16 November 2009

Social Proof To Reduce Energy Use

From the Innovation files of BusinessWeek comes this report about how software startup Opower is partnering with utilities and applying behavioral psychology to reduce energy consumption.

"In the past 18 months, Arlington (Va.)-based Opower has partnered with 21 utilities to incorporate neighbor comparisons into gas and electric bills. Based on the success of pilot programs in Sacramento and Washington state's Puget Sound area, Opower just added two high-profile clients to its roster in October: National Grid of Waltham, Mass., and Seattle City Light. About 1 million households currently receive the reports, which show them how much energy they are using vs. similar households in their neighborhood. (To establish "comparable neighbors," Opower looks at the square footage of the home, its type of heating system, whether there's a swimming pool, and so on.)

The result: Customers in the program have reduced annual energy usage by an average of 2.8%, or the equivalent of 280 kilowatt-hours per year. In its test with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, the effect has been biggest in households that were the biggest energy hogs pre-Opower: They've reduced consumption by more than 6% on average."

Opower's Chief Scientist is none other than Dr. Cialdini.

Read the full article.

11 November 2009

A Masterpiece: Jim Collins LIVE!

You can't really argue with the fact that Jim Collins' Good to Great is the most influential business book of the last decade. His research-based examination of what separates companies that thrive vs. those that fail broke new ground in its analysis of peak performance, and the concepts he introduced (e.g., the Hedgehog, the Flywheel, First Who) have become standard operating principles in Fortune 50 and start-up cultures alike. Granted, he has detractors, and yes, his content has such wide appeal that you almost have to question why. But with three best sellers, including Built to Last as a precursor and this year's How the Mighty Fall as a follow-up, Collins really has no peer in today's business world.

He selectively chooses to speak but 18 times a year, and a few weeks ago at the Gazelles-Fortune Small Business Summit, he spoke for an unprecedented 4 hours (2 consecutive segments of 2 hours each with a break in between). It would be unfair, not to mention impossible, to summarize even a fraction of what he covered, but there were obviously some nuggets that hit harder and deeper than others.

Opening with the concept that sweeping ideas come along once per generation but that we don't see or notice them until much later, Mr. Collins spoke of the latest one: entrepreneurship as a discipline. And it is the entrepreneurial mind that forgoes a paint-by-numbers, albeit safe approach to life, in favor of starting with a blank canvas - a much scarier choice, but the only option that provides the opportunity to make your life a masterpiece, a creative work of art.

So what were his most thought-provoking questions? Here goes:

  1. Are company founders able to actually build a company beyond start-up, i.e., be able to go from telling time to being clock-builders?

  2. For what percentage of the people in key seats (the leadership team) at your company do you have empirical evidence that they are the right people?

  3. Why do truly great companies have the discipline to leave growth on the table?

  4. What are you doing right now so that you and/or your company can seize the opportunities presented by the current economic tumult?

  5. How do you conduct blameless autopsies in an organization that values individual accountability?

And a few choice quotes:

  • "The point of disagreement is to provide clarity, not consensus. Never in the history of great institutions has consensus been the goal."

  • "The ultimate throttle for growth is having the right people in key seats. Great companies are more likely to die of indigestion of too much opportunity than starve from too little."

  • "How you fail has more to do with what you do than what the world does to you."

After 4 hours, Mr. Collins was kind enough to share his ultimate management and leadership reading list, the books that have had the greatest impact on his thinking over the course of the last 20 years. You won't likely come across this list anywhere else simply because it's not something Mr. Collins normally shares. Enjoy:

Jim Collins' Top 10 Books on Leadership and Management
1. The Second World War by Winston Churchill

2. Master of the Senate by Robert A. Caro

3. Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns Goodwin,

4. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter Bernstein,

5. Moneyball by Michael Lewis

6. The Iliad by Homer

7. The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker

8. Self-Renewal John Gardner

9. Assault on Lake Casitas by Brad Lewis, 

10. Goodbye Darkness by William Manchester

Secret #11: Out of the Crisis by W. Edwards Deming

09 November 2009

Vintage Persuasion Clip

Dr. Robert Cialdini discusses the Principles of Persuasion, vintage-style.
(Excerpt from a psychology documentary about "Social Reality" with Philip Zimbardo)

24 February 2009

Sex Sells?

