Monthly Archives: October 2009

Breath Holding to Break Bad Ding-Dongs

NeedleShotKidI read an interesting post here about a physician confronting a patient with a critical health problem that required a needle stick to solve and, wouldn’t you know, the patient had a mortal fear of needles.  The physician eventually handled the problem by calling the patient’s boyfriend who drove several hundred miles overnight to threaten the patient with a relational breakup if she didn’t take the shot.  She did and everything apparently worked out.

Does persuasion offer a way to handle a problem like this?  Yeah.  Just hold your breath.  Really.  Holding your breath can actually solve this.  Read on.

The post describes a classic example of a classically conditioned phobic response.  The patient had a mortal fear of needles and her medical records noted prior events where several adults literally had to hold her down to administer a medically needed and legal shot.  We all have experience with shots and while most of us don’t need to be held down by six strong medical assistants, we still have fear, so we have a general acquaintance with this situation.

In persuasion terms, drawn from a vast scientific body of behavioral research, we have a classically conditioned response.  A needle stick does elicit a pain response and this pain response often triggers negative emotional responses.  Further, we anticipate the shot in a novel and uncertain situation and such situations also tend to produce negative emotional responses.  Thus, we have a basic S->R element (S of novelty and uncertainty -> R of fear and anxiety; S of needle stick -> R of pain and fear).  Now, we just add in elements of the situation – the sight of a white lab coat, the unique smells in the office, the sounds of piped music in a waiting room – so that whenever we experience those formerly neutral stimuli, we Ding-Dong the fear.  And, if you do this long enough, you can just think about scheduling a shot to produce the bad Ding-Dong.

Of course, we know that this conditioning process is not unique to getting shots.  Just being a normal human gives us the ability to Ding-Dong our thoughts, feelings, and actions with almost anything at anytime in any situation.

Now, how do you break a bad Ding-Ding?

One obvious way is to use a new response to compete with the old response.  The technical term is “reciprocal inhibition” which is another way of saying when you do the old Ding-Dong, I’m gonna hit you with a new Ding-Dong that’s stronger.  And as you try harder to do the old Ding-Dong, you actually make the new Ding-Dong stronger, hence the “reciprocal inhibition.”

Here’s where holding your breath enters the scence.

Right now, imagine you are in the doctor’s office.  A nurse wears an evil grin on her face as she holds an ENORMOUS needle, dripping with glistening glop, as she approaches your naked shoulder.  She holds the GIGANTIC needle above her head like a murder weapon, ready to plunge that potion into your body.

Visualize this.  Make it real.  Make it intense.

Now, hold your breath while I count to 20.

While I count and you hold your breath, keep thinking about that shot.  Keep it real.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, see it, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, visualize it, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20.

Now, take a breath.  And let’s do this again.  You visualize the shot and hold your breath while I count to 20 . . .

. . . okay, stop thinking about the shot and if you’ve forgotten, please, take a breath or maybe two right now and let’s ponder this.

You’re thinking about a fearful event and the harder you think about it, the more intense the feeling.  You are deliberately triggering the bad Ding-Dong.  But, as you do this, we add a competing response, the breath holding.  As you hold your breath and try to think about the bad Ding-Dong, you will eventually find that it is difficult to think about it because you are running out of breath and you are also experiencing a noxious and uncomfortable response that is stronger than the fear and worry from the old Ding-Dong.

As we repeat this, you will find it harder to generate the bad Ding-Dong because breathing is more important than fear and worry in your head.  You will stop experiencing the bad Ding-Dong in the immediate situation.  And, if we do this play several times in one session, then practice it alone a few times, then maybe do the play with the “doctor” (or whomever did this with us the first time) once more, you might actually end the bad Ding-Dong and never experience significant trouble with it again.  (That depends on a lot of other factors, but you see the possibility.)

If you are untrained in behavioral psychology, this may sound crazy.  Yeah, right.  Somebody’s scared to death about needles or snakes or public speaking and make them hold their breath to cure them?  Sure, and I’ve got email from a Nigerian prince with a bank account number.

