BOOK REVIEW, Influencer – The Power to Change Anything (By Kerry Patterson et al, McGraw Hill, 2008)

If you’re like me, and like most managers we all know, you have a predetermined strategy for influencing the people around you. Tell them what to do! SHARE your wisdom and advice, often drawn from experience in similar situations. His SUGGESTIONS are often spot on and brilliant.

There’s only one problem, say the authors of this excellent book. This approach rarely works. Why? Because it is often presented as something parental, manipulative, annoying, not as its solution, serving the interests of another person, etc. These are all solid reasons why people reject and stubbornly cling to their current behavior.

Influential teachers

The authors state, however, that there is a proven number of approaches to influencing a new behavior, whether of one person or of the entire population of a country. The writers followed the accomplishments of various people who have successfully applied influencing strategies to problems others have been trying to solve, in some cases for centuries.

These are just three of these “influential teachers”:

Dr. Mimi Silbert whose organization from San Francisco, Delancey Street Foundation, runs a number of businesses (restaurant, repair shop, moving company) that hires convicted criminals, homeless people, drug addicts for life, inveterate gang members and the like. Of those who join Delancey, less than 10% return to their previous life.

Dr. Donald Hopkins from The Carter Center. In 1986, the Center declared war on the Guinea worm that infested the populations of 20 countries in Africa and South Asia. In twenty years, its programs reduced the number of cases from 3.5 million to less than 10,000.

Dr. Wiwat Rojanapithayakorn At the Thai Ministry of Public Health, between 1989 and 1993, he reduced the number of new HIV cases by 80%, preventing five million Thais from contracting this terrible disease.

His approaches

In studying how these and other geniuses of change were so successful, it became clear that the approaches they employed have some things in common.

They first identify the vital behaviors that are at the root of the problem and need to change. This often requires investigating examples of “positive deviance”, situations or places where the problem should exist but does not exist.

Then, they strategically focus their efforts on changing just these few behaviors. Alter these and the problem will collapse.

Obviously, the second step is the most difficult. That being said, how did they do it? Again in common, they tended to work through a series of six sources of influence that, together, respond to two concerns of any individual or group asked to change their behavior:

Is it worth changing for me?

I can do it?

The first of these two concerns concerns the motivation that must be present in anyone who successfully changes their behavior. The second speaks of your ability to do so. Six strategies are derived by addressing motivation and ability through three perspectives: personal, social, and structural / environmental.

The six sources of influence


Sometimes the required (“vital”) behavior is not considered pleasant. You need to rethink it in your mind so that it leads to positive and desirable results.


Beyond the willingness to make a significant change, most people need to learn new skills, develop clear goals, receive regular feedback, and manage emotional urges to revert to old ways.


Taking advantage of the words and deeds of peers is a proven way to influence someone to change their behavior. To change an organization or community, it is the respected and connected opinion leaders that count the most.


You can simply accomplish more when you engage a network of other people to be involved, supportive, and allow your change to happen. As the now famous expression says, “it takes a village.”


Definitely not to replace but to complement personal and social strategies, well-designed and timely incentives reward incremental improvement in vital behaviors.


Changing the environment to support change: available tools, layout and design of physical space, work flow and information, proximity of others to target people, etc.

Why i like this book

I like this book because its six strategies are comprehensive. They provide an excellent roadmap for managers who want to induce change in an individual employee, a unit, or indeed an entire organization. The authors, however, urge us not to simply take the first strategy that seems appropriate and implement it. Instead, learning from the experience of their influence influence models, they suggest that we design a strategy that combines more than one of the six sources of influence.

I like it because their approaches address those classic elements that drive an employee’s development, which are also found in Hersey and Blanchard. Situational leadership-Commitment (Motivation and Self-confidence) and Competence (Skill). Whether unwillingness or lack of skills / knowledge gets in the way of change, the Influence model offers a route forward.

And I like Influence because it emphasizes the central objective of behaviour-vital behaviors that need to be changed. At the same time, it reminds us that humans make decisions around behavior based on our assumptions about current reality and likely consequences. These are what Peter Senge and others have called our “mind maps.”

One of the chapters in the book is titled “Change the way you change minds.” The most powerful route to transforming someone’s cognitive map and, from there, their behavior is to have them safely, successfully, and usually incrementally experience new behaviors. I remember travelers who got over their aversion to airplanes by first watching videos about flying and talking about it, then sitting in the cockpit of an airplane at the gate, then experiencing a practice taxi ride on the runway, and finally taking off and landing.

The book frequently returns to the stories of the heroes of change for practical examples of how to create permanent behavior change. For example, at Dr. Silbert’s Delancey Street Foundation,

They insist on two vital behaviors: each resident must (1) take responsibility for another person and (2) confront anyone for any violation of the rules. This lawsuit harnesses the social motivation of peer influence, and when people succeed at Delancey as a result, it shows how undesirable behavior (“ratting out” on someone) so far leads to desirable outcomes for everyone.

Using structural abilityThey purposely harbor former members of competing street gangs as roommates.

“So what” for managers

From this book, I believe that managers can learn several practical strategies for changing performance-related behavior in their own organization. Simply put, this is the recommended approach:

Be clear about the behaviors you want to change or stop and what vital behaviors you want to see in their place.

Determine to what extent the obstacle to change is lack of motivation and / or lack of skills and knowledge.

When developing your overall plan, consider strategies that draw on all three sources of influence: personal, social, and structural support.

When you read this book, you will learn a lot from the influential teachers who were your inspiration.

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