Loops, Charisma, and War


I’ve been thinking about loops.

I wrote about loops here, and in the intervening nineteen months I’ve come to a better understanding of them.

Loops were called to my attention by the Zeigarnik Effect, which is that our minds will keep paying attention to open loops until the loops are closed. In hypnosis we use this effect to deliver suggestive payloads to the subconscious: if you open loop inside loop inside loop inside loop the conscious mind gives up trying to keep track of them, and you can make a suggestion, and then close the loops successively and the conscious mind will not be aware of the suggestion delivered to the unconscious mind.

In studying and teaching persuasion and charisma I realized that most two-way interpersonal communications are loops. If I smile warmly and sincerely at you, you may feel good and will smile warmly and sincerely at me, and I will feel good: a feedback loop.

If you scowl at me, I may feel bad and scowl at you will feel bad: also a feedback loop. Lots of people go through life this way, wondering why the world hates them and putting on a defensive scowl.

I thought of these feedback loops as a different sort of loop than the Zeigarnik Effect loop. The new realization is that they are slightly different versions of the same thing.

Our brains want loops closed. Feedback loops are loops that the audience can close. If A opens the loop, B can close it. The telemarketer’s first question is, “how are you doing?” because they know it’s hard for normal people to avoid closing a loop.

Zeigarnik Effect loops are loops that the audience cannot close. If A opens the loop, B will attend to it until B closes it.

Charisma is about, at a bare minimum, opening loops of both sorts: opening positive feedback loops (tilt, flash, and smile!) to make your audience feel good, and opening Zeigarnik Effect loops to hold your audience’s attention.

Opening loops is so crucial to charisma that whoever opens the loop has the charismatic advantage.

Not that it’s a competition.

In fact, it’s the opposite of competition, as exemplified by the ultimate competition (war). In war, you want to get inside your adversary’s loop, which means making your loop as tight as possible. In charisma, you want to bring your audience into your loop, which means making your loop as large as possible.


6 responses to “Loops, Charisma, and War”

  1. I think you are using “loop” in two different senses at the end. “Inside the loop” in the Boyd usage means reacting faster to someone else’s reactions. And it’s generalization to anything more than dogfights gets iffy.

    In fact, that generalization is a closed loop of the type you’re describing. Boyd loops are primarily descriptive nomenclature; nomenclatures are tiny closed loops (“what is that? Oh, it’s a [foo].” /critical thought).

    Boyd is better than many nomenclatures though, because you can use his model to describe not only what the current state is, but also what effect some changes would have (unlike e.g. Lind). However, Boyd’s model offers no guidance on what you should actually do. If you look at Jomini, you have a set of (nominally) mathematically correct answers to any situation. If you look look at Clausewitz, there is no correct answer, it’s all about finding a genius and achieving your aims. Sun Tzu is fortune cookie directions on gang warfare. Boyd just describes how fast you do stuff; it doesn’t tell you what would be good to do.

    • Maybe. Or maybe the notion of your adversary and you executing separate loops provides a useful contrast to the sort of loops we are envisioning in persuasive interaction.

  2. Interesting. Maybe there are other kind of loops. I wake up thinking about my clients and the problems on their cases. When I have solved that problem, at least in my mind, there is a feeling of satisfaction. Maybe I have closed the loop. Maybe that is a gross misapplication of your point

  3. I am realizing applications of the Zeigarnik Effect all over the place. My attorneys will give me a work order and say, “It doesn’t need to be done right now.” I respond, “I want to get it done because when it is done I can stop thinking about it.” I’ve been doing this for years, but now I understand why. Closing loops is pretty satisfying. Thank you for all the posts on this topic.

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