Confirmation Bias: 
The tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.

The Contact

I fondly remember that afternoon, after all, I was finally able to figure out the perfect way to spend it. I was very excited to go to this Storytelling session organized by a well-known literary society, plus since it was in the afternoon I was saved from hellish Bengaluru traffic. I did look presentable, those were my networking days in the new city. I met a lot of new people, made a lot of contacts, mainly exploited the riches the city was famous for.

I was able to occupy the rear seats in a ventilated and decorated cafe hall. Was second last to join because I remember passing a chair to the last person joining the circle. It was quite a diverse and vibrant circle actually composed of writers, painters, educationalists and some nobodies like me. Then with a brief introduction, they started telling stories around, made us move so that we loosen up and interact.

Now there was this lady, let’s call her Mrs. Oblong (Masking her name with her face structure because this is not a work of fiction and defamation is not my strong suit) who offered me a sandwich since she already had a heavy lunch. You must know, from where I come from you don’t say “NO” to good cheese sandwiches when you have already imagined how their texture would feel over the tongue. Now during the entire time, since we already entered into a food alliance, we kept critically analyzing all the stories that followed.

Post-session we talked, at length about a variety of things. Work, Traffic, Bengaluru city life, Movies, Traffic, My college, Engineering, Traffic and more. She was basically trying to set up a venture that I wasn’t really clear about at that time but it sounded nice. She told me about her husband and how he would be totally thrilled to meet me given that he was a movie buff too. He worked around the same area where I interned. We exchanged contacts and it was a meaningful association. (Yes it was, in a way :P)

Free Lunches

“That’s kind of strange!” This is exactly what I thought when after around 2-3 weeks the lady pinged me up and asked me about my plans for the afternoon. She was proposing a quick meet up in a coffee shop during her lunch break. I knew, nobody actually prefers to call of some random guy whom you met just once, to just talk without any specified agenda. Going by our past conversations I assumed it to be a talk vis-à-vis goals, future plans etc, you know the kind of stuff that gets you all pumped up when you are interning into a new city full of opportunities and reading texts like Rich Dad Poor Dad. We did talk about a lot of things, business ideas, the audacity to disengage from the corporate rut, traffic, goals in life, how money is supreme. It could have been a nice pep talk if recorded. I felt amazing listening to all of it.

A few days later her husband Mr. Oblong pinged me for some snacks over to his company cafeteria. “Conditioned” by the previous pleasant conversation I readily agreed and he had a nice time eating some indigenous bhajia and sipping filter coffee.

It was interesting to note here, that they took out time from their busy schedule just to meet and socialise with me. I mean that is something, isn’t?

The Pitch

The couple kept in touch and constantly sent me motivational Ted Talks and texts. In fact, Mrs. Oblong called me up one evening and told me about a great business conclave that was happening in Bengaluru (She mentioned some high-end hotel as the venue) and asked whether I would be interested in attending that. Apparently, it had a 9000 INR entry ticket but she had an extra pass. Of course, I agreed since I envisioned this opportunity to make some useful contacts. She advised me to “put on my best clothes and look like a millionaire” O.o I was like “I will try!”. A day later she sent me a text message like this:

Weird and flashy WhatsApp message from Mrs. Oblong

Now, although I am a bit inexperienced when it comes to elite business conclaves but this text message too was not a great representative of them either. But I decided to ignore it since I had nothing to lose actually (At least hitherto).

I was formally clad for the event with a nice pair of brogues paired with a suitable shirt and pant. I was basically dressed for the occasion, ready to kill them with my drive. As I reached the registration desk, I wrote my name and sat on a couch waiting for the event to start. I was joined by a lot of people as time progressed. All dressed smartly (according to them). We were made to wait for around 40 minutes although I found it a bit unprofessional but I munched on coffee and some cookies meanwhile and counted all the pillars in the lobby eleven times. Then when I was approaching my millionth cookie I saw Mr. and Mrs. Oblong and I abandoned the cookie to meet them. They handed me a pass for the event and asked me to enter. It was a big hall and I confidently occupied the second row (Not that I was shy to sit in the first row but due to the reserved first row in my college auditorium I got in a habit of skipping it).

When the event was about to start, I was just observing other people, mainly their clothes to be honest. When I got bored I looked at the entry pass. It was looked rather cheap and ugly. I instantly blamed the designer and felt good about my own designing skills. But so what? Let’s just see what is there for me in this event. Nothing to lose remember?

The event’s start was thunderous, the person opening the event was like some Toastmaster veteran himself. He spoke so well that the crowd very quickly erupted in spontaneous claps. I was not that much fascinated by his antics though, I wanted to know about the content, the heart of it.

The Epiphany

As he progressed, I realize his talk lacked substance. As far as the business model was concerned it was basically a pyramid scheme which he didn’t mention explicitly but when we explained the revenue model it was very clear to spot. I was surprised why a lot of people were still cheering, apparently because they were being told the formula to get rich quickly. I could spot conformity bias at its best. Also, regretted not taking my last cookie and coming inside the conclave. The pitch ended with loud applause and with a beginning of one to one session with the person who referred you. This was another red flag as all the people were referred by someone or the other in the event. It looked like sheep being led to a slaughterhouse. But I waited patiently for Mr. and Mrs. Oblong, I wanted to see them convince me into this unfeasible revenue scheme.

The Escape

They did try, to the point of mild desperation. I politely explained to them why this business was bound to fail. They tried refuting my argument so I had to explain the mathematics of pyramid schemes using simple high school geometric progression. I couldn’t say whether they were convinced or not in the end, but I am sure they must have realized that I was their failed investment. I could make that out from the solemn glances they exchanged when I countered their arguments.

Clinging to their last straw of hope they told me to think about it overnight and I too comforted them with a hollow assurance. As I made my way to the exit, I was kind of amused by the theatrics of those folks and was relieved in a way because my instincts were on point from the beginning. If something doesn’t feel right, mostly it isn’t right. But wait, there was still something bothering me. You know that feeling? When you taste the food that you cooked and you can’t seem to figure out what exactly is missing (It is mostly salt though :P). Well, I got rid of that feeling the moment I went back to the lobby, twisted the lid and very affectionately pulled my last cookie out of the jar.

The Toying

As of today, My friends and I are still approached by a lot of people claiming to be business holders minting some cash alongside their jobs. I toy around when I am free, learning their art of persuasion. But I keep it at that.
If you ask for my two cents, please be careful of such open scams. Unsuspecting, enthusiastic and young college graduates are their primary targets. If they can’t explain it succinctly it is mostly not worth it.
Finally, it goes without saying:
Don’t take food from strangers!