This one from the Reciprocity files of courtesy of the military Psy-Ops, who are now using little blue pills, think Cialis and Viagra, as a tool to influence local warlords in the war on terrorism.

Read the piece from the Washington Post here.

17 February 2009

Help Me Understand?

Does anyone have a clue why the New York Times is selling a one-of-a-kind Rolling Stones autographed guitar for close to $17,000?

We realize that the margins might be high for memorabilia, but selling one guitar for profit seems a little desperate for a newspaper titan.

28 January 2009

shopping tips, pt. 1

With the retail space in a tailspin, we're bound to see a lot of stores announcing liquidation sales, with the promise of "deep discounts" for a "limited time" only. Beware these sales: arm yourself with some knowledge, courtesy of lifehacker, on how you can avoid being "smuggled" by the retailing tricks that you'll find at these, and other, types of sales. 

Read the tips here.

04 December 2008

Is Email for Liars?

As reported by Anne Fisher in the Nov. 24 2008 issue of Fortune, research shows that people are much more likely to tell a lie via e-mail than they are by phone or in person.

"What with 90% or so of all work-related communication taking place online (according to an IBM estimate), the truth-challenged nature of e-mail obviously has business implications. For instance, if you're thinking of asking your team members to evaluate one another, beware. A few years ago [researchers] studied whether peers rate each other differently depending on what medium they use. It turns out people are far more likely to trash their colleagues via e-mail than when filling out a paper form."

Something to keep in mind.

(Normally, I would link to the article directly, but it appears that Fortune has removed all the links to their articles - isn't that weird?)

25 November 2008

Principles of Persuasion LIVE in Toronto!

Two weeks ago, on November 13-14, 2008, we held the first ever open Principles of Persuasion (POP) Workshop in Toronto, and from all reports, it was an incredible success.

41 participants from Canada's leading institutions and corporations took part in the 1.5-day program, the only one of its kind in the world designed and certified by the world's foremost expert on the science of persuasion and influence - Dr. Robert Cialdini.

Thank you to all the participants, to Debbie Barlow at HRD, and to the attentive staff at St. Andrews for making this such a tremendous experience.

The next open POP will be held on April 23-24, 2009 at the St. Andrews Club in downtown Toronto. Act quickly though - space is limited and we are already very close to capacity for April 2009. To register online, please visit www.regonline.com/pop.

24 November 2008

Broken Window Theory and the Cialdini Effect

Last week, the Globe and the National Post quickly picked up on the findings of a Dutch research paper, published in the respected journal Science. The research claims that urban decay is contagious - that people are more likely to defy social norms (e.g., littering, stealing), if there is evidence in plain view that others have already done so.

It's a riff on Gladwell's Broken Windows Theory, first put forth in The Tipping Point, in which Gladwell described, and then explained, the sharp reduction in crime in New York City during the late 80's and 90's. Social contagion also builds upon Dr. Cialdini's Social Proof principle, which states that people are more likely to do something if they observe others doing the same thing.

It's also likely one of the most under-utilized of the persuasion principles. Whether you're in sales or marketing, whether you're trying to influence 1 or 1000 people, whether you're the client or the vendor, it doesn't matter... NEVER forget to provide proof of what similar others are doing. Why rely just on your own persuasion power when you can harness the power of other people to get the job done more effectively?

As Dr. Cialdini has said so eloquently in testimony before the U.S. Congress and at 10 Downing Street last year: "As a rule, people grossly underestimate the guiding role that others play in choices and the extent to which their actions in a situation are determined by the (previous and current) actions of others."

Read the full Globe article here.

23 November 2008

Get DropBox

Do you know DropBox? It's this FREE amazing, fantastic, online utility that is essentially a virtual thumb drive - especially useful if you use multiple computers on weekly basis. They just came out of beta recently, and it's such a useful little utility that I thought it would be a crime not to let people in on it. After losing my 5th thumb drive in a year, DropBox was the ultimate find.

