit people to participate in trials. The other half of recruiting involves spending a few office hours per week leaving fliers at local businesses. It’s awkward and inefficient. However, the company does not want to put out alot of money for advertising/recruiting.
    I think I can take our current strategy and turn it into a more efficient and effective recruiting model. Specifically, I want to do the following:
    1) Build a rapport with local managers of retail stores, groceries, restaurants/fast food joints so that I can gain access to their employees.
    2) Sign up the employees for our clinical trials interest list.

    The first barrier for me is gaining an audience with the manager. They are busy people, they are the gatekeepers of their store. What can I tell them in a few minutes on the phone that doesn’t make me sound like I’m some weirdo who wants to do medical experiments on their employees?

    I have some friends who are retail managers, they each told me to emphasize the referral fee system we offer. My concern is that requires they (the managers) get someone to come in and enroll in a study. There is no immediate pay off and it would require them to do something.
    I’ve also considered working the health care angle. People who enroll get free physical exams, free study medication and we pay them.

    I’m not asking them to pay for a product, but I am asking for their time and eventually the time of their employees.

    I’ve already selected about 20 local businesses I want to target, estimating a 50% failure rate.

    What does a busy manager want, that I can offer so that I can have an opportunity to present this to his employees?

    • Busy managers probably have a lot of employees, and the ones that would be most interested in doing a clinical trial would be the ones that need more hours.

      Perhaps you can suggest to the managers that you can work with some of the employees’ who are requesting additional hours and rather than having them work overtime or changing from part-time to full-time. Assuming it’s not a dangerous trial, it’s a win/win for everyone, because those employees are also the most likely to need more money.

      Also, some of the employees might have problems getting too and from the test center. Most likely a number of them use public transport to get to their workplace. That might be another incentive you can consider offering.

    • Oh, additionally, if you need to pitch it to your sponsor, offering transportation should increase participation rates, increase overall attendance rates, and decrease the number of dropouts.

      Best option would be to pick up the normal bus route that they take to get to work and drop them off at their workplace at the end *or* pick them up from their workplaces and drive the normal bus route they use to get back home, saving them bus fare and not greatly interrupting their normal travel routine.

  8. I purchased your book exactly oneyear ago. I never cracked it. I stumbled across it a week ago in my I pad library. I can not get enough. Your street sense attitude towards improving so many areas of life is a breath of fresh air. And the pua email is brilliant.

  9. It’s pretty unfortunate that this is my first comment, since usually I love Ramit’s stuff and I just used his advice about overpreparing for interviews to land my dream internship. But I still have to say that the reason people react so negatively to the pickup artist community is that the vast majority of websites/books are written by scum who have an open contempt for women and explicitly assume that their readers will manipulate women into having sex by lying about their willingness to develop a long-term relationship. Yes, there’s probably a few books out there that emphasize respect and honesty while helping men become more confident socially, but that’s not what people think of when they hear the phrase ‘pickup artist.’ It would be like Ramit marketing himself as a con artist and then complaining people didn’t interpret that to mean ‘an ethical hustler.’ I love Ramit’s point about applying the psychological methods he teaches to multiple areas of your life, I like the parallels he drawing between dating and personal finance, and based on the rest of his blog I’m pretty sure he’s not endorsing lying to or emotionally abusing women. Still, it seems like someone who’s usually so savvy about marketing and emotional reactions would have chosen a less loaded term to describe some very intersting ideas.

    • “having sex by lying about their willingness to develop a long-term relationship.”

      its actually the opposite, you should clear your data

    • Alcibiades, name 5 pickup artists who recommend lying about your willingness for long term relationships.

      Naming 5 should be no problem since it’s the “vast majority.”

      As for manipulating women, that’s a laugh. Women’s social skills are at least 1 standard deviation more advanced than men’s, whether visual, auditory or multi-channel. And it shows in relationship outcomes.

      It’s like accusing 3rd world sweat shop workers of exploiting MNCs.

    • “the vast majority of websites/books are written by scum who have an open contempt for women and explicitly assume that their readers will manipulate women into having sex by lying”

      This is the heart of the comment, not the bits the above two commenters nitpicked. And Alcibiades, you are exactly right. I was stunned that Ramit’s “disgust” with the PUAs comes entirely from scams they may run on clients, and not the gross way they objectify and dehumanize women.

  10. cool, it was kind of obvious you were into pickup

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