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The Craigslist Penis Effect

You don't have to be amazing in order to beat the competition. The truth is, most people are so bad you just have to be halfway decent to beat them.

Ramit Sethi

How to Use The Craigslist Penis Effect

Every woman who has used Craigslist knows that it is a veritable jungle of unexpected penises. In other words, if you’ve ever posted a nice, g-rated “women seeking men” post, you will immediately and inexplicably have 50-80 pictures of men’s penises in your inbox.

After this happened to a number of my friends, I started thinking. Not just about how horrible men are at online dating, but how to use this to my advantage.

Introducing The Craigslist Penis Effect

The Craigslist Penis Effect describes situations where everyone else is so horrible that, by being even half-decent, you can dominate everyone else and win.

These moron men on Craigslist would be better served writing 5 half-decent responses, testing to see which got the best response, and then sending it out instead of a picture of their generally mediocre manhood. I did exactly that for my friend on JDate and ended up getting very good at introducing girls to him. (Jewish women, beware of my Ashkenazi skills.)

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Let’s take some examples where everyone else is so terrible that you can dominate by being even somewhat competent.

  • Negotiations. Most people are awful negotiators (especially for jobs and especially in America). That’s because nobody teaches us how to negotiate — indeed, we’re actively taught that it’s “weird” and “awkward” to negotiate. By contrast, I find it “weird” to lose $10,000 because you didn’t take 5 hours to practice your negotiating pitch beforehand, like my friend Rachel did. By simply starting a negotiation, you stand out from 80% of other applicants.
  • Writing effective emails. Most people send out dozens of emails per day. Yet when was the last time they studied the best emailers to learn techniques to (1) get busy people to respond to them, (2) cut down on back-and-forth emails, and (3) get what they wanted via email? (I’m working on a product with 50 email scripts you can use today. Newsletter subscribers get first crack.)
  • Conferences. Most conferences are boring and bad. But so are most conference go-ers, who don’t do their homework beforehand, eat with their co-worker, and miss the prime benefits of networking. (The book Never Eat Alone has a magical chapter on how to be a master networker at conferences.)
  • Exercise. Go for a 30-minute run every day and you’ll be in better shape than 90% of adult Americans. Stop debating minutiae about health and get off your ass.
  • Holding onto expensive purchases for years (even decades). We love to buy expensive things like houses and cars, then turn around and sell them 5 years later. This is literally one of the most poisonous financial decisions you can make: Not only do you incur huge transaction costs, but you condition yourself to think that buying and selling expensive goods every few years is normal. Instead, if you can use the Tripod of Stability to make major purchases, you can spend that money on things that you love — rather than transaction fees.
  • Earning money online. As Erica Douglass recently said, “If you earn $1 online, you’re doing better than 90% of people.”

There are thousands of other examples: Writing winning scholarship applications that secure over $100,000 in funding. Or creating blog posts that drive hundreds of thousands of views. Or simply learning about the basics of social psychology for every day use.

The examples go back to my post about Big Wins, including why trying to save money on lattes is pointless for many people.

Big Wins Easy Wins Chart

As you can see, many Big Wins are actually easily within reach — if you choose the right targets and differentiate yourself from others. While you’ll have a few areas of life where you’ll have to go up against formidable competition, many other areas of life are wide open.

For those, don’t waste your time competing with lame Craigslist penis guys in a race to mediocrity. Instead, think about areas where your competition is mediocre (where everyone is doing the same thing, and doing it poorly) and carefully test multiple strategies to dominate. The Craigslist Penis Effect is a guide to standing out from others when being even half-competent can get you superb results. There are literally thousands of these opportunities.

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  1. avatar
    Jord S

    Very good post, I especially liked the part where you suggested areas to dominate. I know I personally have been trying to make my emails more effective

  2. avatar

    I liked this post and while I haven’t experienced any penises, I have saw this effect in full effect while advertising our property management companies’ rentals online.

    Like you pointed out, what these online trolls don’t realize is that it’s just as easy (and exponentially more effective) to create even ONE script to use. Let alone the great advice of creating 5 and rotating them.

