socratic scribbler secret



First a little background. I was classically educated by the Jesuits and learned from Socrates that to get the best answers in life you need to ask the best questions. Armed with that good advice, I then spent a lifetime working in advertising, becoming head of creative strategy for an agency called JWT.

One day, I was driving up to Battle Creek Michigan with our team to sell an ad campaign to the folks who managed Kellogg’s Bran Flakes. It was a long drive from Chicago, so to wile away the time we were telling each other stories. One of our young account women, let’s call her Kelly, complained that she had been dating a fellow Kyle for over a year. And, despite her best and most wily efforts, she could not get Kyle to bring up marriage.

Our Account Director, George, then said, “Malachy, you are our persuasion expert, aren’t you? Why don’t you help Kelly out here!” Well, the reason I was the “persuasion expert” is that I had discovered that my passion for Socratic Scribbling had helped me develop the ideas behind several winning ad campaigns. “Yea, Malachy, give Kelly a creative strategy to use on Kyle.”


So I asked Kelly a bunch of questions which took the better part of the trip for her to answer. Then, she grew impatient and demanded, “So, what should I do?” I answered with one sentence, “Feed his friends.” Kelly was not in the least happy with my advice. “I pour my heart out to you, and this is your advice! Feed his jerky friends!” I said, “Yes, and if I am right, you must buy me lunch.” Everyone in the car disagreed with me. Most suggested that she have an “honest conversation” with Kyle, telling him of her feelings and giving him an “ultimatum” to commit to a long term relationship leading to marriage. I told her that the consensus advice was high-risk and would probably have the opposite effect. Then, we had to go sell our campaign.

A couple of weeks later back at the agency, I visited the Bran Flakes team and heard commotion in the halls. Kelly was aglow with a big smile, showing off a garish engagement ring.” Everyone ran up to me. George said, “Kelly owes you lunch. Kelly, tell Malachy how his advice actually worked.”


It seems Kelly’s Kyle actually lived in Cincinnati, working for Proctor and Gamble. This explains why he was not only good-looking and smart but also rich. I could see why Kelly liked him. Apparently, he was coming to Chicago this weekend because his amateur soccer team traveled the midwest to play games. He was planning to stay with Kelly. Kelly immediately saw the opportunity to give my advice a chance. “Kyle, why don’t you invite the team here after the game for a big stew dinner? I’ll invite some of my girlfriends.” Kyle hesitatingly agreed, cautioning, “Well make sure you invite the pretty ones.” Kelly also had a back-up plan of cornering Kyle with an ultimatum if it looked like my advice was not working.

Kelly worked like a slave and hosted a big stew dinner party after Saturday’s game, which Kyle and friends lost. The guys were a bit grumpy but gradually cheered up with a delicious meal complemented by beer and feminine company. Still, Kelly barely got a minute with Kyle, she was so busy managing the dinner and pouring beers for buddies who would not go home. And Kyle had an early flight back to Cincinnati. Kelly thought to herself, “Well, so much for Malachy’s dumb advice. I didn’t get a moment with Kyle, not even a few minutes for the backup ultimatum plan.” The following Wednesday, however, Kelly’s doorbell rang, and there was Kyle surprising her with a visit and a ring!”


When Kelly finished her story, everyone wanted to know how I knew “Feeding his friends’’ would work. So, I explained how I use my Socratic Scribbling questions. I asked Kelly what Kyle loved doing most. She said, “Soccer.” That told me that he loved being part of a male team, that their friendship and admiration was the most important thing to him. If Kelly wanted Kyle to love her, she needed to show that she loved what he loved. And, in fact she did. The one thing she really liked about Kyle, beyond his looks, his prestigious job, and his Mercedes convertible was the fact that he was a “guy’s guy” like her father. Her mother had told her, “Guy’s guys make good husbands, because they look to their guy friends, not you or other women, to keep them entertained.” Kelly admitted that she later discovered that during her stew and beer party, the captain of the team whispered in Kyle’s ear. “Hey, Kyle, you’d be crazy not to marry a girl like Kelly. Better ask her…or I might. She’s quite something…”


I asked the Great Books questions about what draws people together. I heard a pretty consistent answer. It is always that they share a passion for something. Love connects through love. Now, for Kyle, it was not just Soccer. Socrates would say go deeper…Why does Kyle love Soccer beyond kicking a ball around and winning….male camaraderie. I found a lot of irony in the fact that Kelly thought my advice failed because Kyle was talking to his soccer buddies and not to her during her party…and all that time the soccer buddies were encouraging him to marry her!


A Socratic Scribbler learns the right questions by reading the right books and by asking the right people. And the right books are The Great Books, from any culture that esteems asking good questions and seeking good answers. For instance, I have a friend who complained that his teenage son Bob was balking at reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which had been assigned in school. My friend introduced Bob to his notorious friend Frank the Lothario. Frank frowned at Bob and muttered, “Are you crazy. You need to read every line of that book, take notes, and commit passages to memory. Every ladies man knows that a thorough knowledge of Jane Austen will get you the prettiest girl in the room…everytime. Jane Austen is a Lothario’s Fundamental!” Bob reported that he took the book with him to Starbucks to start his reading, and several women struck up conversations with him.

You perhaps may wonder how I solved the reverse problem… when copywriter Cathy told me that media sales Bob was always hanging around her office, trying to ask her out. Some people might find Bob’s persistence romantic, but Cathy found it annoying. I told Cathy that every time Bob visited her office, she should ask him to loan her $50. How did that help? I also told her that, no matter what, not to pay him back…and if he actually asked her to pay him back …she should demur and say she really needed $50 more. It cost Bob $150 before he got the message. Cathy joked that she was tempted to start hanging around Bob’s office and ask for another $50. What Great Books principle did I invoke here? When you want to prevent somebody from doing something, raise the stakes.


The following week, Kelly and Cathy bought me a terrific lunch at Le Nomad. And, curiously, I found myself inundated with lunch invitations from a number of women and….men! And, there were more and more engagement rings flashing all about the agency. Now, how you find the right guy or woman is another question for another time. Look for me here or join me on my site:

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