Monthly Archives: November 2009

An Attributional Argh!

It is rumored that Mr. Obama will Surge in Afghanistan with tens of thousands of more American troops while not Surging in Afghanistan with new Afghan police.  In other words, he’s rumored to send more American boys and girls to fight a War while not asking for more Afghan boys and girls to police that War.

Obama SupermanThe argument for this is that the Afghan government cannot properly train their boys and girls, even with the assistance of our boys and girls (and NATO boys and girls).  Don’t waste time, money, and effort on something that won’t work.

This inference better be stronger than kryptonite.

Please consider the attributional implications of this.  Talk about making something My Responsibility.  Hey, Obama’ll do it without You or Them.  Mr. Obama is doing everything he can to allow outside observers, especially American citizens, to make External Attributions to him.

Why are we fighting this War – Because of the Devil Mr. Obama!

As I closed an earlier post, isn’t it possible to achieve your goals and to get your allies (Afghans, American citizens) to make Internal Attributions (It’s Our War), too?

Mr. Obama is sowing the seeds of his own destruction even if he wins the Long War.  He is allowing everyone else to wildly over attribute the Long War to his responsibility and is blocking anyone else from making commitments for themselves to the Long War.

It is simply too easy to position an “Afghan Police Surge” as an important and valuable element of a strategy even if it doesn’t work well on the ground.  Politicians do it every year with the budget and earmarks.  Obama can define a simple program that merely has to have a pulse to be successful and then label this as an Ally Surge.  In other words even if the program won’t work (think about the wildly popular but proven inert intervention called D.A.R.E), it still has important persuasion effects of maintaining support for a complex, dangerous, and long term effort.

And, Mr. Obama is running away from this.

For now.

a Big P.S. I posted this on November 30, noting it as a “rumor.”  Well, now we know.  The reporters of this article clearly got it wrong.  Obama does want serious training from the Afghans and expects larger efforts from everyone on this.  The persuasion point remains, but does not apply here because it was just a rumor.  Don’t believe everything you read, even from me!

Executive Bonuses as For Me? and Why? Because

For Me Why Because Open Hand

The Wall Street Journal carries an opinion piece on executive bonuses (ban them!) in a nicely written and well argued essay.  I’ll compliment the writer and spin off from it two powerful persuasion principles that form the backbone of the argument.

Both Wall Street and Main Street are concerned over the consistent poor correlation between executive compensation and company performance.  (Please read more about this from your own search if you aren’t up to speed on this.)  From a common sense application of For Me? and the well known principles of reinforcement theory, it should seem that the more incentives you offer people, the better performance you should get.  Yet, this proven piece of persuasion science often fails to translate into practice.  So, the science must be wrong, right?

No.  People aren’t applying the science correctly.

As documented in a long line of research (which I’ve used in my Persuasion Guide and blog on frequently here), the combination of the For Me? of reinforcement theory and the Why? Because from attribution theory, demonstrates that just dropping incentives on people rarely produces the common sense expectation of “more incentive, better performance.”  In quick review, when people, say executives, ask themselves, “Why do I do this?,” it is possible for them to answer, “Because of the bonus,” an external attribution and not, “Because I do good work,” an internal attribution.  This difference tend leads to predictable motivation differences.

People in general and highly paid executives in particular are likely to form stronger external attributions when incentives are aimed at products – outcomes, goals, end states, etc. – rather than processes – methods, procedures, habits, etc.  Stated another way, if you get rewards for getting gold, you’ll tend to go external whereas if you get rewards for making gold, you’ll go internal.  Thus, incentives that focus people on what they do, how they do it, how they monitor and control their actions, in other words the Process, the incentives will tend to lead people to say, “I do it because I want to.”

Thus, the combination of For Me? and Why? Because explains both why the problems with executive incentives exist and why the common sense expectation is wrong.  The folks providing the incentives do not understand reinforcement and attribution fully.  And, it is not that tricky.  Goodness, this isn’t Rocket Science, Brain Surgery, or Climatology.  But, it does require considering the persuasion psychology a bit more closely.