I appreciate your skeptism and have a couple of ideas for you to consider.  First, if you have access to PsycNet, search on the key term, “rapid desensitization,” and read what you get.  Second, you can read this PDF link that describes this process from a professional bulletin of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies.  Third, do a Google search on the key terms of “rapid desensitization” and “cognitive behavior therapy” and read professional sources there.

During my Master’s work I trained in clinical and counseling psychology and thought about a career path in that direction.  Some of the best science I read was coming out of the then (1975) emerging field of cognitive behavioral therapy led by people like Albert Ellis, Joseph Wolpe, and Don Meichenbaum.  They started the break with “talking cures” by employing rigorous empirical testing with randomization and control rather than the anecdotal approach favored by the medical model from psychodynamic therapies (e.g. Freud).  If you want the great weariness of knowledge, you can read great experimental studies from the 1960s and 1970s that formed the foundation for CBT that still drives the field today.

And, something as simple as holding your breath can actually work in a scientifically demonstrated proof.

This is a complex post, so let’s summarize.

1.  Lots of negative emotional responses are Ding-Dongs.

2.  You can use science to change Ding-Dongs.

3.  “Reciprocal inhibition” works by adding a new Ding-Dong to an old Ding-Dong.

4.  Use breath holding as the competing response to the old Ding-Dong.

5.  Hey, use your head with this and don’t pass out.  This isn’t autoerotic asphyxiation!

6.  While this isn’t rocket science, brain surgery, or even global warming studies, Read More About It!

7.  Try it for yourself as a control strategy for your own worries, fears, anger, etc.  Focus on the bad Ding-Dong, then hold your breath and count to 20 or until it gets uncomfortable.  Use a timer, maybe.  Repeat it until you stop feeling the bad Ding-Dong.

8.  If you’ve got a Really Bad Ding-Dong, seek out a CBT specialist.

Now, let’s think about our flu shots!

P.S.  You might like reading these related posts on Ding-Dongs.

P.P.S. Subscribe to the Healthy Influence Blog by Email.

Attribution Theory, Swine Flu, and the Fed

Over the past year you cannot live in America and not know about swine flu.  The Federal government and the mass media have cooperated in an extensive message campaign to educate the public and get everyone who should have a flu shot to get one.  And, you probably know there’s some resistance to this education campaign.  (Just search a news aggregator to confirm this.)

I think the Fed is handling this campaign poorly and is actually shooting itself in the foot rather than getting citizens to shoot themselves in the arms.  The problem is exposed with Attribution Theory.

Briefly Attribution Theory looks at how people explain events and themselves with either Internal Attributions (I caused it to happen) or External Attributions (Something Outside of Me caused it to happen).  Attribution Theory is pretty obvious on the face of it, but it has interesting implications as you think it through.  Consider an attribution analysis of the Fed education campaign for flu shots.

I think the Fed is taking a hard stand on this and is on a 24/7 trip always telling people to get a shot.  They are trying to be the prime motivational force that drives people’s behavior.  Now, for citizens, when they ask themselves, “Why should I get a flu shot?” they engage in the basic attributional process.  They’re trying to explain the world and themselves.  Right now, because the Fed has been so persistent and strong in its campaign, when people ask themselves that question, they come up with External Attributions – the Fed says I should get a shot.

The problem with External Attributions is that they tend to shift responsibility away from you to someone else.  You don’t have to do it because you want it, you do it because someone else wants you to do it.  External Attributions can also lead to perceptions of the External Source as nagging, annoying, or scolding rather than helpful, concerned, or supportive.

Thus, the Fed may actually reduce people’s internal or intrinsic motivation to get shots and come off looking bad in the process.  It’s the constant problem with “expert” recommendations.  Whether you’re a Fed administrator, a scientific expert, or just a teacher or professor, sometimes the expertise has unintended consequences.  Rather than being a powerful credible source that educates people who then motivate themselves to act, we overshoot the mark and our expertise reduces motivation and comes across as smug, bossy, or arrogant.

