Maria Konnikova

Maria Konnikova

Author or The Confidence Game

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON January 12, 2016

Discussion

Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
Hey everyone! I'm Maria, a writer and journalist from New York City. I've written two books--one about Sherlock Holmes, and one about con artists (you might say I have a thing for crime)--and am a contributing writer for The New Yorker, where I have a regular column about psychology and culture. My first book, MASTERMIND: HOW TO THINK LIKE SHERLOCK HOLMES, was a New York Times bestseller...I guess a lot of other people have a thing for crime, too! This week, I'm very excited to share the release of my book THE CONFIDENCE GAME, about the art of the con and nature of belief. I'm really looking forward to chatting with you all about it and answering any questions about con artists, victims, deception, writing, the nature of the universe, or anything else.
Larry
Larry@larry_lawal
@mkonnikova What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@larry_lawal That absolutely everyone can get conned. I've gotten multiple angry notes about the subtitle of the book - "no, we don't all fall for it; I'm not a sap." Well...
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
@larry_lawal always a good question!
Harry Stebbings
Harry Stebbings@harrystebbings · Podcast Host @ The Twenty Minute VC
@mkonnikova thanks so much for joining us today Maria. Big fan of yours absolutely loved MASTERMIND!!! My question is; what has been the biggest point of learning for you in the writing of The Confidence Game? Is there anything you did not know before you wrote the book that you are very surprised about?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@harrystebbings Thanks so much, Harry! That's really nice of you to say. The biggest point of learning was to realize my personal vulnerabilities. I had thought myself far more skeptical and well-prepared than I ended up being.
Corley
Corley@corleyh · COO @ Product Hunt
@mkonnikova Thanks for joining us today! I am intrigued by your new book and am excited to read it. A few quick questions for you. 1. What was the most obvious similarity between all of the con artists? 2. What was one trait that they shared that was less obvious or surprising? 3. What was one thing you discovered in your research that blew your mind or changed your perspective on con artists?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@corleyh Great questions, Corley! 1. They are all incredible storytellers. 2. It's not so much what they share as what they don't: they really aren't all evil psychopaths. I was ready to find that they were. 3. That most people won't ever realize they've been conned if the con is pulled off well enough.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hi, Maria! What inspired you to be a writer? Which authors do you look up to?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@rrhoover I've always wanted to be a writer! I believe I told my parents over dinner when I was six years old that I was going to write one day. The writers who inspire me... Fiction: Auden, Brodsky, Bulgakov, Nabokov (can you tell I'm Russian :)?), Fitzgerald, Hemingway. Non-fiction writers writing today: Michael Lewis, Jon Ronson, Erik Larson, Steven Pinker...the list goes on and on!
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
@mkonnikova @rrhoover Auden, Nabokov, agree! Yes to Michael Lewis too...how is he so prolific? Even as a fiction writer I read for his storytelling.
Christopher Mims
Christopher Mims@mims · tech columnist, Wall Street Journal
So what was your inspiration for writing the book?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@mims David Mamet! Seriously. I watched "House of Games," and wondered how a woman as sophisticated as the protagonist (she's a psychologist and writer...) could become enmeshed in such a complex long con. I couldn't stop thinking about it: she really wasn't the typical victim, yet she fell so spectacularly and hard. I couldn't find a book to answer my question, so I decided to write one.
Christopher Mims
Christopher Mims@mims · tech columnist, Wall Street Journal
@mkonnikova @mims that is fantastic! This is what I think is so essential about your book: *anyone* can be conned. That's what I got out of it that I think everyone should know.
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@mims Thank you! I'm very glad that came through. That was the thing I wanted people to understand - but you'd be amazed (or not) at how resistant they are to that idea. No one wants to think it applies to them.
Moss Pike
Moss Pike@mosspike · Technology consultant at KT
@mkonnikova Love your emphasis on the importance of reading! What are some of the most influential reads that have helped to shape your thinking? Thanks!
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@mosspike There have been too many to list. But as a writer, "The Dyer's Hand" by W.H. Auden, "Less than One" by Joseph Brodsky, and "Letters to a Young Poet," by Rainer Maria Rilke have been pivotal. A few books I read at a young age that inspired me are Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita" and Nabokov's "Mary." I'm also a huge poetry reader, and always have been. Much of my inspiration for non-fiction ends up coming from more literary sources.
Moss Pike
Moss Pike@mosspike · Technology consultant at KT
@mkonnikova Fantastic; thanks for a detailed response! I too look to fiction as a source of inspiration for work-related writing, and I find the creative connection between the two quite interesting. Looking forward to reading through your recommendations!
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
Just read the opening pages, great opening! Congrats on the new book and added to my non-fiction writing collection here on PH:) What is something we might learn from confidence tricksters to use for "good"?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@decision_ I think we can use their storytelling ability to influence people to actually do positive things: donate to charities, care about the environment, and the like. The tools or persuasion are remarkably similar across more and less legitimate professions!
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
@mkonnikova @decision_ Awesome. Will be reading further in your book! Impressed by your ideal process day mentioned above :)
Anna Savina
Anna Savina@hashevatski · RUKI Editor-in-Chief
@mkonnikova Hi Maria! Thank you for joining PH! How does you daily routine look like when you are working on a book? What helps you to stay focused? Do you use any web productivity tools or apps?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@hashevatski I swear by Freedom to block the internet when I'm working. Here's my ideal productive day: yoga in the early morning, at the computer by 8 or 8:30, write until noon, hour break (always away from the screen, to help clear my head and keep the creativity flowing), then writing until 5 or 6, and then...happy me time! That said, there's a wide gap between "ideal" and "well, so this happened..."
Britt Caputo
Britt Caputo@brittcaputo · co-founder, Hamlet
@mkonnikova thanks for being here! Curious- do you think environment encourages someone to lean into conning, or is conning innate?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@brittcaputo It's absolutely a combination of predisposition and environment - and environment is crucial. As scientists put it, genes load the gun, but it's the environment that pulls the trigger.
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
What are the hardest parts about researching? Can you tell any stories about obstacles in that part of the process?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@decision_ Two things: knowing when to stop - often, you just want to go deeper and deeper into that rabbit hole... - and knowing when to give up - sometimes, you won't be able to reach the source or track the story, and you need to learn to let it go.
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@mkonnikova what has been your favorite article you've written for the New Yorker?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@ems_hodge I am incredibly interested in almost everything I write - I'm quite lucky that I choose my own topics! But a few things I've particularly enjoyed working on are the series on sleep I wrote earlier this summer, and a piece on the difference between reading on screen and reading on paper.
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
Outside of researching econ papers in undergrad I haven't done major research projects. For a project this large, what's the first step (and what steps can you skip?) to really get what you're looking for to tell your story?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@decision_ I wish I knew. I just read, and read, and read...you really have to know your topic before you write a single word. And the reading helps guide your research.
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
@mkonnikova @decision_ Thanks again :)
Erik van Mechelen
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
@mkonnikova How do you think about deception in terms of human interaction? Are white lies okay or do they rabbit hole into bigger lies and living multiple lives? I'm thinking of the TARS in Interstellar and his 90% truth setting.
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@decision_ I think white lies are absolutely essential for society to function smoothly. We don't want everyone responding honestly to "How are you?" each time we ask the question. White lies don't spiral out of control usually. That said, non-white deceptions (fudging a few numbers on a statement or data set, massaging a quote from a source) often *do* become the prelude to full-on con artistry.
Kgotso Koete
Kgotso Koete@kgotso_koete · Tokoloshe of note.
Hi Maria, which legitimate professions employ the same persuasive tactics as the cons from The Confidence Games
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@kgotso_koete Such a great question - and the answer, alas, is far too many of them. Advertising and marketing first off, but also politics, business, law...anywhere where you are persuading people to do something, be it buy a face cream, vote for you, or side with you on a verdict.
Erik Torenberg
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
Hey Maria! When writers ask you for advice on how to make the New Yorker, what do you tell them?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@eriktorenberg That it took me over a decade of being a professional writer to make it. There are no short-cuts. You just have to write and report a hell of a lot.
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@mkonnikova what is your day to day inspiration? Do you have any rituals or routines that get you going for a really productive day?
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
@ems_hodge Other than yoga (with a side of meditation), which helps get me going, I always try to make sure to read things that inspire me. I keep a book of poetry by the bed and try to read a few poems each day. I try to take an afternoon break where I either walk or chat with someone - but stay away from work. And making sure to limit social media. It's a remarkable time-suck and the best way to feel defeated in the quest for productivity.
Maria Konnikova
Maria Konnikova@mkonnikova · author; contributing writer, New Yorker
Thank you so much for taking the time to join me, everyone, and for all of the amazing questions. It's been an absolute blast - and I do hope you'll enjoy the book. Until next time! x
Kate
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
Who are some of the people who have had a big impact on your life? (Stories, please!)
Raj P
Raj P@rpotunee · C, B
Great Article in NY Times 'Born to be Conned'! Do you think legitimate professions tactics also have inconsistencies like the professional cons?