The human mind is a wonderful thing, capable of the most wonderful thought processes and ideas. Yet the brain is on automatic pilot for most situations. That allows the conscious mind to really focus. The drawback is that some people will use our conscious inattention to sneak one by us, like a fastball pitch to a hitter looking for a change-up.
Influence, the book, is very useful in this regard, because it uses interesting examples to help us be aware of our own tendency to let automatic pilot thinking take over.
Since I first read this book many years ago, I have been watching to see if the circumstances I see support or invalidate Professor Cialdini's points. By a margin of about 9 to 1, Cialdini wins.
Given that we are easily manipulated by our desire to be and to appear to be consistent with our past actions and statements, swayed by what the crowd is doing, and various other mechanisms, the only way we can be armed against unscrupulous marketing is to be as aware of these factors are the marketers are.
At the same time, I appreciated how the book explores the ethics of when and how much to apply these principles. Without this discussion, the book would come off like Machiavelli's, The Prince, for marketing organizations. That would have been a shame. By dealing with the ethics, Professor Cialdini creates the opportunity to educate us intellectually and morally. Well done!
I have read literally dozens of books about marketing and selling, and I find this one to be the most helpful in thinking about how influence actually works. Even if you will never work in marketing, you will benefit from reading this book in order to better focus your purchases and actions where they fit your needs rather than someone else's.
I have been entertaining my friends at dinner parties with this book. Cialdini, who admits to being a bit of a sucker himself, shows all the ways we've been manipulated over the years by small gestures and situations contrived by salesmen.
There are so many good stories. The one about Joe Girard, a car salesman who sends out each month 13,000 cards every month to former customers with a card saying, "I like you". Surely people wouldn't fall for that? Yes they do, he made more than $200,000 a year selling cars. He's in the Guinness Book of Records.
There's the story of how the Chinese got the American prisoners in the Korean War to betray their country by setting them essay questions. There's accounts of the trouble we can get into when we insist on being consistent or make a vague commitment to supporting a cause.
Cialdini exposes loads of sales techniques and has some fascinating insights into what motivates us.
As a self-employed person I'm really grateful for this knowledge. This is a book that everyone should read.
on 10 September 2007
I bought this book for two reasons - one to make myself more alert to sales techniques, and two to see if there are any useful insights to glean that could be applied to other areas of life.
On both counts the book delivers. Having recently been pitched to at work by a media tracking agency and nearly taken the bait (didn't in the end) I immediately recognised the use of reciprocity and scarcity to try and harry me into signing up. That alone was worth buying the book for, and I will definitely use that insight in future.
In addition, the chapter on consistency is also very useful. I've been involved in trying (and failing) to get people behind certain campaigns in the past. As such the discussion about getting people to make small commitments to establish a self image which they then feel the need to act consistently with both rang true on a personal level, and seems like something worth trying out in future.
So why only three stars? For one I did not find elements of the book convincing. The section dealing with newspaper coverage of suicides is the bit that really troubles me. Some of the data seems both to be limited and have been interpreted quite loosely. I would need a lot more convincing that the stats are being interpreted reasonably, it looks far too rough and ready. Given that this book is really about behavioural biases surely it should be extra careful about interpretaion of data as this is something we humans tend to be very bad at, always looking for patterns that aren't there and so on. That then leads me to query the hypothesis built on top of the data and to be honest I find myself not buying it. That also makes me query whether other chapters suffer from similar flaws.
Secondly, the book isn't actually that useful once you get your head around the key techniques because, as a previous reviewer says, simply having the knowledge that you have biases doesn't make them go away. To be really useful the book should have spent as much time reinforcing ways to resist the influence of biases as it does explaining what they are.
That said it is very readable, and I got what I wanted from it, but it could have been better.
on 6 June 2005
I first read an excerpt of Dr Cialdini's book in a Harvard Business Review article and it was one of the few times I actually bought the book on the same day. The six universal principles of influence and persuasion are superb in their brevity and ability to work in a wide variety of situations. With Dr Cialdini backing up his writings with 50 years of social science research (not to mention his own 3 year investment of time to learn the trade secrets of many organisations, both private sector and public sector) it makes learning and using the principles of persuasion systematic and not dependant on being 'a born sales person or natural influencer'. A fantastic read with plenty of anecdotes (backed up by research) and uses. If you buy one book on the subject of Influence and Persuasion - make it this one!. Also, for reader's interest the book has been translated into a two-day workshop on how to best utilise the 6 principles of influence and persuasion and are run by Dr Cialdini's outfit called Influence At Work - they have a US and UK presence. Good reading!
on 7 July 2007
3rd edition/publication (2007), Collins Business Essentials, 320 pages (of which 280 pages for actual book)
Influence is another of the twenty books Charlie Munger recommends in the second edition of Poor Charlie's Almanack. Its content is excellent (and sometimes even hair-raisingly remarkable - as when he shows that media reporting of suicides actually causes more of them via the social proof bias) but I think Cialdini could have done a much better job of turning the research evidence into useful/practical advice. (The same problem manifests itself in Gilbert's book `Stumbling on Happiness' - though Cialdini's is the better book.)