I would therefore tend to disagree with the opinion writer’s argument that we should ban executive compensation.  Rather, it is possible and likely that targeting compensation to the desired process of the company, the day in and day out methods, habits, and procedures instead of products like stock price or profits, would lead to better executive performance.

i envY envIO

Chorus LogoWow.  Over 100,000 apps for the iPhone.  How can you possibly find the next killer app needle in that haystack?  How about Chorus?

Chorus, which is developed by envIO Networks, is sort of like a mobile social network based around the apps that your friends have downloaded. The app features real-time feeds from your designated friends (those who have also downloaded Chorus and whom you have friended) displaying the apps they are downloading, and what they are saying about them in the app.

Chorus uses a proprietary Social Genome technology to match your favorite apps against those your friends use, building a personalized and relevant list of recommended apps. Chorus will also ask your a series of questions to determine the types of apps your like. And you can share your favorite apps through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter and also invite them to test out Chorus.

What a great idea!  Grab this app, provide a list of friends, and voila.  You find the New New Thing.

My hat’s off to envIO, but I’ve got to clue you in, my little pretties.  envIO is after you like the witch on the broom.  Think about the persuasion implications of this application.

You download Chorus and give it access to your iPhone and how you use it.  You provide a list of your friends (and with their agreement) they download Chorus and give it access to their iPhones and how they use them.  envIO through Chorus tracks your iPhone activity within the network of your friends and accumulates all that data.  Part of this accumulation they share with you – what apps your circle is using – but the rest they keep for themselves.  What do they do with this?

They develop continuous profiles of you and your friends.  Remember, they get information about how you use your iPhone.

They sell this information to other marketers who have your name and phone number as ID markers to connect you with other sources of information they have.  Those marketers combine Chorus data with other databases to refine their profile of you.

They use this information to target ads on you and your friends.  Not only do you get snipered, but your friends do to, creating a circle of multiple sources, all being exposed to the same New New Thing, but not realizing it.  This is how you create a false Echo Chamber or Fake Buzz.  “Gee, everyone is talking about this New New Thing, it must be cool” is what you’re thinking when all that’s happening is that Chorus is sending the same ad to everyone you know.

I’d also recommend that you visit envIO’s website and check them out as models who understand the Rule, All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.  They offer an app that finds cool needles in the iTunes haystack, when they are really setting up a marketing network that flies under the radar.

We are inventing a new form of delivering persuasive messages.  Smart devices like the iPhone are the friendly recorder of our daily lives.  One day you are going to be surprised in a Bad Way.  But for persuasion guys, it is all good.  Hey, you signed that legal glop page, remember?

P.S. Imagine doing this with a potential Al Qaeda recruit.  What’s a catchy name for “Islamic posse” or “Taliban crew?”  And, the FBI has got to be using something (legal) like this to catch Bad Guy Gangs, don’t they?

‘Awrence of Attribution

At the risk of beating a dead drum, I’d like to again focus on Attribution Theory and the Why? Because play.  Where’s the nexus of causality, baby?

Attribution looks at how people explain the world and then how these explanations drive future thinking, feeling, and acting.  When asked, “Why?” people use one of two attributions (explanations):  Internal (I did it) or External (The Devil made me do it).  Anyone who’s faced failure and success understand Why? Because.  “Geez, I got 58% on the test . . . why?  This lousy book and this lousy teacher and this lousy blog . . .”  Then, “Geez, I got 95% on the test . . . why?  When you’re hot, you’re hot, some people are born great.”

Persuasion and life are this simple.  Now, let’s work.

Consider this well known quote, at least in military circles, from T.E. Lawrence, better known as Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia” by the rest of us:

“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than that you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them.”  T.E. Lawrence, Twenty Seven Articles, Article 15

Now, the main thrust of this quote is You Are Not Always the Smartest Guy in the Room.  Sometimes your ally actually knows more than you do and if you’d take your face out of the mirror, you might see that.  And the source offering this quote does a great job illustrating the main thrust.

The persuasion point of the quote goes deeper (of course, I’m a deep guy offering deep thoughts, right?).  If you do everything, all in the pursuit and demonstration of “perfection,” and make your ally sit and watch, how does your ally play the Why? Because Game?  Right.  They make External Attributions.  The Devil, the nexus of causality in this instance, is you, not them.  They do not make Internal Attributions, do not take internal responsibility for either the process or the product, and everyone knows what happens next.  You bust your tail while your ally always waits for the Devil.