From LifeHacker:
"Freeware application and web service Dropbox instantaneously backs up and syncs your files over the Internet and to any computer. After you install the application, it will create a Dropbox folder on your hard drive. Any file you put inside that folder will automatically be synced and monitored for changes, and each time a change is saved, it backs up and syncs the file again. Even better, Dropbox does revision history, so if you accidentally saved a file and wanted to revert to an old version or deleted a file, Dropbox can recover any previous version. See the video above for a full demonstration."

I believe DropBox may still be "by invitation only". If you want an invite, just holler.

11 November 2008

Yes We Can

With two federal elections come and gone (yes, we had one here in Canada in October, and of course, Barack "Yes We Can" Obama recently triumphed in the US elections), we're reminded once again how important a role that influence and persuasion play in our daily lives. For what else do elections stand on if not a candidate's (and his team's) ability to influence eligible voters in their direction?

With that in mind, have a listen to Dr. Cialdini's latest interview with Ted Robbins of National Public Radio. Cialdini vividly dissects the process of how to effectively change people's behaviour by invoking two powerful principles: consistency and social proof.

Listen to the audio file, or read the article here.

14 October 2008

Do You Know Tito's?

This a perfect example of Seth Godin's idea from the Purple Cow - Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable. Great story, home-spun approach, and a ton of attributes that together make Tito's Vodka stand out from the crowd.  In other words, this is Scarcity at work. 

I saw the Tito's ad that appeared on the back page of a magazine, and by saw, I mean I read the whole advert, start to finish. When was the last time something grabbed you like that?

My point is: if you cannot articulate what makes your product/service/idea remarkable, then you really need to ask yourself what you'll be doing in a few years/months time. Because the longer you remain average, common or adequate, the more opportunities you create for your competition. 

18 August 2008

YES! Cracks the Top 50 on Amazon!

While expectations were high for Dr. Cialdini's latest book, YES! 50 Scientific Ways To Be Persuasive, I'm not sure anyone thought it would rise so quickly on Amazon's best-seller list. As of August 18, YES! has cracked the Amazon's Top 50 list. Not only that, but YES! is also the No. 1 bestseller in the Marketing & Sales category.

I'll try to get some information from Cialdini's office as to what specifically caused the spike, but in the meantime, I'd love to know if anyone has read it and if so, what do you think?

Also, a quick reminder: HRD is launching The Principles of Persuasion Workshop, the only seminar designed and certified by Dr. Cialdini, on Nov. 13-14, 2008 at the St. Andrews Club and Conference Centre in Toronto, Canada. This unique, evidence-based training examines why it is that people say “yes” to requests and focuses on the ethical use of scientifically-proven influence tactics. You'll learn to integrate, using Dr. Cialdini's proven critical thinking tools, the latest behavioural science research to your most complex marketing, sales, and leadership challenges.

Register here for the only open POP Workshop in Canada.

14 August 2008

World Negotiation Forum

More and more people are asking lately: what's the difference between influence and negotiation?

Here's the short answer:

Negotiation is a process whereby two or more parties work together to reach an agreement; by its very nature, negotiation implies exchange of value, often referred to as compromises and concessions. There are hundreds of negotiation skills training workshops out there (the ubiquitous Karass seminar is one that comes easily to mind).

Influence investigates the process of human change, whether that change is a behavior, an attitude, or a belief. While there a few dozen influence training programs, there is only one designed and authored by the world's leading authority on the science of persuasion.

So while you definitely will need sharp influencing skills to be a top negotiator, that doesn't mean that every time you influence you're negotiating.

Which leads to this announcement: Dr. Cialdini has once again been invited as a featured speaker to the World Negotiation Forum, to be held this year in Sao Paolo, Brazil. He will be joined by 6 world-renowned experts, including Nobel Laureate Lord David Trimble.

Here's more info on the World Negotiation Forum in Brazil.

30 July 2008

10 Things to Scratch From Your Worry List

Can't take credit for this one... great list, though. Of particular interest: turning off your A/C in the car to reduce fuel consumption is totally offset by the aerodynamic drag created by keeping the windows open. Long live air conditioning!

The full list here.

25 July 2008

All Apologies

Here's a fresh idea, as reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, about how negligent doctors and hospitals who apologize to their patients are able to reduce the number of malpractice lawsuits. It's another example of Reciprocity, the first rule of persuasion, which tells us that people feel obligated to give back those who have given to them.

