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A Touch Of The KGB

It was a John Le Carre moment.

The Soviet Union had disintegrated in late ’91, but the KGB was still manning the passport control booths when I made my first trip to the land of Lenin in June of ‘92.

A stone-faced agent seething with ill-concealed resentment, ripped the passport out of my hand and then checked it against an unseen database for several minutes.

He finally handed the passport back to me, said nothing, but fumed with indignation having to grant an American unfettered entre to Mother Russia.

I raised my eyebrows in question.

“?????!” (Go), he says with an annoyed sweep of his hand towards the customs area, which turned out to be its own experience.

Russia had been a closed society, ruled by Communist dictators for 70 years. The Politburo had ensured that the state- controlled media drench the populace with stories about the evils of Americans and Western Capitalism for decades.

None feasted on this propaganda with more relish than members of the KGB.

And now here we came.

It’s a wonder he didn’t shoot me on the spot.

I have written previously about the talk I gave to senior members of the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (the federal police) during that trip. It was under a scowling picture of Lenin at the Ministry’s headquarters.

Surreal hardly says it.


At the end of the talk, there was a question and answer period during which the Chief of Police of Moscow asked an insightful question that I haven’t discussed before.

He raised his hand from the back of the room – there were waves of Federal brass in front of him – “How,” he asked through the interpreter, “do you write the questions?”

Bright question.

Bright for a couple of reasons. The creation of survey questions that will yield the golden nuggets you need to attract volume response to your marketing is both an art and a science.

First, those questions must be created in such a way that they by-pass the “social communication machinery” that is so prevalent in society today.

Mitch Johnson walks to his office passing his secretary, Kelly McPeek on the way in. “Hi Kelly. How are you this morning?”

“Fine, Mr. Johnson,” she says.

Truth is, Kelly’s not “Fine.” She’s hung over. She’s had a fight with her boy friend. She’s not fine. “Fine,” is a social answer to the question.

Survey questions must be designed to by-pass this kind of social communication machinery and address the essence of the person’s thinking.

The technology of how this is done is beyond the scope of this short article. But if your surveys are going to gather information that will make your marketing department smile and your sales department sing, the questions must be created in such a way that they get genuine – not social – answers.

A second key point in creating survey questions is to use open-ended questions. Open-ended questions get answers from the mind of your public. Closed-ended questions do not.

Closed ended question: Please check from the following choices which best describes the main criteria you use in selecting a dentist.


Fast Service

Convenient Location

The majority of respondents, let’s say, choose convenient location. And the dentist now promotes that they are the most conveniently located dental practice in Rancho Cucamonga.

And maybe he attracts some new patients who didn’t know there was a dental office next door to Taco Bell.

But if the question was asked as an open-end question such as, “What is the single most important quality you look for in selecting a dentist for your family?” The answer, now coming from the minds of his prospects, will often be very different.

The leading answer is, let’s say, “Gentle.”

The closed-ended attributes came out of the mind of whoever made the survey. Gentle came out of the mind of the practice’s prospects.

It should be no surprise then that the website and marketing material that promote the dentist as Gentle will get a much better response than that which pushes the practice’s convenient location.

The Chief of Police of Moscow seemed satisfied with the answer as did the other Ministry brass, and the tone of the audience, which had started out around resentment had moved up to interested by the time I was done.

This got me a brandy with the Vice Chancellor after the talk. It also resulted in an invitation to address a convention of the Chiefs of Personnel of every police department in the Russian Federation at a secret, gate-guarded facility outside of Moscow (where I shared the stage with the Director of Personnel of the KGB).

But that is another story for another time.

Meanwhile, if you need help creating your survey questions, or getting surveys done that will enable your marketing to parallel the mind of your public, give us a call. After all, we create surveys that drive sales.