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  • Writer's pictureNishant Mittal

6th book of 2021: Influence by Robert Cialdini

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

I read this book because it was recommended by Scott Adams in Loserthink.

My motivation to read Influence was simple - I'm building SpotHealth and want to influence as many people as possible to buy into our products and services. The book positioned itself as a textbook on "psychology of persuasion" and seemed to be hailed as one of the most important books for marketeers "in the last ten years". All of this sounded nice, but I wouldn't have played along, if not for Scott Adams' recommendation. So, credit or blame, it belongs to him. Ha-ha.

Influence begins on the premise that most decisions we make don't involve our consciousness. They just happen. These "decisions" (or involuntary actions) are routed through our non-conscious or subconscious brain. We think we control what we do, but that isn't the case for over 90% of times. The author calls them click, wurrr kind of actions. Whenever some specific levers are pulled, we take actions without thinking, and then rationalize them with our consciousness. We spend more time convincing ourselves of the rationales behind our actions, than actually performing them. Just like fishes respond to bait, we respond to those levers. The question is, do we want to fish, or be the fish.

This was a good start and I agreed instantly because I've been living for a long time, and also because I read (and really liked) a book called Strangers to Ourselves, which dealt with the same topic, but from a philosophical standpoint. Soon enough the book began with the lessons, which were nice, but a bit underwhelming in both content and representation. Here's a summary of all of them:

  1. Reciprocation: If you want someone to do something for you, do something for them first. After taking a favour (even if they didn't want it), they'll most likely give in. Example: Some beggars on the streets of Delhi start wiping cars before asking for money. Unless they leave the car dirtier than it was before, most people shell out some change. Most, but not all. It's a tried and tested strategy.

  2. Commitment and Consistency: People want to seem consistent, so if they've taken a stand, they'll keep on it. This is one of the reasons why people keep investing in stocks that are already losing them money. The trick is to get them to commit, even if it's a small thing; and then they'll keep pouring in to seem consistent. Example: A tele-caller asks you if you're doing okay. You say, "I'm doing great! Thanks!". To that she replies, "That's so good to hear! Unfortunately, the charity we're running is for poor kids who aren't doing well at all. Please help with some money?". What do you say to that, you cheap bastard?

  3. Social Proof: People don't think for themselves, they do what others are doing. That's why Sitcoms have those fake laughs after each "joke". It works. People love Sitcoms and laugh, not because the jokes are funny (they're mostly not), but because they heard that canned laughter. Sanjeev Bikhchandani has a beautiful version for this in the business world. He says, "You're number one, because you're number one".

  4. Liking: People like to respond to people they "like". This is how Amway, Tupperware, etc. win. This is the bedrock of Multilevel marketing. How do you become more likable?

    1. Physical attractiveness (Vaah!)

    2. Similarity: Sound like your target

    3. Compliments: Lick their ass till it's perfectly moist

    4. Contact & cooperation (Good cop/bad cop)

    5. Conditioning and association (you're likely to buy a fitness watch with John Abraham as the ambassador, probably not a skin cream)

  5. Authority: Experts believe Sensodyne toothpaste is good for teeth. Experts believe Lifebouy kills germs. You get the point.

  6. Scarcity: Only 1 left, order NOW!

Now, each of those points have some interesting nuances if you read the book in entirety. But give or take, that's the essence of it. The book felt like a collection of generic ideas to me. After five pop psychology reads, it's basically the same story all over again. I've read atleast 30. Personally, I think a lot of this is pure horseshit in Indian context. India has eleven times the number of people US has, per each square KM. We don't think like these people do. To be specific, I think Reciprocation & Commitment and Consistency don't work in India as much as they might be working in countries with lower population density.

There's a solid gap in Indian Non-fiction space - Contextualized Pop Psychology. Hope someone can take advantage of it, soon!

Overall a good read.

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