Read the fascinating article here (yes, it's free).

24 July 2008


Do you ever geek out? Here are some of my wordle clouds. First, the black and white:
Now, a color version:
Do you wordle?

14 July 2008

Google Alerts: Cialdini

Do you use Google Alerts? Once you set it up, the service will send you comprehensive email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic. Use it to keep tabs on any of your favorite topics.

Take a look at this week's alert for "Cialdini."

24 June 2008

Celebrity Sell

Lured by global brands with deep pockets and entertainment agencies eager to broker multi-million dollar deals, celebrities are jumping into the product push game like never before. According to Millward Brown, a marketing research agency, Hollywood stars showed up in nearly 14 percent of ads last year.

So just in case you missed it, here's a link to Julie Creswell's New York Times piece, entitled "Nothing Sells Like Celebrity."

In it, Creswell quotes none other than Dr. Cialdini, professor of psychology at Arizona State University, who helps explain how celebrities help marketers cut through the daily clutter of messages that consumers face.

19 June 2008

Counting the Cost of Misunderstanding

Have you ever wondered how much a misunderstanding costs? According to a recent report by UK-based consulting firm Cognisco, misunderstandings and miscommunication among workers are costing companies US$37-billion a year.

Not surprisingly, 99% of the 400 in the survey suffered either a loss of sales or reduced customer satisfaction because of crossed lines of communication or simply an employee's lack of understanding.

Which industry had the highest "cost of misunderstanding"? Banking and finance.

Read the white paper or the press release.

24 April 2008

What Makes Facebook Tick?

It's Thursday morning in the Calgary airport and I am about to board AC144 for my 35th flight of 2008 - which partly explains my absence from the blogosphere (the other part I'll explain later).

If you're a Facebook user, you won't be surprised to learn that Stanford is now offering a course called The Psychology of Facebook.

The course is the brainchild of Professor B J Fogg, a pioneering persuasion psychologist who founded the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford.

He says: "When Facebook came along I was one of the developers at the launch and what struck me was how there was this new form of persuasion. This mass interpersonal persuasion."

Read the BBC report here

05 March 2008

The Only Principles of Persuasion Workshop in Canada

On April 10-11, 2008, the McGill International Executive Institute is presenting the only open Principles of Persuasion Workshop in Canada.

As seminar leader, I am the only one in Canada certified to deliver this workshop, which is based on the lifelong work of Dr. Cialdini, the world's foremost expert on influence and persuasion. He is also the most cited social psychologist alive today.

The PoP workshop is the only evidence-based training of its kind. The workshop examines why people say "yes" to your requests and recommendations, and will provide you with new tools that you can use to more effectively influence clients, customers, partners, colleagues, senior management, donors, etc.

Imagine if you could dramatically improve one skill in the next year?

What's stopping you from taking a break from the office for 1.5 days so that you can return better prepared to tackle your toughest challenges? If you, or someone you know, is interested in attending, please visit www.hrdpop.com or the McGill Executive website for more info.

Seating will be strictly limited.

"This program will help executives make better decisions and use their influence wisely."
- -Charles T. Munger, Vice Chairman Berkshire-Hathaway, Inc.

03 March 2008

Big-Time Losers?

Joe Nocera, in the current issue of Play, reveals why owning a franchise in one of the three main sports leagues in U.S. - - football, basketball, and baseball - - is to "enter into a club in which is it nearly impossible to come away a financial loser," even if your team is a perennial dog in the standings.

Nocera's salient point is that with such a limited supply o major-league teams for sale, there will always be a deep-pocketed buyer around the corner willing to pay to become a big-league franchise owner.

It's another classic example of the Scarcity principle, which proves that people want more, and will pay more, for what they can have less of.

Read the full article here.

28 February 2008


Stephanie Saul, of the New York Times, explains why Pfizer is being questioned by U.S. lawmakers for its use of Dr. Jarvik, self-proclaimed "inventor of the human heart," as a spokesperson for the world's best-selling drug, Lipitor (2007 worldwide sales of $12.7 billion).