Sure, you may achieve perfection or maybe something less than perfection, but certainly better than the process and product of your ally, and in war, it’s better to be better than everyone else.  But, do you want to be solely, exclusively, and always the Force of Causality?  Wouldn’t it be polite, cooperative, and maybe even successful, if your ally believed he had skin in the game?

Okay, everyone knows that there are exceptions, exemptions, and excuses here.  All Persuasion Is Local and all that persuasion prophecy fal-de-ral. But, stay on the Main Point of my Deep Thought.  People think, feel, and act differently when they believe they make It happen rather than when they believe they don’t.

You have to know how the Other Guy thinks and play accordingly.  So, if you’ve got millions of dollars riding on a movie, do you cast a guy like this?

Peter O'Toole as Lawrence

. . . even though he doesn’t look like this guy:

T.E. Lawrence of Arabia

Can’t you figure out how to do two things:  1) Accomplish the goal and 2) Get your ally to make Internal Attributions?

Thanksgiving 2009

I give thanks for my wife, Melanie, and our happy marriage; for the love and friendship of our families; for those who protect and defend our world; and to God who gives me life and faith, hope, and love.

I wish you peace and prosperity in this holiday season!

And, let’s Go-oooooo, Mountaineers!  Beat Pitt!

Cheat River from Cooper's Rock

the Persuasion Prophet and the President’s Long War

Prophet and ScribeToday I’m the Persuasion Prophet who knows all the Laws that mere mortals will never understand.  I’ve intuited that Mr. Obama seeks inspiration on the Long War and leading the American people through It.  He has one large goal:  Persuading Americans to fight the Long War.  Mr. President . . .

. . . the facts on the ground compel you to do what George Bush did:  Fight the Long War.  You see that the Long War is more similar to the Cold War than any hot war and therefore requires a longer and wider approach to the problem.  The Long War, like the Cold War, will demand an enduring, persistent, and committed effort from a large majority of Americans.

All polls now show retreating support for the Long War and no matter what specific policy you follow, you must reverse the ebbing tide.  You know that your policy in the Long War will not produce a victory march down 5th Avenue, so if you do not build a strong consensus behind the Long War, you will deserve the beating you get before 2012.  Pursue, then, two aims:  Affirmation and Attribution.

Before you announce any policy on the Long War, spend time affirming the core beliefs of those citizens who are against the Long War.  You know what these beliefs are because most of the people against the Long War are in your party and probably voted for you in 2010.  You know the key values, attitudes, and beliefs that form the core of their self concept and self esteem and drive their actions.

Affirm those beliefs first.  Describe them with poetry.  Make your listeners feel those beliefs.  Congratulate them on those beliefs.  Make them think about those beliefs and why they are important.  Make them think about times in the past when they’ve stood up for those beliefs.  Make them affirm for themselves those beliefs.

Now that you have affirmed them and they have affirmed themselves, you can do what you know how to do:  You can explain the rationale and the policy they now resist.  Describe your careful and thorough analysis of the Long War.  Explain why the Long War will be fought and won.  Tell them the specific actions needed right now.  In other words, give the speech.

But, affirm them first and have them affirm themselves.  You are telling them to change and as my Rule states:  All People Always Resist Big Change.  They resist because no one like change and change implies prior stupidity, foolishness, or error and no one wants to admit living a mistake.  You are disputing their fundamentals and if you do not make them strong on their core values through self-affirmation, they will not be strong enough to change with you.

Now . . .

. . . you must change people’s attributions for the Long War.  People have come to view It as someone else’s responsibility.  It was Mr. Bush’s War and It now is becoming Mr. Obama’s War.  This is the wrong attribution of causality.  It should be Our War.

You want to avoid using referents to yourself (“I am directing the Secretary of Defense . . .”) as much as possible.  Sure, you need to take public responsibility for your actions, but you do not want to make it appear that your listeners are not active participants in the decision.  The more often you say or imply “I” with a belief or action, the less committed and responsible your listeners will feel.  “Hey, it’s his job and his decision.”

