Monthly Archives: October 2007

The science behind the art of persuasion

I’m sick of half-baked, anecdotal admonitions of what to do. I’m hungry for researched, thoughtful analyses of what works.

That’s why I loved Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini.

Using social psychological research, direct study of how professionals use (and misuse) tools of influence, and compelling real-world stories, Influence shows six basic tools of influence, how they are used, and how we can ensure they are not unfairly used against us.

At the core of the book is the realization that as humans, we take cues to help us make decisions and to manage information in a complex world. Often these work, but but sometimes they can lead us astray.

As a simple example, we tend to assume basic things like “Expensive = good.” Sometimes that works, as my experience cursing a dollar-store can opener that didn’t open taught me.

But sometimes it doesn’t. The book opens telling the story of a shop owner who wanted to clear out some jewelry that wasn’t moving. So before she left for vacation, she left a note for her employees saying “everything in this display case, price X ½/”

When she returned from vacation, she found all the jewelry sold, but there was a surprise. The clerk misread the owner’s handwriting and read “price X 2.” The clerk had doubled the price of the jewelry, and it had sold better than it had at the regular price.

It was that idea that expensive = good.

How does this apply to community organizing? Well, for one thing I think we tend to under-value ourselves. At ICPJ at least, if we set a ticket price at all, it tends to be bargain-basement. People see a cheap price, and just as much as “expensive = good,” often we think “cheap = bad.” Would we have more turnout, or more enthusiasm, if we said “every ticket to this event, price X 2”?