    Thought-provoking as always.

  3. avatar
    Maneesh Sethi

    When do you release your ebook on email templates?

  4. avatar
    Writer's Coin

    The incredible thing is that people aren’t realizing that they’re one of the “penises on Craigslist” and how easy/simple it would be to stand out in these types of situations. It always leaves me scratching my head when people don’t realize what these situations really are: an opportunity to stand out.

    It’s kind of like commenting on a high-traffic, respected personal-finance blog….actually

  5. avatar

    Interesting post. Does walking 30 minutes a day really belong in the “hard” category, though? I understand how it’s a “small win,” at least compared to getting in the best shape of your life (though the benefits of even moderate exercise like this are pretty great – and for some people, that WOULD be the best shape of their lives!).

  6. avatar

    reminds me of the old joke – similar idea:


    Two guys were hiking through the jungle when they spotted a tiger. One of the guys reached into his pack and pulled out a pair of Nikes. His friend looked at him.

    “Do you really think those shoes are going to make you run faster than that tiger?”

    “I don’t have to run faster than that tiger. I just have to run faster than you.”


    good article as always!

  7. avatar

    Negotiations work. Just got my first job out of grad school. When they offered the job, they gave me a number. I asked for 5-8k more, and they called me back the next day offering me 3k more and a 2k sign-on bonus. Cost me a day, I end up starting a week later (extending my summer vacation – not a bad thing), and because of the timing my benefits won’t kick in for another month, but for 2K now and 3K/year extra, well worth it in my opinion.

  8. avatar
    Ali Hale

    As a blogger, I see this happening all too often. People latch on to a “system” which they think will give them a great blog – maybe posting every day, commenting on dozens of other blogs, or getting guest posts on various blogs.

    The problem is, most of these people end up writing rubbish.

    It’s really not hard to stand out in the blogging world by spending a bit of extra time and effort on every post (and guest post, comment, email), and the people who seem to end up becoming genuinely successful (like your good self ;-)) are the ones who actually invest real time and effort into doing things well.

    As well as blogging, I write fiction and occasionally send pieces to magazines and competitions. Something I was told early on was that an easy way to beat 90% of the competition is simply to follow standard guidelines on manuscript formatting and presentation, and to look professional. It doesn’t take long to learn, but it can really make your work stand out (in a good way!) on a busy editor’s desk.

  9. avatar
    In any endeavor there are thousands of m… « Richard May

    […] you to be rich uses the example of men sending penis pictures to women seeking men on Craigslist: The Craigslist Penis Effect Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Even BraverCraigslist is AwesomeThis will not get […]

  10. avatar

    “80 percent of success is just showing up” — Woody Allen

    Love the post today.

  11. avatar

    That wins the award for “Most Attention Getting Title” of the week! Oh yeah, the information was cool, too.

  12. avatar
    Stephanie PTY

    Ali Hale said “Something I was told early on was that an easy way to beat 90% of the competition is simply to follow standard guidelines on manuscript formatting and presentation, and to look professional”

    Yes yes yes YES! This goes for so many things. A few examples:

    Right now I’m running a contest on my blog to win two free laptops. The rules are simple: make a piece of multimedia about smart money habits (photo, artwork, video, whatever) and leave it in the comments. You don’t even have to make the best one to win, I’ll just pick randomly from the good ones. But here’s the thing – some people are submitting really poor entries, or videos that they made years ago that have absolutely nothing to do with money habits at all. It’s one entry per person, and these people are wasting their one entry on something that has no chance of being picked as “good” and getting them into the drawing. I just don’t get it.

    Or another example: I get a LOT of PR pitches in my inbox because of my blog. If your PR pitch is labeled “Dear Sir or Madam,” I’m not going to read it. My name is plastered all over my blog, including the contact form used to send these pitches! If you can’t take two seconds to figure out my name before sending it, don’t bother at all. On the flip side, I’ve had a few PR people take some time and poke around my blog before emails. One called me by name AND mentioned my love of knitting and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I read that email! And responded right away. It doesn’t take much, but it does take something.

