The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Inception

Imagine, for just a moment, inhabiting someone’s mind – living within their dreams. You have free reign to mold and shape their reality as you see fit, directing the course of their life by impressing ideas upon their subconscious that’ll dictate the actions they take, changing their world forever.

Well, that’s just another day in the life for the crew of Inception, a group of dream navigators, adept at lifting the thoughts and ideas of their victims and replacing them with counterfeits. They’re hired guns, paid by wealthy corporations to extract secrets from their competitors.

Now, Inception is just a movie – a work of pure fiction – but the idea of planting an idea in someone’s mind is not. You can’t necessarily access someone’s dreams, but you can have access to their subconscious, where their most influential thoughts and ideas come from and where inception can, in fact, take place.

I’m going to show you how to do it, but first you need to understand the consequences. Like any powerful tool, inception can be wielded for good or evil.  Use it to help others help themselves and you’ll be a silent influence on their success. Use it carelessly, and risk destroying important trust and relationships.

You’ve been warned.

Step 1: Find the Nugget

When Cobb and Arthur, two of the main characters, start plotting to insert an idea into the mind of Fisher, the son of a wealthy energy tycoon, their first task is to find out what the most important thing in his life is ­– it’s his father’s approval. Once they know that, they have exactly what they need to build a whole new understanding of the world around that desire for acceptance.

To understand someone’s greatest hopes and dreams is to understand the core of who they are. Think about your own goals. You build your entire identity around these things. Every action that you take gets weighed in your mind as to whether or not it’s helping you achieve what you really want out of life.

When your whole identity is wrapped up in something, you’ll do all sorts of crazy things that casual observers would scratch their heads at and disapprove in trying to achieve it. That doesn’t matter to you because if it works, it’ll be the greatest accomplishment of your life.

Every single person has this ideal, but some hide it better than others. If you want to find it, the only way that’ll really work is to do ten times more listening than talking. People will tell you exactly what they want from life if you’ll only listen.

It’s common to want to talk about your own life and your own desires, but to really get to know someone, you kind of have to shut up long enough to hear what they have to say.

Build in yourself a sense of extreme curiosity. Ask lots of questions and listen intently. We’re reluctant to tell each other exactly what we want in straightforward terms for fear of being thought silly, but we’ll hint at it in everything we say. Learn to read between the lines and you’ll see far beyond the face value of someone’s words. You’ll see their most intense wants and desires for their life.

Once you have that nugget, you have the key to their mind. Now you can start forming the ideas that will help them achieve it completely undetected.

Step 2: Construct the Dreamscape

Once Cobb and Arthur know how important it is to Fisher to have the approval of his dying father, they enlist Ariadne, an architect, to construct the dreamscape they’ll lead Fisher through in order to “find” the idea they want him to. They guide him along by asking targeted questions that lead right to the answer they want him to arrive at.

The human mind rejects creative ideas that aren’t genuinely inspired, so if your mission is to win the heart and mind of someone that disagrees with you, whatever idea you want to give them must not look like it came from you, but from within themselves.

How do you do this? By framing it in their own language.

If you haven’t tried it before, it’s rather incredible what people will tell you about themselves when you listen. As the late Dale Carnegie liked to say, “The sweetest sound a man can hear is that of his own voice.”

It’s human nature to want to get your own point across, but it’s a folly to do it before you understand how it will be perceived. Everyone has a unique world-view that dictates exactly how they’ll receive an idea. If you listen long enough, you’ll find out exactly what the world looks like to someone. Once you have that, you have all the tools you need to drop the right hints and ask the right questions that will fit your idea into their own dreamscape.

Step 3: Plant the Idea

When the Inception team finally takes Fisher deep enough into his dreamscape to plant their idea, they have to be very careful about how the actually present it to him. They can’t simply offer it to him on a platter; they have to delicately place the pieces of the idea throughout the scene and lead Fisher to them with the hope that he’ll want to find them himself.

Be careful how you present your idea. Don’t come right out and offer it. Instead, lead into it and let it be discovered. The best way that I know how to do that is play dumb. When someone comes to you for help with something, you might have exactly the idea they need to fix their problem, but if you offer it to them, they won’t follow through because any success they have is your accomplishment, not theirs.

Instead, lay out the pieces and pretend like you can’t put it all together yourself. If you toss enough hints out, they can make the important connections that lead to the solution by themselves. All of a sudden, it’s their idea instead of yours, and that makes it far more potent.

Take no credit for your idea. Instead, congratulate them for discovering it themselves.

Inception for Good or Evil

If you’ve read this far, then I’ll assume you probably have one of the following opinions at this point:

  1. You think this is awesome and you can’t wait to try it out.
  2. You think I’m the most manipulative person you’ve ever met.

Remember that inception, like any other tactic, is a tool that can be used for good or evil. What constitutes the two always depends somewhat on the person making the judgment, but inception is not just a useful tool; it’s a required one for any form of leadership.

That’s what leaders of every walk of life do; they set the direction of the ship for their followers and allow them to make the decisions that actually propel it there. They get to know the people they’re helping and how they’ll receive different ideas, then create an environment that enables them to put their own pieces together.

You can layout all the instructions and tell people exactly what to do, but then you’re not a leader, you’re an instructor. An instructor’s reach is limited; a leader’s is not. So, feel free to use inception for your own goals but, of course, do so with nobel intentions.

What do you think? How can you influence the world using inception? Let me know in the comments.


Images by: Constantine Belias, naughty architect, mike_pratt1957, Pink Sherbert Photography