I was discussing this book with a friend who had also read it and I thought he put it very well: Cialdini is one of those clever people who is not very wise. That is also why Poor Charlie's Almanack is so good and unusual: Munger is both clever and has deliberately attempted to distil a lifetime's worth of reading over a broad subject matter area into practical advice on how to live a successful/useful life.
In particular, Cialdini shows us clearly that a significant number of our psychological biases work completely unconsciously. (By that I mean it can be demonstrated that a certain bias has affected a group of individual's actions/conclusions whilst they strenuously deny they have paid any attention to or are even totally unaware of the biasing factor.) For example, Cialdini quotes one study where "men who saw a new-car ad that included a seductive young woman model rated the car as faster, more appealing, more expensive-looking, and better designed than did men who saw the same ad without the model. Yet when asked later, the men refused to believe that the presence of the young woman had influenced their judgements."
He then goes on to suggest various complicated ways to try to monitor ourselves to see if we are being affected by some of these biases - in order that we can attempt to limit the damage from faulty decisions (often in situations deliberately set up to cause our faulty decisions to be detrimental to us and advantageous to some other). For example, he highlights the "extreme caution" needed in auction situations where one encounters the "devilish construction of scarcity plus rivalry" - and suggests that we watch ourselves for signs of arousal so that we can stop short.
Well, I think Munger and his partner Warren Buffett have a much more practical and simpler way of dealing with that problem, based on the wisdom of the rustic that Munger likes to quote: "all I want to know is where I'm going to die so can avoid going there." The whole thrust of Cialdini's book is that these biases are often unconscious and are in any case often very strong (and usually much stronger that we believe/expect) - which is another way of saying you're unlikely to have good results fighting against them.
Much better to simply bypass the problem where possible and do as Buffett does and refuse to get involved in auction situations. Using rules like this, to paraphrase Munger on a different subject (tax shelters): if you always avoid auction situations you might miss out on the odd good deal, but overall your life is likely to be better.
This is also why I consider Taleb (Fooled by Randomness) to be much wiser than Cialdini: he understands that being aware of biases doesn't make them go away. You need tricks and methods to live successfully with them.
I also think the advice in Cialdini's epilogue is very poor. He suggests that we rise up to fight people/organisations who misuse our psychological biases for their own ends: "In short, we should be willing to use boycott, threat, confrontation, censure, tirade, nearly anything, to retaliate."
This is crazy advice: the effort and time required to do it would leave little for anything else and would also guarantee a miserable life focussed on negativity. It also shows Cialdini's lack of familiarity with good training principles (an excellent book on the subject is Karen Pryor's `Don't Shoot The Dog'). Plenty of research now shows that positive reinforcement (rewarding behaviour you like) is at least as effective as negative reinforcement and much more so than punishment. It also has the huge benefit of leading to a much more pleasant life.
However, even with those caveats (essentially that you have to do your own thinking about how to cope with the biases that Cialdini does an excellent job of laying out) it is still a very useful book.
on 2 May 2007
I've just finished this book. Wow it was mind blowing!
I'm not going to reiterate all the brilliant reviews made about this book, suffice to say it is a useful guide for going into negotiations and other situations were undue and unfair influence might occur. For example, how to deal with dirty influence tricks or even just pushy salesmen, estate agents or recruitment consultants - you can see the tatics that are being used and side step them or use their tricks against them for your own advantage.
An amazing book. Read it for your own sake.
on 19 January 2008
This is not a bad book. Actually, I'm ok with having bought it here at Amazon. However, that was not my impression when I started in the first chapter; I thought "oh no, not again, another book of a wannabe self-proclaimed "guru"". From chapter 3 onwards it became better, but I have one serious problem with this book: I do understand Cialdini is an academic, but I really wish he would stop cluttering up the text with all these side steps to academic research; it's annoying. Just pose your statements, explain them short and clear, and put all your detailed explanations of academic research that supports your statements in the footnotes. This is your typical book where you have to turn back two pages constantly to see "what was his main argument?". This book could be considerably shorter, *still preservering the same value when it comes to insight", and would make for much more pleasant reading (Mind you, I hold a PhD myself, I know this is academic writing. That's fine when your audience is the academical world, but that is clearly not what the intended audience of this book is). To conclude: there are some valuable lessons contained in this book, it is worth the money, but it needs to be less on the academical details, because that distracts.
on 15 July 2016
OK – quick Q: you are a shop assistant in a clothes store. You work on commission. A customer walks in and asks for a suit and a pullover. Which do you show them first? (A: at the end!)
