By: Kerry Patterson



There’s a secret that only a select few powerful people understand, and it allows them to wield enormous influence in any situation that they find themselves in. These people are The Influencers. They understand that influence comes from a variety of sources, almost none of which include the title on your business card. They realise that influence is a lot more intricate and elusive than learning a course on how to communicate better.

In the next 15 minutes, you are going to learn what the authors of Influence learned from people who were able to solve seemingly impossible challenges. Do you have a situation in your business or home life that isn’t going exactly the way you’ve envisioned it, even though you’ve done “all you could”? This book – and the principles in it – are for you. Buckle up and get ready to learn the secrets that will give you the power to transform anything.

Find the Vital Behaviours

In almost any situation, there are a few vital behaviours that will determine the outcome of a situation. Understanding what they are holds the key to your success.

In the 1980s in Thailand an AIDS and HIV epidemic hit the country – much like it did in every corner of the planet. A problem that had started with IV drug users had spread to sex workers and eventually to the general public who frequented the services of the Thai sex workers on a regular basis. They, in turn, infected their unknowing spouses at home. If something wasn’t done, it was estimated that as many as 1 in 4 Thai citizens would be infected with the deadly virus. Thanks to a brilliant researcher by the name of Dr. Wiwat, this nightmare never became a reality.

At first, they did the logical thing and held information sessions and blanketed the country in a concerted PR effort. Surely, if the public knew of the potential threat, they would change their ways. Not so – the epidemic only got worse in the face of these efforts.

Then, Dr. Wiwat and his team had a flash of insight. If they could get the Thai sex workers to wear condoms, the epidemic would have almost no chance to spread, as they were the main conduits of the disease into the general public. So, instead of focusing their efforts on educating the general public, they focussed their efforts on getting the sex workers to adopt a zero tolerance policy – no condom, no sex.

Dr. Wiwat’s team – and thousands of other influencers around the world – have discovered that in order to change any situation, you must focus in on the vital behaviours that need to change. How do you figure out which behaviours need to change? Take a look at the instances where there is a “positive deviance”. In whatever large scale problem you are looking to solve, it is likely that there are some small pockets of the population (or places within your company) that have already cracked the code – sometimes unwittingly. Studying those people and situations will give you the necessary insight to at least start to understand the challenge.

Changing Minds

If finding a few vital behaviours and changing them is critical, we’ll need to understand how people change their behaviours in the first place. Psychological research has shown that people choose their behaviours based on what they believe will happen to them as a result of their actions. For example, if you have a snake phobia, you might believe that if you touch a snake it will instantly coil itself around your neck and choke you to death. Of course, this isn’t a rational thought, but it is the thought of snake phobics nonetheless. So, in order to change behaviours, you need to change these maps of cause and effect.

You need to help people answer two questions if you are to do this:

  1. Is it worth it for me to change this behaviour, and
  2. Can I actually do it?

Your first reaction to cure a person with a snake phobia would be to resort to verbal persuasion. You could come up with a million and one great reasons why it would be better to be without the phobia, and tell them over and over why you think they could do it. But for those of you who’ve tried to influence somebody you know using this technique, you know it doesn’t work in emotionally charged situations like a deadly fear of snakes (or accountability or public speaking). You need to up the ante. The greatest persuader of all-time is personal experience. So, your goal here isn’t to persuade them that they need to change their behaviour, but that they should give it a shot – just once.

If you are unable to create a personal experience, you must create a vicarious experience through the use of an emotional story. The reason that you need to use emotional stories and not logic and statistics is that people cannot resist empathising with the person who is the star of the story. Tell an emotional story about a 68 year old lady who breaks down in tears when she finally breaks an addiction to alcohol and how it transforms her life immediately – we can’t help but to get caught up in the drama. We feel the emotions of the story and make them our own. They key is to make a link between the current behaviours that you want to change, and what they will be missing out on if they don’t change those behaviours.

So, motivation and ability are the two main questions that need to be answered and made real. Next, we focus on the 3 different levels both of those questions need to be answered – the personal, social and structural levels.

Change at the personal level

 Personal Motivation
At the personal level, the first thing you need to do is make undesirable, desirable. Let’s take the example of moving from an unhealthy life of junk food and TV watching to a life of healthy eating and exercise.

First, when you find yourself facing an irrational thought pattern – like all vegetables taste like dirt and I will never like them – you need to simply immerse them in the behaviour you want. Get them to taste some vegetables that you know they’ll find delicious. Again, in situations like these your goal is to get them to try it.

Second, you might come up against the situation where you are trying to introduce new behaviours that will never be viewed as a positive experience the first time they go through it – like running on a treadmill for 30 minutes when you’ve never been on one in your life. The key here is to focus on the achievement that will be accomplished and the connection to the values that the people hold. For instance, a parent will want to be physically fit in order to do activities with their children like playing at the park. Remind them of that on a regular basis.

