The Imperfect Practice of Influence

The inner workings of our minds is fun to think about but difficult to understand.

I have deep interest in neurology, neuropsychology and behavioral science research. Many interesting studies are in current circulation…my personal favorite at the moment is The Behavioralist Meets the Market: Measuring Social Preferences and Reputation Effects in Actual Transactions–more on that at a different time.

In the absence of compelling and all-encompassing theories of the mind, the imperfect practice of influence is delegated to artists, politicians, salesmen and li’l ole me. Here are a few things I’ve learned from my own research:

  1. Facts matter. Unless you are a philosophy undergraduate pondering the meaning of life, facts are extremely persuasive. The sun rises in the east. A one way bus ride costs $1.50. No argument.
  2. Know your audience. Different people in different circumstances respond to different stimuli. No single technique works in all cases. For an audience of one, aim squarely at the individual’s core need. For an audience of many, plan on using multiple strategies to connect with a variety of segments.
  3. Be realistic about outcomes. Influencing perceptions and behavior is hard…just ask the quirky wannabes trying out for “American Idol.”  But successfully changing perceptions through influence is achievable…just ask Barak Obama.
  4. Practice humility. Factual arguments don’t persuade 100% of the time. Baseball batters are heroes if they can hit a ball three out of ten times. Influencing others is even more elusive than hitting a baseball.

I maintain my sanity by celebrating every interaction and cherishing each win. Today is another good day!