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Sometimes being mad is a good thing. An Oxford scientist suggests we should all learn to act a little crazy

My father was a market trader in London. I used to help him when I should have been at school. "You'll learn more on the stall than you ever will in a classroom," he used to say. And in my case he was probably right. One evening, after shutting up shop, we went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. As we were paying the bill, Dad said: "Kev, if there's one thing I want you to remember in life, it's this: Persuasion ain't about getting people to do what they don't want to do. It's about giving people a reason to do what they do want to do. Watch and learn."

He picked up a spoon and tinkled it against his glass. Suddenly, the room fell silent. Dad got to his feet.

"I'd just like to thank everyone for coming," he announced. "I'm aware that some of you hail from just around the corner and that others have made the journey from much further afield. But I want you to know that you are all most welcome, and that it's very much appreciated. Oh, and that there's a small reception in the King's Arms across the road after you've finished. Thanks once again, and see you in the pub!"

With that, he started to clap ... as did everyone else - a restaurant full of strangers whom we'd never seen before, who'd never seen each other before, all applauding wildly because they didn't want to be seen to be the gate crashers.

"We're not really going to the pub are we?" I muttered, as we barreled out the door. "Course not," said Dad. "But they are - and my old mate Malcolm has just taken over as landlord. He'll make a few quid tonight!"

Seems utterly incomprehensible, doesn't it, that anyone could have the sheer - I believe the technical term is cojones - to pull off such a stunt? But that was Dad all over. The man could sell shaving cream to the Taliban: There was just something about him. He was shameless, fearless and had about as much conscience as a roulette wheel. He was, though I didn't know it at the time, a psychopath.

Years later, when I was at university, I met another one. Paul was bright, good-looking and, like Dad, as cold as ice under pressure. One night, we were in a bar together in London when a guy pulled a knife on his girlfriend. The whole place went silent as he waved it about just inches in front of her face. Calmly, Paul rose to his feet, and, as all the other customers stood rooted to the spot, began making his way slowly and deliberately toward him. Everyone, including the guy with the knife, was transfixed. When he got to within a meter or so of the assailant Paul stopped and took out his wallet. Then, removing a £20 note, he took a couple of steps forward and pressed it against the tip of the weapon so that the blade pierced it through.

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