An additional problem here for the Fed is that there is a duty and responsibility to get out front on public health issues like vaccines.  The Fed has to make the case, to provide the education.  Yet, they cannot, as I think they are currently doing, move from being an educator to being an elitist nag.

Remember the primary rule:  All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.  The Feds are all sincere all the time.  They are not thinking about how to motivate intrinsic action.

Gee, I’m Good Enough . . . now Why Not Change?

By definition, every persuasion play is a demand for change.  A source is telling a receiver to be different.  Most people do not react well to a demand for change because if you’re living life correctly, there should be no demands for change, right?  Thus, a persuasion play is an implicit challenge to competence – “Hey, dummy, stop doing THAT and start doing THIS!”  No wonder the Rule: All People Resist Significant Change.  Persuasion is tough and likely to fail.

Now, when we fail to change someone, we’ve actually made things worse because the failed play acts as an unintended inoculation treatment that serves to strengthen the very thing we were trying to change.  Hence another Rule:  If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.  Yet, if we don’t try, we can never succeed.  A new study in the journal Health Psychology provides an excellent example of how to cut this Gordian knot.  Here’s how.

Provide self-affirmation before the persuasion play.

Stuart SmalleyIt means pretty much what it says.  Affirm the self.  Make people feel good about themselves and affirm that, in the words of the immortal Stuart Smalley, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me!”  Stated more directly and without any irony or silliness, you want to generate information that reinforces key beliefs, feelings, traditions, values, or habits BEFORE you start the persuasion play.  By affirming these core elements of self, the following demand for change from the persuasion play seems less threatening and evokes less defensive, Biased Processing from the target.

Guido van Koningsbruggen, Enny Das, and David Roskos-Ewoldsen looked at self affirmation with health risk behaviors.  The way they manipulated self-affirmation is suprisingly easy.  They just had participants take a well established scientific survey of values, then the “self affirmed” . . .

“. . . participants were asked to choose their most important value and to write about why it was important to them and to describe a specific occasion when it had been particularly important. In the nonaffirmed status condition, they were asked to choose their least important value and to write about why the value might be important to the average student.”

After this manipulation, participants were then hit with a strong Central Route persuasion play aimed at changing a health behavior (related to caffeine consumption).  van Koningsbruggen et al. replicated what other researchers have reported:  The self-affirmed changed more than the control participants (a medium effect with a Windowpane of 63/37), so this is not a small effect just crawling over the threshold of random variation. van Koningsbruggen et al. also provided excellent process and mediation data I won’t report here that helps explain how self-affirmation operates and if you are a stone cold persuasion maniac, I recommend the report for this.

For the rest of the Free World As We Know It, however, just the simple manipulation and the substantial effect size are the Main Points.  Just get people to think about a core belief, value, tradition, etc., in other words Stuff That’s Really Important or Fighting Words or My Creed or . . . you get it.  Then ask them to explain it, describe it, give a good example of it.  That’s all.  You don’t argue with them or make any disclosures of your own, just get them to think and talk about a core belief.

That self-affirmation reduces the sting of a persuasion play’s demand for change.  You are not a dummy who needs to change, but you are a strong, stable, centered person who can listen to alternatives.  You are moving from strength due to the affirmation manipulation.

If you want to take a strong Argument, Central Route approach, self-affirmation recommends itself as a fabulous dimmer switch to affect WATTage.  Normally, such self-oriented moves tend to produce Biased Processing, but in this case, it makes people more Objective Processors of the following Arguments you provide.  Clearly, self-affirmation is NOT part of a Peripheral Route persuasion play.

Interesting, isn’t it?

Celebrity Chef Solves Obesity Epidemic!

HillBilly Hot Dogs Exterior

The New York Times, reliable as ever in these matters, profiles the latest expert with a plan to save the obese from themselves.  We follow the trail of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver as he wanders near my stomping grounds in West Virginia with a visit to Huntington, WV,  identified in the article as the fattest area of the US, at least according to that well known source of peer review science, the Associated Press.  Mr. Oliver is there to trumpet his expert solution for this particular behavior change problem:  Home cooking.  Here’s the money quote:

“All of which makes Huntington the perfect setting for the next Jamie Oliver Challenge. While he understands the allure of Home Wreckers and Big Macs alike, this British celebrity chef has made it his mission in recent years to break people’s dependence on fast food, believing that if they can learn to cook just a handful of dishes, they’ll get hooked on eating healthfully. The joy of a home-cooked meal, rudimentary as it sounds, has been at the core of his career from the start, and as he has matured, it has turned into a platform.”

