Robert Cialdini talks about going undercover and his books “Influence” and “Yes”.
Question: Were you ever “uncovered” while conducting research?
Cialdini: I was uncovered twice. I was discovered twice. The first time was… I was taking training in an organization that was selling very highly overpriced fire detection, fire alarm systems in homes, and they would train us… I mean, they were despicable. We would… They would equip us with pictures of burned children to show to parents and we would sit them on the sofa and say, “Mary, is John and little Jimmy’s life worth $1,200 to you? John, how about you? Do you think little Jimmy and Mary are worth $1,200? Look what happens if you don’t have proper protection, and so…” Well, I was in this program for a few days and I had been using an alias. I was always incognito, disguised in identity, disguised intent, and they caught something in the way I had signed in that was different from the name that I subsequently gave to myself weeks later when I actually got into the program. I had forgotten which name I had used. And they… The sales manager and two of his assistants brought me into a side office. I thought they were going to break my face because they thought I was an investigative journalist and I was going to blow open the story for them. In fact, I told them, “No. I’m a university professor. I’m doing research.” They said, “Oh! Oh. Well you’re… You don’t have any power. There’s no potency in what you do. Okay, then it’s all right, you know, if you’re a university professor. You don’t really get to influence anybody except a few undergraduates.” But if you’re a journalist, now you could blow open their whole scheme. So they laughed. They chuckled and they said, “Okay, go on. Get out of here.”