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90 Second Book Review: Influence

Influence made it onto my to read pile from listening to some now forgotten episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast.  It actually may have been a few episodes that I listened to in close proximity.  Each time it was referenced as one that “everyone” has read and since I hadn’t I added it to my Amazon wish list.
A few weeks later, I was on my way to a rather important meeting and had the urgent need to actually influence a few people.  With an 8+ hour flight ahead of me, I went out on a limb, purchased the paperback and spent an extra couple bucks to get the Kindle version so I could start right away (via Match Book – a very cool Amazon service I had just learned about a week or so prior).  Lucky I did since I had had to head to the airport a few hours before the UPS man showed up with the hard copy.
Kindle in tow, I read about half of it on the flight over and finished it on the way back.  That tells you the first thing you need to know about this book: it’s an easy read.  In a little less that 300 pages, Cialdini covers the 6 basic mechanisms that people can use to influence others:

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Commitment and Consistency
  3. Social Proof
  4. Liking
  5. Authority
  6. Sacrcity

He dedicates a chapter to each and gives lots of good examples of how each works, some in pretty suprising ways.  For example, in the chapter about reciprocity he gives an example of a boy scout asking him to buy a $10 raffle ticket.  When Cialdini refuses, the scout “offers” to relent and only ask him to buy a $2 chocolate bar.  The scout has “given” hom something in the form of not pressuring him to buy the more expensive raffle ticket, so he feels internal pressure to reciprocate and buy the chocolate bar…even though he doesn’t like chocolate.  He ends each chapter with examples that have come in from readers of each mechanism at work – either by them or on them.
And really that tells you the second thing you need to know about this book: it’s mostly just a set of “tricks” to get people to do what you want.  I think its most useful for those who want to defend against these tricks more so than those that are looking for a scientific / psycholgical explanation of why they work.
Cialdini concludes with the basic premise that all of these mecahnisms work because they are natural shortcuts to decision making that have evolved over tens of thousands of years.  To Cialdini’s credit, he actaully closes with a screed against anyone who would use these shortcuts to deceive (i.e. as tricks):

The real treachery, and the thing we cannot tolerate, is any attempt to make their profit in away that threatens the reliability of our shortcuts.

If its true that “everyone” has read it, then you might as well too. (trying my social proof influence there ;-).  In all seriousness, it was worth the read, but its ending up on my shelf next to others of its ilk.  It’s a bit like Krav Maga is to a finer martial art like karate: quick and too the point with none of the theory.  Both have their place, but if you want to dig deeper and understand why people react the way they do to outside infleunces, you may want to look elsewhere.  In a more recent Tim Ferriss podcast I added something that might fit the bill to my wishlist.  If I have an urgent need to influence someone, you can read the review here.

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