Only the New York Times or another elite media source would write this with a straight face.  Sure, the primary reason people eat so much and get overweight is because they don’t do home-cooking!  Gee whiz.  That never occurred to me and I’m a pointy-headed persuasion scientist who’s done peer reviewed science on changing nutritional behavior.  (Click this link then enter my name as “S Booth-Butterfield” in the search for box at the top of the screen.)

This is an absurd assertion from a source that prides itself as a smart purveyor of information.  People eat too much, not because they don’t cook at home, but because food is safe, cheap, abundant, tasty and eating it virtually anywhere at anytime is now acceptable compared to my youth when it was considered impolite behavior outside of the dining room.

At least one element of the Oliver tactic warrants support.  He knows how to generate Reception for his message.  Oliver is a master at attracting media sources to “say it for you.”  Two thumbs up.

Of course, Reception is only the first step in the Cascade and it appears from the long Times feature that Oliver doesn’t seem to even consider Processing and Response stages.  And, the New York Times doesn’t think anything about Oliver and his claims, just functions as a vapid cheerleader rah-rah-ing a Fellow Sitter at the Cool Table.  Hey, didja know that Brad Pitt and Bill Clinton visit Jamie Oliver’s restaurant?  Hubba-hubba.

Please, please, please consider the Rules.

All bad persuasion is sincere.  Mr. Oliver clearly believes what he does.  Huntington WV is a long way from Manhattan and folks like Oliver are unlikely to put it on the Slummer List.

It’s about the other guy, stupid.  I’ve actually spent time in the Huntington area of WV.  Oddly enough, virtually every adult I’ve spoken with there indicated they knew how to cook at home and often did.  Almost none have ever expressed a serious skill deficit in this area.

Persuaders can either be famous or effective, but not both.  Jamie Oliver brings a lot of celebrity to the scene and while it gets Reception (great!) it also tends to deflect from any Processing or Response.  “Gee, he’s famous” is not an elaboration for any Argument that will produce a desired behavior change connected to obesity.

There’s a difference between persuasion, and smoke and mirrors; with persuasion the illusion persists.  Jamie Oliver as described in the Times profile is nothing but smoke and mirrors.  He’s the man with the plan and you can scan the plan in his cookbooks, available right now and selling like the Home Wrecker hot dog at Hillbilly Hot Dogs!

You know what?  I’ve been a part of proven persuasion interventions that change nutritional behavior.  The work is widely cited in the relevant scientific research.  There are things that actually work.

By why bother the New York Times with things that actually work when they already know the Truth?

Obama’s Persuasion Tactics for the Long War

America is in the midst of a Great Debate on what policy we should follow in Afghanistan.  Not surprisingly, opinions form a long line from all-in to all-out with all points in between.  The topic dominates public discussion and will continue until President Obama makes his decision and announces it.  Persuasion theory is useful for understanding Obama’s tactics here.

I think he’s already made his decision and is deliberately generating this long, noisy, and contentious public discussion for persuasion purposes.  He is following this path for two reasons.  First, he is going to decide against the opinions of the majority of his party, especially among his base.  Second, he wants to lead from within the mandate of deeply held beliefs from most Americans rather than lead from the front as Mr. Bush did.

Consider first the hypothesis that Obama has already decided to continue the Long War and that decision will cause conflict with his base.  Everything I read or hear from Obama is consistent with the general conduct of the Long War begun under the Bush Administration.  While there are important differences between what and how Bush operated and what and how Obama now operates, Obama is fighting the Long War and is doing almost nothing substantial to change the what and how.

