This episode’s remarkable guest is Dr. Jonah Berger. Dr. Berger is an associate professor of marketing at Wharton.
He received his BA from Stanford in human judgment and decision-making and his PhD from Stanford in marketing.
He is the author of three books: Contagious: Why Things Catch On; Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior; and The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.
And he has a fairly current iPhone.
In this episode, we cover topics such as:
- Overcoming the inertia of the status-quo bias
- Making what you can sell vs selling what you can make
- Removing barriers versus bludgeoning your way
If you’re interested in introducing new products, convincing people to wear masks, or motivating your children, you’ll find this episode remarkably helpful.
More about Dr. Jonah Berger:
Contagious: Why Things Catch On
Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior
The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind
Guy Kawasaki: Guy Kawasaki: This is remarkable people.
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I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. This episode's remarkable guest is Jonah Berger.
Jonah is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Wharton. He received his BA from Stanford in human judgment and decision making, and his PhD from Stanford in marketing.
He's the author of three books – Contagious: Why Things Catch On, Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior, and most recently, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone's Mind. He also has a fairly current iPhone.
In this episode, we'll cover topics such as overcoming the inertia of the status quo bias, making what you can sell versus selling what you can make, removing barriers versus bludgeoning your way. If you're interested in introducing new products, convincing people to wear a mask, or motivating your children, you'll find this episode remarkably helpful.
Have you upgraded your iPhone yet? Oh, my God, that story is funny.
The funny part about it is, soon after this book came out, I actually had to get a new phone. I went through the same process, terrible process, that I had for the story I told in the book. So I am just as much as a Luddite and just as much susceptible to status quo bias as I was when I wrote it in the book.
Maybe you can explain the situation and the status quo bias because people might be wondering, why is Guy asking you if he got a new iPhone?
Yeah. So the status quo bias, if you've never heard the term before - you probably intuit what it is from just the way it's described, but we all have a bias for the status quo. We tend to buy the same products, use the same services, we tend to go on the same places for vacation, at least, we did pre-COVID. Businesses tend to stick with the projects and initiatives they've done in the past, and be loathe or scared to start new ones. Even in the case of political candidates, if someone's an incumbent or seems like an incumbent, people tend to be more favorable towards that person than if they seem like they have not been the incumbent in the past.
In terms of my iPhone journey, I think all of us have had some version of this, but this happened to me a few years ago when I was thinking about buying a new phone, so I think I at the time had something like an iPhone three, maybe or an iPhone four, or something like that, whatever it might have been. I loved it, it worked really well it fit in my pocket, it did everything I needed it to do and so it was a great phone.
But then, after a few iOS updates and whatever it might be, I started getting little messages saying, "Hey, you know, your phone is almost out of memory." So I said, "Okay, well, no problem. I like my phone. Let me just delete some stuff."
I went in, but none of us - we never delete things these days. I went in, I sort of pruned those old videos, those two-minute videos of your pocket that we all have sitting on our phone, got rid of some old stuff I didn't need. That was great. Got rid of some old apps, that was fine.
So a couple months went by, and it seemed like it was going to be okay and then I get another message saying, "Hey, you're out of space." So then I was a little bit more stuck. I'd gotten rid of the easy stuff and so now I had to decide which photos do I want to save, which things do I want to keep.
I tried downloading some of it to get it off the phone and I thought that would be enough. It wasn't enough. A couple of weeks went by and soon I was still out of space. I was out of space so much, for example, that I couldn't download the new version of iOS that had come out. There were a bunch of new features, new different things. No big deal except that meant I couldn't download the new apps from various airlines. This was a few years ago now and all of us were flying all the time.
That meant that I couldn't actually use the apps for the boarding pass. I had to print them out… No big deal, but not the easiest thing. I was still stuck and wedded to my old phone.
People kept saying, "Hey, why don't you check out a new phone." So I did. I went to the Apple Store and I looked at it, and obviously, it's beautiful in the store, it looks wonderful, better camera, more memory, all these different things, but as I picked it up, it was bigger than my existing phone - not just a little bit bigger, but a lot bigger. I was sitting there going, "Man, I love all these features but I don't like the size. Maybe I'll just wait until something comes out that's more like my existing phone."
