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The power of influence

By Anna Campbell

I am reading a book at the moment by Robert Cialdini called ‘Influence: the psychology of persuasion’.

I have always found this topic interesting, right back to my school days when we studied the language of propaganda. It is fascinating to understand how we can be manipulated and convinced into behaving in a certain way, sometimes against our better judgment (or against our bank balance).

From a practical viewpoint, most of us will have to, at some stage, convince people of our ideas or beliefs, whether we are asking the local church group to invest in a programme for at-risk teenagers or trying to convince a city to get in behind the esoterical concept of Gigatown! I know these examples are a long way from the language of propaganda, but an understanding of human behaviour underpins success in either. 

My husband often teases me that I am a sucker for a good sales pitch. “You are a marketer’s dream,” he tells me and maybe he is right.

After reading my new book though, I could have the last laugh. If I can gain a better insight into the elements of my sub-conscious behaviour which others knowingly tap into, then I might be able to say no more often and counter to that- make others say yes to me more often!  A frightening proposition for some I am sure. 

I was directed to this book via a Harvard Business Review by Lee Miller and Kathleen Onieal.

Their theory is that the power of persuasion is an enormously important part of realising innovation at a commercial level: how do you get people to believe in something they can’t imagine? Interestingly, they start with a story of how Microsoft ceased the development of their innovative ‘Courier’ tablet product, despite it getting rave reviews. This tablet was actually developed prior to Apple releasing its iPad…woops! 

This is a telling example, as it shows that the power of persuasion is required at all levels of the innovation chain. In fact the whole process of innovation often has to start with us persuading our colleagues, investors, or partners of the potential of our idea, before we even begin to develop anything. 

One of Mr Cialdini’s strategies for persuasion is to invoke authority in order to persuade people into our way of thinking, in other words, be and sound knowledgeable.

Innovative ideas therefore are more likely to be accepted if they come from someone higher up in an organisation. This is counter to where innovation often comes from: people working at the coalface. So what do the innovators lower down the ladder do?

In the Harvard Business Review, a number of strategies are proposed to drive innovation through an organisation. One of those is ‘innovation under the radar’, a strategy I describe as ‘better to say sorry than ask for permission’.

The team developing the Courier tablet actually did so ‘under the radar’ but their strategy was flummoxed when their story was ‘leaked’ to the media by someone inside the team and the product was blocked higher up in the organisation.

Something which really struck a chord with me in reading all this was that if you can get someone to back your idea in a small way, then the fact that they have already backed you, means they become invested in the product itself and are more likely to continue supporting it. In other words, get a small start and keep developing and delivering incrementally. Too often, I think we try and sell something that is too big or abstract for people to conceptualise. 

In saying all this, there are many different paths to success. In fact, there are almost two worlds out there. Last week, I spoke with a very successful businessman who said to me, “Anna, I have never written a business plan in my life”.

Other successful businesspeople I meet, meticulously plan every move and are disciplined to the nth-degree in everything they do. I think success in anything is working out what you do best and then working with people who have the opposite strengths to what you have. The ability to respect, tolerate, and work through opposing viewpoints then becomes essential.

Regardless of how we work, the power of persuasion is something we all need to learn if we want to make things happen. And who knows, in my case, maybe it will make me less vulnerable to the tricks that others play to make me part with my dollar. Me, a marketer’s dream…pfff!