Contemplate yesterday’s briefing by General David Petraeus.  The General reviewed the activities of US Central Command, the command unit that leads our effort in the Long War.  As the General discussed the past and present in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Yemen he detailed specific US actions from 2002 to 2009.  Nothing in his review demonstrated policy changes in the Long War once Obama took office.

If Obama really wanted to make a substantial change in the Long War he would begin by making minor alterations.  He would disconnect from allies by changing headquarter relationships.  He would remove our troops from their aircraft carriers floating off the Somalia coast, for example.  He has done none of these small, precursor moves.  Further, he has not made noisy public demonstrations of meetings with or appointments of anti-war allies.

Obama is using this long public discussion to allow his allies to express their opinion and more importantly to allow his allies to hear all the competing opinions, options, and observations.  I think this long discussion is changing the opinion in some of Mr. Obama’s base, allowing him more room to maneuver with his own base.

Now consider my second hypothesis that Obama wants to lead from within the people rather than from the front.  Regardless of anyone’s evaluation of Mr. Bush, it is clear that most Americans saw him as a driving force behind our actions.  He actively made the case for war and actively led it.  While he may have done this out of a sense of duty or obligation, it had the effect of making it His War, not Our War.  He owned it.  He took responsibility for it.  He viewed it as his obligation.  In doing so, he reduced the opportunities and need for the American public to take as active a role.

Obama wants to make the Long War, Our War, not His War.  He’s doing that through this long public discussion.  I think he probably encouraged or at least was not discouraged at the leak of General McChrystal’s report which clearly details a continuation of the Long War.  If you think about it, since we’ve begun a public awareness and discussion of the Long War, there has been virtually no information sourced to the White House that directly argues for a sharp break from past policy.  At best or worst depending upon your own position, the White House has argued for different methods of continuing the Long War, but not for ending it.

In persuasion terms, Mr. Obama wants us to take responsibility for the War, to make internal attributions for it, to believe that our noisy public discussion on it assigns some measure of causality for America’s continuing prosecution of the Long War to our beliefs and actions.  It is Our War.  Mr. Obama is operating differently from Mr. Bush whose authentic and sincere sense of duty and responsibility made it, His War.  In persuasion terms, Obama is using Attribution Theory (The Why? Because Play).  He wants American citizens to make internal attributions (It is Our War) rather than external attributions (It is Bush/Obama’s War).

Once it becomes Our War, the ground of action shifts dramatically.  We move to the best ways and means and argue over how many troopers on the ground and how to involve the State Department and other civilian government units and how we best partner with allies and how we confront those who resist our Long War.  We make our disagreements over how to win, not whether to fight.

If you read my Persuasion Guide, attribution theory works more effectively under my Rule: More is the enemy of Less.  Don’t make a scene.  Don’t make noisy demonstrations.  Don’t argue.  Instead put your desired position out in front of people (a leaked report, perhaps), let them find it, let them discuss it, think about it, and act consistently with it.  Now, step forward and ask, “Why are we fighting the Long War?”  Then, quickly, smoothly, and quietly assert, “It must be that American citizens want it.”  Shut up and act as the leader moving with the mandate of the people.

This analysis does not mean that everyone will support the Long War.  It means that Mr. Obama will follow roughly the same policy as Mr. Bush, but look entirely different doing it.  He will have more support from Democrats and Republicans even if some people within each party vehemently disagree.  Such an outcome would not only help Mr. Obama’s reelection prospects, but also help the Democrat party in the 2010 elections.  And, it would also help govern the country into the future.

If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try

If you’ve ever had any leadership position, no matter how small, you know how difficult it is to do well.  Everyone else knows they could do better than you and maybe they could, but it’s still your job.  Trying to make things happen is just plain hard and everyone who tries, deserves some respect.

And, some criticism when warranted, as in this case with Mr. Obama.

Obama with Physicians for Health Care Reform

Great persuasive photo making the case for the President’s health care reform, right?  All those approving physicians, looking bright and professional in those lab coats.   But . . .