You want your listeners to not just accept your decision, but to take it as a joint action.  “We” are fighting the Long War.  Therefore, focus your “I” statements for the largest decisions, and use “we” and “you” language to attract, commit, and bind your listeners with you and the decisions.

“As we now prudently consider the facts on the ground just described, we know that when we go forward we go forward together.”

“You have taken the past few weeks to think about this issue and you now listen and reflect on these words.  You know that this is a great issue that requires your commitment, that you cannot simply stand on the sidelines and watch others act.  You are a part of this issue.”

“We do not take these actions lightly or for selfish benefit.”

You must use the language of inclusive responsibility, of shared commitment.  Where it is only and exclusively a President’s choice, you say “I” or “Me.”  Otherwise and at every opportunity the words are “you” and “we” and “us.”  Connect the American people to this issue or else make it for yourself alone, Mr. Obama’s War.

Through the aims of affirmation and attribution you can achieve the goal of bringing Americans together to this challenge.  You can make people strong enough to change then strong enough to claim the Long War.

Just a thought from the Persuasion Prophet!

The (Likely Now) Afghan Surge

In earlier posts, I predicted that President Obama would pursue a Long War strategy virtually indistinguishable from his hated predecessor, George W. Bush.  Further, to cover the political consequences of this with his base, I predicted Mr. Obama would: 1) bash Bush, and 2) rally the Nation.  It now appears highly likely that Mr. Obama will pursue an Afghan Surge much in the manner of Mr. Bush and that he and his allies have bashed Bush through this decision.

But where’s that Rally the Nation stuff?

Mr. Obama must pursue the Long War much like Mr. Bush because that’s where the facts take us.  The base Left thought the problem was Bush and with Their Guy in the White House, things would change.  They are wrong.  Bashing Bush buys time for Obama, but it does not solve the ultimate problem:  the Long War is every one’s war, not just running dog capitalists like Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld.

Obama has not yet mounted a serious persuasion campaign to get his base and other large sections of America to understand the problem and rally to the solution.  Contrast the vigorous persuasion campaign for health care reform with the very quiet campaign about the Afghan Surge.  Obama knows how to bring it or at least try as the health care issue demonstrates.

Wars require a different kind of political leadership than domestic issues, even one as large as health care.  Wars produce considerably more surprise, suffering, and sadness and there’s still a chance we will fail at it.  If Mr. Obama does not persuade the Nation that we must fight the Long War AND does an Afghan Surge, he may face the horrible political situation President Lyndon Johnson confronted.

If Obama is going to Surge (and look like Mr. Bush) he must mount a sustained, long term persuasion campaign to rally the American people.

Brown-Nosing or Persuasion?

Brown NoseUSA Today noodles over the perennial conflict:  Being nice to the Boss.  Should you or shouldn’t you?  Won’t you look like you’re sucking up, brown-nosing, fawning, and polishing the proverbial apple?  But, isn’t it polite, if not smart, to be nice?

Let persuasion principles ride to your rescue.

Consider the ELM and dual process.  Any communication can function as a WAC:  WATTage, Argument, or Cue.  Consider the communication of “praising” the Boss in each function.

WATTage:  Your compliments can serve to activate alertness with your Boss.  She’s just sitting there running the meeting when you start talking nice.  That could easily turn her High WATT and make her pay careful attention to what you then say or do.  And, this High WATT switch could be either Objective (follow the facts to a conclusion) or Biased (make the facts fit a conclusion).  In either event, she thinking carefully about what you continue to say and do.  Here, your praise does not directly change your Boss’s attitude, but just affects the processing state of High or Low WATTage.

Argument:  Your compliment provides crucial information to your Boss about her performance and she then thinks carefully about your claims, elaborates upon them, and engages in that “long conversation in the head.”  If your claims generate a favorable conversation, your Boss will feel good about herself.  If your claims generate an unfavorable conversation, the Boss will be unhappy about herself and probably you, too.  And, she’ll remember this.  Note, that the quality of the Argument depends upon your Boss’s point of view, not yours.  What does your Boss believe to be compelling information about her work on the job?

