Our blog

Charisma in the Jungle

By @charisma in  
October 14, 2015

Why everyone is wrong about charisma.

Because she was a content,distance away, Jane couldn’t quite tell what David was doing as he sat beside that termite mound sticking a blade of grass into it, and then putting the blade in his mouth.  After he left, she approached the mound, stuck a blade of grass into it and saw that a bunch of termites grabbed onto the blade with their mandibles… David was using the blade as a tool to capture the termites.  Not long after this, Jane saw David and other chimpanzees stripping the leaves off of twigs, sticking the twigs in termite mounds and eating the termites off the twigs.  The chimps – she realized, were creating tools to make their foraging for termites more efficient

Prior to those days in October of 1960, only humans were thought to have the mental capacity and manual dexterity to create and use tools.  For many scientists this was considered the defining difference between humans and all other animals.  Obviously English primatologist, ethologist and anthropologist Dame Jane Goodall didn’t make her groundbreaking discovery while conducting a research project at the University of Cambridge where she received her PHD.  She made that discovery sitting in the jungle in Tanzania.

Although she is brilliant, she didn’t really have to be particularly so, in order to reverse thousands of years of scientific and popular thought; thought about the very essence of man.  All she needed to do was learn the most rudimentary lessons of research, go to the right location, surround herself with an ideal sample group, keep her eyes open… and voilà – millions of pages of scientific literature went into the toilet.

Where a scientist sets up her lab, and the sample population she chooses to study are perhaps the two most important factors in determining how accurate her conclusions will be once she’s completed her research.  The truth is that even if a scientist’s methodology is as sloppy as a mule in a vat of chocolate, she has a decent chance of discovering something valuable if she just puts herself in the right place… for a long enough time, and keeps her eyes open.  But no matter how diligent the researcher, if she’s in the wrong location with the wrong sample group her conclusions will be fundamentally flawed.

Although I’m holding my breath, I have serious doubts about whether I’ll be receiving the kinds of international accolades that Dame Jane received for her discoveries, but I do know these things: If I – or most everyone reading this blog had been hanging around in the jungle with those chimps for twelve hours a day for decades, I too would probably have discovered that they knew how to use tools.  The proof would have been right in front of my eyes.  And if Jane or any other researcher had worked and hung around movie studio backlots and soundstages, makeup trailers, Teamster vans and shooting locations, and attended wrap parties and film premiers with some of the most charismatic humans on the planet for a couple of decades, and shared breakfast, lunch and dinner with those people in some of the best and worst conditions imaginable, she too would likely have discovered exactly what charisma is.

There are many books that purport to teach charisma, but with no desire to insult, they’ve been written by authors who lack a true understanding of what makes a person charismatic because they’ve set up their labs in the wrong places and they’ve been studying the wrong sample groups.  Dame Jane didn’t discover that great apes could use tools by watching videotapes of chimpanzees or conducting experiments in a lab.  She moved to Africa and lived, worked and ate with the primates she was studying.  And I didn’t make the discoveries about charisma revealed in this blog by studying old video and audiotapes of JFK, MLK, and FDR, or by conducting interviews with politicians, CEOs or celebrities.  After learning the basics of sociological and psychological research in school (as I did), had Jane chosen a different career (as I did) – say that of a character actor, and moved to Hollywood and lived, worked and dined with the most charismatic primates on the planet, and sought to discover not the essence of man, but rather the essential ingredients that make movie stars into movie stars, I feel sure she would have discovered the essence and the specifics of charisma.  It would have been right in front of her eyes.  All she’d need to do would be to report and detail what she saw and what she learned, which is what I’ve done in this blog.

Join the discussion

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *