Monday, 26 May 2008

Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion – Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin, Robert B. Cialdini ****

This is a rarity I’ve only seen once before (Your Money and Your Brain) – a business/popular science crossover. It contains fifty examples of ways to persuade 
your customers, co-workers or others to change their behaviour, but instead of being a typical business book, driven from experience, this is driven from experiment.
It starts with the classic example of the use of our need to conform to what others do, looking at the little sign in a hotel that requests you re-use towels to save the environment. The sign is changed to say that most guests re-use towels to save the environment, resulting in significantly more re-use. The book goes on to catalogue the many ways that we can influence others, often with very subtle changes of approach. The way, for instance that adding ‘even a penny will help’ will increase giving to charity – recognizing that we don’t like to make large commitments, and that once we’ve overcome reluctance to act at all, we will go significantly further than you might expect. (It’s just a shame this message isn’t properly understood by those charities who say ‘just give £2′ but then consistently pester you for more to the extent you never give to them again don’t have the same idea.)
There are two reasons that the book doesn’t make a full five stars. Firstly, the examples rather tail off. You get the ideas they set out to have 50 secrets first, then tried to fill the slots. They didn’t have enough great material, so padded it with ‘persuasionish’ stuff – so some of the ‘secrets’ feel a little flimsy. The other issue is that this is a business book that does science, rather than a science book covering business. There is rarely enough detail of the studies to know about how they really worked, and it’s rarely stated (for instance) how large the study was, or whether it was duplicated, which may mean that a fair number of the results lack true scientific validity.
However, these are relatively small issues in a book that manages to combine some very practical and effective lessons for business with some real insights into how people behave. If the writers were setting out to persuade me they knew their stuff and really could make a difference, they’ve succeeded.
Paperback:  
Review by Brian Clegg

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