Lastly, if nothing seems to get through to the person, it’s likely that you haven’t taken the time to truly understand what they want. If you take the time to listen to what they actually want, you’ll be able to connect the desired behaviours to what they want. You might be surprised to find out that not everybody has the same desires and dreams that you do – don’t assume.

Personal Ability
Sometimes there will be a gap in ability standing in the way of what a person wants to accomplish, and what they actually can accomplish. The first thing to understand here is that almost any skill can be learned if you give yourself enough time. Let’s say that the parent who wants to get healthy also wants to run a marathon one day, even though they’ve never run more than 100 meters to catch the bus on a rainy day.

First, you must be able to set goals around clear, specific and repeatable actions. For instance, if you were learning how to improve your golf swing, focussing on keeping your elbow in is a much better goal than “l’m going to get rid of my slice”. So, take the time to learn the specific actions you need to take in order to improve and you’ll be well on your way.

Second, insist on immediate feedback against clear standards. This goes against most of what we’ve experienced growing up in the educational system, with long periods of time between tests to see how we are progressing. Test yourself regularly, and make adjustments as necessary. This is the only way to understand where are off track and what you need to change to be successful.

Lastly, whatever you are setting out to accomplish, you need to prepare yourself for setbacks. If it’s worth doing, you are going to face some challenges.

Change at the Social Level

Social Motivation
The people who make up your social networks have a large amount of influence on your life, whether you like it or not. Praise, rejection, encouragement and resistance from these people in large part determine the success or failure of your mission.

That’s why you need to understand the power of social motivation and how to getting working for you, instead of against you. Although it might be tempting to try and curry the favour with the entire group of people you are trying to motivate behaviour change in, there’s often a handful of people who can often serve as a proxy for the entire group. These people are the opinion leaders of the group, and if you convince them for the need for change, you will often get the entire group’s buy in.

Social Ability
There are quite a number of situations when you need to tap your social capital to actually create the change you want to see. First, when other people are part of the problem, change is difficult. For instance, sometimes number of people who are actually causing the problem (like spousal abuse, for instance), but the number of people who sit idly by and let it happen without recourse is much larger. In a situation like that, you’d need to enlist the entire group of people who would typically sit by and do nothing if you want things to change.

Second, there may be situations where you simply can’t succeed on your own – where you require the actions of others in order to succeed. For instance, creating a finished product at a software company requires a lot of people to work together in concert. In that situation, making a change in one faction of the team is not sufficient to have an impact on the quality of the entire project.

Asking for help has not been an accepted part of our culture. In some places, asking for help is akin to admitting defeat. But savvy influencers know that reaching out for help when they need it is the only path to success. So, practice flexing your social muscles and learn how to ask for help.

Change at the Structural LevelStructural Motivation

Structural Motivation is all about designing rewards and demanding accountability. The easiest thing to jump to would be extrinsic rewards like money. However, as the authors point out, that isn’t the first or even second thing you should think of – it should be the third thing. The first thing that influencers do is ensure that the vital behaviours that are necessary are linked to intrinsic satisfaction – the desired behaviour should be rewarding in and of itself. Then, they line up social support. Then, and only then, do the think about extrinsic rewards.

When you are thinking about extrinsic rewards, the key is to think about small rewards that are tied to vital behaviours, and that are administered quickly. Catching people in the act and rewarding them then and there is much more powerful than “employee of the year” awards. Also be sure to reward the vital behaviours, not just the results that people produce. If you are certain that the behaviours are in fact vital, there will be times where they don’t produce the desired results – but you’ll want to reward that behaviour anyways so that the vital behaviour continues into the future.

Lastly, influencers understand that people need to be held accountable if change is going to happen. However, influencers are careful not to administer punishments too often, and will always place a “shot across the bow” before any actual punishment is doled out. Then, if the behaviour isn’t changed, they will administer the punishment. There is a fine line here – if you are too liberal and don’t punish bad behaviour, the people you are trying to rally will eventually get demotivated. However, use too much punishment, and it will have the same effect. Tread the line carefully.

Structural Ability
Structural ability is all about changing the physical environment so that the vital behaviours become easier to take. The impact of the physical world on our behaviour is much more profound than we could ever imagine. However, much like a fish is the last to discover it is living in water, we humans are slow to figure out that our physical environment can be changed to promote vital behaviours.

The key is to start noticing how the physical environment is affecting behaviours. For instance, how much food you eat isn’t really a function of how full it makes you feel, but how full the environmental factors around you make you feel. Try eating you next meal on a plate that’s half the size of your current dinnerware. You’ll be amazed at how different the experience is just by changing how the food is served.

You can also influence your environment by understanding the power of data. Serving up the right data at the right time can be an extremely powerful tool. Change the numbers you look at, and you’ll immediately change your behaviour. For instance – imagine going to a professional hockey game that had no score – do you think that the game would be played differently?


Influence is something that we all strive for. It’s not a simple thing to learn or do, but if you work at it long enough you’ll have the ability to change any situation that you find yourself in. There can be no greater skill, in our humble opinion, that a leader can have in their tool belt.