"Pfizer has spent more than $258 million advertising Lipitor since January 2006, most of it on the Jarvik campaign, as the company sought to protect Lipitor, the world’s best-selling drug, from competition by cheaper generics."

In mid-2006, when the ads for Lipitor featuring Dr. Jarvik began appearing, Katie Watson, medical ethicist and commentator for NPR, said that the timing of the ad -- and Dr. Jarvik's endorsement -- are both significant. According to Watson, it was the first time that a doctor has been paid to endorse a prescription drug in an ad.

Now, a congressional committee is listening to ex-colleagues of Dr. Jarvik, many of whom assert that it is Dr. Jarvik's mentors at the University of Utah who rightly deserve credit for inventing the human heart, not Dr. Jarvik. Lawmakers are also addressing complaints that since Dr. Jarvik is not a cardiologist and is not licensed to practice medicine, he is not qualified to recommend Lipitor, a heart disease drug.

It's worth noting one concept from the science of persuasion. Credibility comes from only 2 sources: Expertise and Trustworthiness. The use of an expert spokesperson to bolster your case depends just as much on the former as it does the latter.

With ex-colleagues and congressional investigators now calling Pfizer's use of Jarvik into question, Ian Read, Pfizer’s president of worldwide pharmaceutical operations, has announced that:

“We regret this. Going forward, we commit to ensuring there is greater clarity in our advertising regarding the presentation of spokespeople.”

Full article here.

25 February 2008

Why FREE Is The Future of Business

Chris Anderson, editor in chief of Wired and best-selling author of The Long Tail, has just released a preview of his next book FREE! in the current issue of Wired.

Near the end, Anderson beautifully sums up the paradigm shift towards free:

The word is externalities, a concept that holds that money is not the only scarcity in the world. Chief among the others are your time and respect, two factors that we've always known about but have only recently been able to measure properly. The "attention economy" and "reputation economy" are too fuzzy to merit an academic department, but there's something real at the heart of both. Thanks to Google, we now have a handy way to convert from reputation (PageRank) to attention (traffic) to money (ads). Anything you can consistently convert to cash is a form of currency itself, and Google plays the role of central banker for these new economies.

There is, presumably, a limited supply of reputation and attention in the world at any point in time. These are the new scarcities — and the world of free exists mostly to acquire these valuable assets for the sake of a business model to be identified later. Free shifts the economy from a focus on only that which can be quantified in dollars and cents to a more realistic accounting of all the things we truly value today.

Read the full article here.

15 February 2008

Measuring and Describing Liking

Hat tip to Benedict Carey at the New York Times for writing this great article on mimicry, a form of the principle of Liking, which affirms that similarity, physical appreance, compliments, contact, and cooperation all are useful elements in the art of being liked, and consequently, persuasive.

An excerpt:

“They [psychologists] have found that immediate social bonding between strangers is highly dependent on mimicry, a synchronized and usually unconscious give and take of words and gestures that creates a current of good will between two people…One reason subtle mimicry is so instantly beguiling may be that it draws on and, perhaps, activates brain circuits involved in feelings of empathy.”

Fascinating. Read the full article here.

11 February 2008

Charting Authority in the US Election campaigns

Suzanne Taylor, at Macleans.ca, wrote an interesting piece on the complicated art of persuasion as it relates to the current wide-open presidential nomination races in the United States.

What's significant here is how Taylor discusses the extent to which the principle of Authority in celebrity and editorial endorsements, in popular media, and in new media influences the American voting public.

Taylor cites studies showing that celebrity (e.g. Oprah), editorial (e.g. New York Times), and popular media (e.g. Fox News) endorsements generally do not have a major impact on voting patterns, while research on the power of new media (e.g. YouTube) still remains inconclusive.

Whatever ends up being the most influential medium, Taylor clearly illustrates how Authority is deeply engaged in the leadership race south of the border.

Read the article here.

08 February 2008

A Great Start to 2008!

Just wanted to thank everyone for expressing their recent support for Major Persuasion. It's been a great start to 2008, from appearing on CBC's Test The Nation to finishing third in the Best Canadian Business/Finance Blog category at the 2007 Canadian Blog Awards.

My thanks to all!