Handing Out White Lab Coats for Photo Op

You handpick 150 MDs to give you a persuasive shot, then get caught handing out the white lab coats. Couldn’t we have all the docs meet indoors in a controlled access room where you could make sure that everyone dressed the part, then troupe them out to their seats? This so transparently undercuts the authenticity of the shot and makes it nothing more than a hokey “ignore that man behind the curtain” moment. Sometimes All Bad Persuasion is just Bad.

Remember the Rule:  If You Can’t Succeed, Don’t Try.

But, I still respect the leadership effort. Being President isn’t easy. Especially with staff work like this.

Persuasion and Peace; Marketing and Metaphor

Consider principles of marketing as a tool in the Persuasion War to change the way people think, feel, and act.  A great source for discussion is this RAND report and the conversation it generated at BlingCycle, Matthew Yglesias’s blog, MountainRunner, and SocialMarketing.  We’re not limiting our ideas to just this one report, but using it as a recent exemplar.

While certainly useful, like any tool, marketing has limits and we must understand these limits to achieve maximum efficiency and effectiveness from the tool.

Marketing is classically defined as any activity that enhances the exchange between buyers and sellers.  It presumes these buyers and sellers meet in a marketplace to trade goods and services through a medium of exchange.  Modern marketing evolved into the powerful force it is today within this definition and these assumptions.  Thus, when you apply marketing principles in a situation that has buyers and sellers, a marketplace, good and services, and a medium of exchange, then you are efficiently and effectively applying the tool.  However, as your situation departs from these elements, modern marketing becomes less a tool and more a metaphor.  To illustrate, the next time you need a gun, but don’t have one, when you point your finger and go,”Bang!” you demonstrate how a tool has become a metaphor.

How in the Persuasion War do we see buyers and sellers, a marketplace, goods and services, and a medium of exchange as anything other than metaphors?

One can argue that America is “selling” and Iraq or Afghanistan is “buying” a “service,” democracy, through the “exchange” of our blood and money for legitimate access to their sovereignty and while this sounds reasonable, it is still metaphorical thinking.  We are closer to pointing fingers and saying, “Bang!” than actually shooting guns in a fire fight.

When the reality is war fighting, marketing democracy attracts few takers.  We are not prosecuting the Kinetic War in a marketplace, even of ideas.  We don’t have buyers and sellers, we have Good Guys and Bad Guys; we don’t have a marketplace, we have theaters; we don’t have a symbolic medium of exchange like cash or credit cards, we kill or be killed.  War changes everything and reduces many conceptual tools to shadows, caricatures, and cartoons no matter how interesting they are as metaphors.

Realize that the Persuasion War is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kinetic War.  We cannot fight the Persuasion War as something independent, uniquely different, and separate from the Kinetic War.  The Persuasion War is defined by the Kinetic War.  Certainly, the result of the Persuasion War can make a difference in the result of the Kinetic War, but as long as we are killing and being killed, the Kinetic War is the container and the Persuasion War is a content.  Or, more poetically and ironically, the Kinetic War is the sea and the Persuasion War is the fish.

Test this claim of “marketing as metaphor in war” against the commonplace standards of marketing success.  Effective marketing rarely makes things worse, usually makes things a little better, and when it excels, it goes Boom!

Consider, now, the results of Marketing Within War.  What have been the amazingly obvious Boom marketing successes?  Where’s the steady accumulation of small advantages?  Any failures come to mind?

Just on a common sense level, marketing is not working as advertised within the Kinetic War.  It is not because marketing doesn’t work or the people doing it are incompetent.  Here it is a metaphor and we’re pointing our fingers.

This is not to say that principles of modern marketing have no role in the Persuasion War.  It is, rather, to focus our minds on what works and why, to determine the limits and seek additions.

The addition I propose is persuasion, the theory and research of how words change the way people think, feel, and act.  Persuasion works with marketing and does not compete against it.  Persuasion and marketing are like the arguments from the famous Miller Lite Beer ads that pitted “Tastes Great” against “Less Filling.”  Hey, you can buy the beer for both reasons.