  13. avatar

    Excellent post. I’m self-employed in a relatively underdeveloped industry in my part of the world. When I first started out, the quality standard was low and the accreditation system did little to address the issue. I made myself stand out by simply producing a much better work than what people were accustomed to. Actually managed to thrive for these past couple of decades despite my poor marketing and networking skills – my clients recommend me to more than enough people to keep me in business.

  14. avatar

    I am bad, bad, bad at negotiations. But I actually HAVE done research on how to negotiate, comparable salaries in my area, etc., and practiced presenting my case, and it was basically met with “this is what we’re offering, take it or leave it.” Maybe I could have done something differently, but then, my boss was also a jerk with a chip on his shoulder because I had a degree and he didn’t. (I worked there part-time in college, and he made several comments about quitting school to work full-time at the company!)

    Just once, I want to be able to say in conversation, “Ah, yes, that’s a classic example of the Craigslist Penis Effect.” Then just walk away.

  15. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Please do that and videotape his reaction. Then my entire life will have been worth it.

  16. avatar

    Dude, I almost feel out of my chair laughing. But you’re right, and not just about craig’s list, 90% of men are bad daters period. It’s funny than even being mediocre at most things is enough for you to be both effective and an instant expert. I think just being authentic is enough to set most people apart from the hordes trying to get attention by “exposing their penis.”

    Actually, Ramit, I think you should have posted a pic of your penis just for effect. Then, you might have killed me with laughter.

  17. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    Or intimidation

  18. avatar

    Great Post Ramit!

    and @Jeff- that woody allen quote is one of my favorites

    The only issue I have is with the analogy. Even if you write the perfect email to this lady on craigslist, what are the odds she’d read it if the site has already flooded her inbox with penises? I think the real craigslist effect is indetifying a goal and finding alternative paths to achieve it.

  19. avatar

    LOL, it’s amazing what you find when you start to look at patterns and use them against themselves. Success!

    Great post!

  20. avatar

    In one breath you’ve mentioned using an email deluge of men’s penises to your advantage. Cuidado!

    But surprisingly, this was actually pretty valid after wading through all of those penises.

  21. avatar

    Great post..! I work in state government, and I have been saying just this for years..! When I worked in private industry, I did, eh, ok. Nothing great. Not really excelling, not really motivated to. Or actually, just finding myself paling in comparison to everyone else which then just bummed me out, and I never really had the confidence to pursue something better. Then I started working for the state. I’ve never done better financially or professionally. Coming from private, my work ethic was, uh, a bit different than the typical state worker. The director was always so impressed with me, I was promoted within a year and that in turn made me want to please him more. I’ve moved on to an even better position, going for my MBA etc. I always say I can never leave the state because I may, in actuality, just be a shlub compared to people working in the “real” world..!

    Thanks so much for this post. I must make a stronger effort to apply the CPE to other situations now..!

  22. avatar

    tish, you have just affirmed what many already think of Government employees. Struggling in private but excelling in public because everyone else “sucks”? LOL. Congratulations on your success… but I pray to God that some of your gumption spreads to your coworkers.

  23. avatar

    Ryan: lol.. I did forget to write in my post that it will come as NO surprise to anyone that many, many, many of my co-workers suck..! I actually try telling some of my co-workers that can be saved (ie, are fairly new to the system) about my idea that i look like a genious in comparison and hope they will be inspired by it.. 🙂

  24. avatar


    I totally agree on that exercise thing as well. Just getting up and going for a run is definitely way more than most Americans can muster.

    I can totally imagine a psychological/sociological study entitled, “The Craigslist Penis Effect”. Well put…

  25. avatar

    Lol. Funny yet good post.

  26. avatar

    I wish you hadn’t of this post by that name citing an ethnic stereotype. I have had the opportunity to deal with a number of Indians in my line of work. While not every Indian displays the behavior that you are alluding to, a number do. If I see their what I consider crude, rude and demanding behavior arise I dig in my heals and don’t budge. The negotiations have effectively ended and they end up purchasing.

  27. avatar

    Great article, and post #17 had me falling out of my chair laughing. What a spectacular come-back.

