Oren Klaff: To Sell Your Idea, Target the Croc Brain

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Pitch Anything" by Oren Klaff. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does Oren Klaff mean by the “croc brain”? How does the croc brain process information?

In his book Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff discusses the concept of the croc brain in the context of sales pitching. According to Klaff, one of the main reasons many good ideas get rejected when pitched is because we present them in a way that appeals to the target’s higher reasoning powers (logic and reason) but they are perceiving that information through the primitive crocodile brain. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at croc brain processing and how it affects your pitch.

What Is a Croc Brain?

Too often, when we pitch an idea, product, or project, we instinctively try to appeal to our target’s higher reasoning powers, using logic, facts, numbers, and elegantly crafted arguments. Unfortunately, our audience is listening to our message through a much more primitive system (what Klaff calls the “croc brain”), one that is based on threat avoidance, novelty-seeking, and emotional responses. 

Resolving this disconnect is the key to crafting successful pitches.

The Three Levels of the Human Brain

As the human brain developed over millions of years, it evolved from a relatively primitive organ into one that operates with greater complexity.  

  • The crocodile brain (“croc brain”) was the first part to develop and is therefore the most primitive. It is focused on survival: fight-or-flight response and emotions. It has been fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution to be hyper-aware of danger, and it does not have a lot of reasoning power.
  • The mid-brain was the second type of brain to develop. It assigns meaning to things and figures out social situations: how people are related to one another, for example.
  • The neocortex was the third and final step in the evolution of the brain. It deals with complex issues and is capable of high-level reasoning.

These three brain levels are designed to keep you alive and, for the most part, they work together seamlessly. 

Say you are headed to your car late at night, and you hear a sudden honk. Your croc brain picks it up, identifying the noise as a potential threat, and you pause what you were currently doing and go on alert. 

You look around and see a car at the side of the lot. Your mid-brain kicks in to identify the car as the source of the honk and try to place it in a social context: is the driver angry or friendly? Is she honking at you or someone else?

Finally, once you’ve eliminated the possibility of danger—she’s not honking in anger, and she’s not directing it at you—your neocortex takes over and processes the situation in more detail, leaving you with a fuller understanding and an action plan: “She’s just getting her friend’s attention coming out of that store. It’s okay to ignore it.”    

How the Croc Brain Perceives the World

The croc brain functions as the triage center of our brain, deciding what’s important to pay attention to and what’s safe to dismiss. The croc brain’s instinctive goal is to preserve mental energy, and to only involve the neocortex when absolutely needed. 

  • Is the information a threat to my survival? If not, ignore it. 
  • Is it new and exciting? If not, ignore it.
  • Is it complicated? If so, avoid it, or, if necessary, summarize it. 

Complicated concepts require extra brain power, energy which might be better spent identifying survival threats or opportunities. The croc brain thus views complexity as a threat to its valuable mental resources, so if it does decide the information is worth passing up to the neocortex, it will do so in the simplest terms possible, glossing over subtleties and focusing on well-defined, high-contrast choices.

In this way, when it comes across any new information, the croc brain acts as a filtering system, ignoring what it deems unimportant and only passing along, to the neocortex, information it deems critical to survival—and then, only in severely simplified form. The key to a successful pitch is preventing the croc brain from filtering out and discarding your message. 

How the Croc Brain Affects Your Pitch

Your pitch, being full of high-level thought, lives firmly in your neocortex. Your pitch is well-thought-out. It is thorough. It is complex. When we pitch, we often try to appeal to our target’s neocortex as well, eager to share the high-level insights and concepts our idea contains.

However, because information enters first through her croc brain, we often, without realizing it, send the wrong messages. We are too detailed, too complex, and too rational. 

Consequently, our well-crafted message never makes it to its destination: our target’s decision-making neocortex. Instead, her croc brain filters it out. Our message is not marked as novel or exciting—important to survival—and it is ignored. Or, it is marked as too complex—a threat to her mental resources—and is, again, ignored.

This can happen even if your ideas are novel and exciting, and can aid in her survival (by improving her profits, say). Often, your pitch is rejected not because of its merits, but because those merits never properly got her attention. Her croc brain, operating on instinct and responding to cues we didn’t intentionally send, prevented our pitch from going any further.

By more fully understanding the croc brain and how it controls decision-making, you can learn to appeal to its desires and avoid its fears, and thus prevent it from automatically rejecting your pitch. In fact, by understanding the croc brain’s primitive instincts, you can engage it to actually help your pitch. By creating enthusiasm instead of boredom, and desire instead of aversion, you can entice your target’s croc brain to label your pitch important and exciting, thus passing it on to her neocortex for further evaluation.

How to Pitch to the Croc Brain

In order to ensure your pitch gets through the croc brain’s filtering process, you must anticipate it’s instinctive objections to it. Fortunately, there are straightforward, measurable techniques that can help you do just that, and help set you up for a much greater chance of success. These techniques have allowed the author, Oren Klaff, to raise money for household names like Marriott, Citigroup, and Hershey’s at a steady clip of around $2 million per week.

We’ll outline each of these techniques in greater detail in the following chapters.

Oren Klaff: To Sell Your Idea, Target the Croc Brain

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Oren Klaff's "Pitch Anything" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full Pitch Anything summary :

  • An approach to the art of pitching that appeals to prospects' primitive instincts
  • How to establish your frame as the dominant one
  • The four parts of a successful pitch

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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