More importantly, persuasion operates as a tool and not as a metaphor within the Kinetic War.  Persuasion does not require dictionary defined buyers and sellers, marketplaces, goods and services, and a medium of exchange.  It requires only people and language as the fundamental elements.

In later posts, I’ll develop the complimenting roles of persuasion and marketing, but for now, I point to the Communication Cascade as an integrating scheme.  Marketing is the tool of eminence for delivering Reception in the Cascade and it can moderate the impact of persuasion in the Processing and Response stages.

Properly combined, persuasion and marketing don’t just point fingers and say, “Bang!”  They win Persuasion Battles in the Kinetic War.

Coming Soon! Healthy Influence 3.0

I am redesigning the Healthy Influence website and plan to have the new version up in the next couple of months.  The Blog will not change in appearance, content, or operation, but the main website will.

The biggest change will be a new online persuasion book entitled, “WATTage.”  It will be a higher level analysis of practical persuasion principles based on dual process models, my Rules, the Standard Model, and Grand Persuasion.  The book will take a strong practical approach that makes persuasion science work in the world.

Thus, you will see new content coming soon!  I’ll try to keep blogging on persuasion in everyday life, too.

Writer's Desk for HI 3.0

Writer's Desk for HI 3.0

Interesting Taxonomy of Strategies

Mike Dailey (ret. Col. USMC) introduced me to Alan Kelly who introduced me to his work that creates a taxonomy of influence strategies.  Alan’s work is comprehensive, systematic, and different from my background, so I’m still working through it.  Right now, I’m intrigued with the taxonomy he developed and its utility as a system for organizing persuasion at what I think of as an operational level (but Alan would express that differently).

At the very least, I find it heuristic as hell, meaning it’s giving me a lot to think about for my own work.  I recommend it to you both for its high quality and its potential utility to your own thinking and operations.

Check out Alan’s website.  It is dynamic, large, and complex.  You need to spend some time with it because a quick take will probably lead to the wrong take.

And, thanks to Mike Dailey for the intro.

Standard Model for PsyOps MOE

Small Wars Journal points to an essay by Sergeant Christopher E. Howard on how to measure the effectiveness of Psy Ops interventions. The essay is an excellent analysis and stimulates several thoughts.

First, as the Sergeant notes, anytime you substitute process measures for outcome measures for any intervention, you are on the road to Hell and you deserve the scorching you get. While process should determine the outcome (which is why you’re doing the process, right?), process does not guarentee outcome in an axiomatic fashion. Thus, interventions do not follow Euclid’s principles of geometry. So, a big shout out, props, and high five’s to the Sergeant for leading with this observation in his essay.

Second, we can sharpen the Sergeant’s already sharp recommendations for MOEs with something like the Standard Model. The essay recommendations are smart, correct, and effective; they are also abstract, general, and broad. There are many different ways to instantiate, as professors say, or, more practically, engineer those abstract principles. This abstractness can lead to poor, variable, or confused execution.

My concern here stems not from some theoretical nicety, but from painful practical experience. I have reviewed, consulted, advised, read, or led many persuasion campaigns on health and safety topics. And, the majority of those projects were, in my opinion, based on persuasion ideas that were proven losers. And, these interventions then produced lousy outcomes, entirely predictable from their lousy models. (If any persuasion intervention does not get a small to moderate effect size, you are using a lousy model. In other words, if you do it right, you should almost always get a positive effect.)

Third, use structural equation models (SEM) to statistically analyze the process-outcome models. While MOP lead to Hell, MOP plus MOE is crucial. You should collect measures of the process model and measures of outcomes, then combine the data into one large process-outcome model. The statistical technique of choice here is structural equation modeling which requires somebody with good math skills and better statistical training.

I’ve conducted several SEM analyses of standard model persuasion campaigns I’ve done, so I’m biased in favor of the technique. Not only does it tell you whether the intervention worked (outcomes), but it provides a test of the processes that produced the outcome. If your process model is any good, it should prove itself in the SEM. The value here is obvious: Not only do you know whether the intervention worked, you know why it worked.

In conclusion, I strongly agree with Sergeant Howard and echo his recommendations.