Cue:  Your Boss is Low WATT when you deliver your praise and she feels a momentary burst of pleasure, satisfaction, or approval about herself and by extension, you.  It doesn’t last long.  As soon as the Next Thing arises, she forgets the compliment, loses her good feelings about herself and you, and moves on.  Here, your praise functions as the Liking Cue from CLARCCS.

The crucial element here, as always, is your receiver.  Remember the Rule:  It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.  Your praise can hit your Boss as WATTage, Argument, or Cue.  It depends on her current situation (Rule:  All Persuasion Is Local).

If you want to make your praise function effectively from a persuasion perspective you need to worry about two things:

1.  Is the Boss High WATT or Low WATT?

2.  Is the praise a strong Argument from the Boss’s perspective?

If you deliver a compliment that is accurate, appropriate, and truly a compliment to a High WATT Boss, you will tend to communicate effectively.  Your Boss may be mildly skeptical, but if you are accurate with the praise, it should work out.

Now, of course, outside observers who watch you with the Boss may likely fall into the actor-observer problem from Attribution Theory and view you as a suck up when you are not.  You might handle this by not praising the Boss in public situations.  Just avoid looking like a brown-noser with your others by not praising the Boss in front of them.  Anytime you communicate toward one person while others are watching, the persuasion context is always more complicated than if it was just the two of you.  Simplify things.

Compliments are such an obvious persuasion ploy that most of us soon learn to be wary of them, especially with people you see frequently and in highly role bound situations.  The best persuasion advice is to just keep it simple and direct.  Save it for face-to-face with no observers.  Make the praise accurate and appropriate which means make it about the business.  For example, praising personal appearance is usually off-key unless personal appearance is a crucial part of the job.  Most of the time it isn’t.  But factors related to performance – great leadership skill, strong business sense, facile problem solving– are in the ballpark.

Have no doubt.  Compliments are highly effective persuasion tactics.  Properly done, they generate positive feelings, strengthen relationship commitment, and do not harm performance.  The persuasion nuance here is not the praise itself, but the persuasion of praise.  Or not what you say, but how you say it.

All Bad Persuasion . . . at Dancing with the Stars

Spray Tan ComparisonThe Wall Street Journal provides a great example of my Rule:  All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.  It documents the use of spray tanning to change the appearance of dancers on the show “Dancing with the Stars.”

See, the fake spray tan not only provides a tone change, but it can also be used to create accent lines and shades that enhance the appearance of muscles.  It’s makeup for the body just like makeup for the face.

To quote Elaine Benes on that memorable Seinfeld episode, it’s all, “fake, fake, fake, fake.”  (And Elaine’s performance is another great example of the proper understanding of the Rule.  See it here with Spanish subtitles, too!)

Hey, It’s About the Other Guy, Stupid.  And if they believe the body paint, it’s persuasion, baby.

If You Can’t Persuade ‘Em, Sue ‘Em

Great story about companies attacking competitors over advertising claims.  It’s well written and a quick read.  Check it out.   Or, here’s the key quote.

Companies that were once content to fight in grocery-store aisles and on television commercials are now choosing a different route — filing lawsuits and other formal grievances challenging their competitors’ claims. Longtime foes like Pantene and Dove, Science Diet and Iams, AT&T and Verizon Wireless, and Campbell Soup and Progresso have all wrestled over ads recently.

. . . Funny, huh?  These great persuasion talents completely lose their minds and break most of my Rules.

It’s about the Other Guy, Stupid.

All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere.

Power Corrupts Persuasion.

If you are a great persuader, you don’t sue your competitor over advertising (i.e. persuasion).  Your competitor is not the Other Guy.  The customer is the Other Guy.  Focus on the customer, not the competitor.

If you are a great persuader, you don’t sue your competitor because it makes you look sincere.  Of course your competitor’s advertising hurts your sales.  When they do a better job on the Other Guy than you do, your sales will go down.  That’s business.  Complaining in court reeks of sincerity.  You’re a big kid.  Persuade back.

If you are a great persuader, you don’t sue because it corrupts your persuasion skill.  When somebody kicks your butt in persuasion, how do you respond?  Do you run like a candypants ponce to your parents?  Yeah, that’s how a Big Kid Persuader handles it.

If you are a persuader all you need is words and the skill to use them.