    I’m not familiar with Craig’sList; my SO does all the Internet buying and selling. I love this post, though, because it goes along with the 80/20 theory: focus on what matters. In this case, what makes you stand out as the best.

    I would like to say, though, that I don’t consider setting yourself up at your company as an expert in your field is difficult to do. Some self-confidence and the guts to step up and say what you think is all it really takes (assuming, of course, you’re not an ass and actually know what you’re talking about). I’m constantly amazed at the amount of respect I get at work from people 10, 20, 30+ my senior who legitimately want my opinion because I know my job, AND I’m not afraid to show it.

    Your note about negotiation is absolutely true, too. My position calls for contract negotiations, so when I interviewed, I naturally applied my negotiation talents to that as well. I got a $3K jump and a $2500 lump sum relocation payment from only a few hour’s wait. I’ve also gotten a more than 8% raise in the past year from just doing my job well and being frank about my expectation that my pay reflects my impact.

    The most important thing to remember in negotiations: going in with a win-win attitude is the best, most effective way to get what you want. Even for salary negotiations. I firmly believe my company was getting a fabulous deal by getting me on their payroll, so I considered their concessions in that department to be a win on their part (hiring me), and a win on my part (paying me what I’m worth).

  28. avatar
    Laura @ BeyondBeerMoney

    I echo the above that the way to beat out 99% of competition is showing up and making a move.

    Most people won’t even take the 1st step because they’re so held back by perfectionism and/or terrified of failure.

    Even if you do something badly, the fact that you’ve tried it at all can pull you ahead and connect you with people that are going places.

  29. avatar

    As Laura states, there are those that are afraid to even try…Then there are those that think they are that top 1% but don’t even have a clue! Somewhere in the middle is the ideal. Courage and confidence to try and fail, then the awareness to truly see why, take that information and keep on evolving until you find yourself.

    The confidence thing is really hard for a lot of people, and then there are those that have too much without anything to back it up.

    The key is to be able to keep it real, analyze others and yourself, and use what you learn to your advantage. Don’t just go through life with your head in the clouds…but instead make every second of it count — whether it be personal life or business life. I don’t want to spend time just bringing home a paycheck. I want to be engaged, stimulated, involved…I want to grow, thrive, make a difference…that takes a little more effort. But that extra effort sets me apart from most of the other 200 people who I work with…and it really doesn’t take that much more effort to be effective…it is easy – you just cut out all the BS and Get Things Done!

  30. avatar
    Yale Wang

    I met somebody who told me about a a test once where he wanted to see what type of replies women get on Craiglist depending on their age and attractiveness. He posted an identical classified ad with 3 different pictures. The first was a 20 year old, followed by a 40 year old, followed by a 65 year old.

    Not surprisingly, men sent the same horrid emails to all 3 posts. Men who were 65 almost responded the same way as men who were 18. Emails usually fell into the “is that really your picture? you’re hot cutie” to the “i am introverted and lonely and a nice guy”

    I really think the 80/20 rule applies to dating. 20% of the men actively are dating 80% of the women. The other 80% of men are in relationships/couldn’t get a date to save their life.


    Checkout this post in the Craiglist Best: Replying to w4m casual encounters ads? A little feedback

  31. avatar
    C.A. Simmons

    LMAO… Excellent title. I wonder how much trouble I’d end up in if I started using this terminology with my consulting clients?

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  36. avatar

    I want to be part of this cairgelist

  37. avatar

    this is stupid

  38. avatar
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  39. avatar

    Great article. People raelly would be surprised how many responses they could get just by sending a well written e-mail. I am in the process of posting a series where I interviewed over 40 online personalities. I was honestly shocked when the responses started rolling in and I received answers from people like Yaro Starak and Derek Sivers. People underestimate the power of e-mail and overestimate how difficult it is to contact well-known people. The most important thing to remember is that they are real people too and actually they’re very cool people who are glad to share their views if you ask.

  40. avatar

    Dating isn’t the problem here.. it’s all the stupid people just trying to get quick dates!

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