‘Influence’ is considered to be The Bible of persuasion, and rightly so! What sets Cialdini apart from most other academics is that he actually wanted to see how people try to influence others in the real world. He therefore worked for estate agents, politicians, in a restaurant and in advertising. His book analyses his findings – 6 key principles:
a) ‘Liking’ (p. 143): The more likeable someone is, the stronger their power of influence. Moral: get your students to like you – they are more likely to learn from you and make a greater effort.
b) ‘Authority’ (p. 178): We are more influenced by people we perceive as knowledgeable. Moral: make sure your student know your teaching credentials and give them the rationale behind your methods.
c) ‘Social Proof – Consensus’ (p. 98): We are easily swayed by what (many) others do; esp our peers! * Moral: instead of telling students what to do, it is perhaps better to tell them that their friends are doing it!
d) ‘Consistency’ (p. 52): We use our earlier behaviour as a guide for what to do next. Moral: if you get your students to adopt a desirable behaviour once or twice (for whatever reason!) they may well go on behaving in the same way!
e) ‘Scarcity’ (p. 203): We value things more if they are rare. (In a fantastic study they gave people chocolate chip cookies; in some cases the jar contained 10 – in others only 2. Results: the cookies were rated as tastier in the latter case!! – p. 219). Moral: if someone asks you for private lessons, do not agree immediately; let them think you are busy... :-)
f) ‘Reciprocity’ (p. 19): If someone does us a good turn, we feel the need to reciprocate. Moral: by doing little things for your students you ‘bind’ them and you can ask them to do all kinds of things later. Here is an important discovery – you can ask them to do a lot more! (p. 33)
OK - remember the initial Q? A: you show them the suits first! (p. 13) Why? If you show them the pullovers, they will buy an average-priced one (say E 50) but when you take them to the suits, they will suddenly seem expensive, so they’ll get a cheaper one (say E 150). Yet if you take them to the suits first, they will buy a normal one (say for E 200) and then the pullovers will seem cheap by comparison, so they’ll get one at E 70! Brilliant! :-)
[NB: Don’t take my word for how great the book is; just go on YouTube and watch the short animation ‘Science of Persuasion’. Then buy the book].
If you are looking for a well-written, accessible book on how advertising and other media affect our decision-making, I can strongly recommend the general reader try this one. Cialdini is a professor of Psychology in the USA who feels a strong urge to let us, the general public, get an insight into the way our opinions are manipulated by "compliance professionals". This means not just advertisers and salesmen, but politicians, health experts, religions and many others - all the people whose job it is to persuade us to do what they want.
"Influence" is written with a light touch and plenty of dry wit. Jargon is kept to a minimum but the author doesn't go in for that shallow "self-help book" style which insults the reader's intelligence. Instead, he often opens a subject with a tale told against himself; how falling for a ploy stimulated him to analyse and understand it. His route into the subject is through a common-sense psychology; there are no weird theories.
Cialdini identifies a core of simple, easily recognised behavioural reflexes which evolved to bind social groups together, but which are utilised by those in the know to weasel round our natural resistance. For example, we experience an innate knee-jerk of gratitude when given a present, no matter how small or inappropriate. Cialdini shows us how salemen take advantage of this to nudge us towards a sale; but also identifies the way we soon see the trick, and experience a secondary reflex of resentment and irritation. He shows the reader how to separate and understand these responses, avoiding both the con and the unpleasant feelings of anger that contaminate our reaction. This is all told with humour and humanity - and without unnecessary theorising.
Though this book will undoubtedly be useful to businessmen, it's aimed at the punter, and if you are one it will change your life for the better. It will help you resist manipulation and even to have an ironic laugh at the efforts expended by others. You'll enjoy the read and probably, like me, find yourself recommending it to everyone you know. An ideal present especially for a younger reader, but a fruitful book at any age.
on 18 June 2015
If you've ever been pressured into buying something then wondered with a sinking feeling "what on earth compelled me to do that?", look to this book. Robert Cialdini explains six "weapons of influence" (reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity) that we employ automatically in compliance decisions. I feel like each of these is obvious to a good degree, though some of their uses are so subtle that I could easily be duped. While I was familiar with several of the cited studies, many of the anecdotes were entertaining and revealing, and I liked how the author discussed them in more than just the most obvious light. The writing verged on repetitive, some examples seemed dated, and by the end I was tired of hearing the click, whirr analogy of a tape being cued, but overall, this book has made me a more conscientious consumer.
(Not sure if I will take the author's advice and wage active battle against those that deceptively exploit our psychological decision-making reflexes. I feel like that would just make me go crazy on car salesmen.)