I was essentially hoping I would never have to get a new phone, I could just stick with what I had already, and it wasn't until I actually missed a flight because I didn't have my boarding pass and I couldn't check in and I got to the airport and I didn't have what I needed then I went ahead and finally bought a new phone. You would think that would be the end of the story. I buy a new phone, I open it up, I use it, that's great. I actually waited, I'm not exactly sure the number of months, but I think between three to six months before I actually went ahead and used this new phone.
I literally had it in the box in the saran wrap in my house because I was still hoping that there would be some way that I could use either my old phone or a new version of my old phone, basically the same size of the old phone, and again, this is ridiculous. You're probably laughing at me saying, "Why does he... This guy is supposed to be an expert on something, he's stuck in an old phone how could he be an expert on anything?" It points out as the status quo bias that we all have.
We are all wedded to the stuff that we're doing already. We like the stuff that we're doing already, and when we think about new things, we focus not only on the upsides but also on the downsides. In the case, that new phone, for example, there were lots of upsides, lots of good new features with that phone but there were also some downsides. It's not as small as the old phone was, it costs money to buy a new phone. There are all these switching costs, and costs are often weighed more than the benefits.
In fact, some research shows that the losses of change, the costs of change, the challenge of change often are weighed two times more than the benefits of change. This is just one of the reasons change is really hard.
We're wedded, we're attached to the stuff that we're doing already. Whether we're trying to get someone to change their mind, whether we're trying to get someone to change the product they buy, whether we're trying to get someone to change what they do at the office, it's tough to get them to move because they're stuck in what they've been doing already.
What forced her hand? Did you burn your bridge or did you figure out the opportunity costs were too large?
It ended up being essentially just that I couldn't go forward anymore. I mean, I had this phone that was broken in different ways and I couldn't use it. I finally just forced myself to do it.
What's so interesting, by the way, and it was personally interesting for me in writing this book, is once you do that new thing, it takes a little while to get used to it, but once you've gotten used to it, it's impossible to go back, because in some sense the new thing becomes the status quo. I talked about this a little bit with free shipping, and why free shipping is so powerful, but part of the reason why is before you order something the status quo is what you're doing already.
Let's say you're looking for a new jacket, for example. You have a jacket ready, but you're looking for a better one, your old one has holes in it or it's not working anymore, or whatever it might be. So the status quo is the old thing. You're looking for something new, there's so many choices out there, how do I know which one of them I should actually go with? But it ends up being tough, you end up wanting to stick with that old one, the older one.
Let's say, free shipping, great. It comes to the house. It gets in your house. Let's say it has a generous return policy, two months, three months, a year, whatever it might be. Once it's in your house, once it's already there, it's more effort to get rid of it. Having it almost becomes the status quo, and so a lot of what I talk about in the book is how can we lower that barrier to trial, how we can make it easier for people to experience something because we can take advantage of the status quo if we can make the status quo the new thing.
If we give them free shipping or we give them free returns, and we get them to try it and it gets in their house, once it's there, they're going to say, "Oh, wow. Well, now this thing is the status quo. I couldn't imagine it otherwise." I was used to the iPhone three but now whenever I had the six, or whatever it is, I've used it for two weeks. Now, I can't imagine going back.
So whether it's freemium or free shipping or other ways of lowering the barrier to trial, these are powerful ways to sort of use the status quo bias but shift the way that it works.
So possession is nine tenths of influence?
I think it is a trial, I would say. Trial is nine… Once you get used to something it's really hard to move away to something else. This is why freemium is so effective, free trials are so effective, but we spend so much money on traditional advertising trying to convince people that something is great when other routes like whether it's word of mouth, or literally just giving it to them to try can be so much more effective because once we get it in their hands, if it's good, they'll see that it's good, and they'll want to end up using it.
This is a slight jog but I'm doing it just because I'm an author and I'm interested. Weren't you and your publisher a little leery of over promising, the title being change anyone's mind? Anyone?! That's a big claim. Who was in favor of the title? Who was against it? Who was arguing or was there any argument?
Yeah, good. So I'd say a couple things. So first of all, I'm an academic at heart, and academics have some good qualities and have some bad qualities. Our good or bad quality in this case is we tend not to like to over promise, we tend to want to stick to the facts and the data. They said, the publisher actually suggested, How to Change Anyone's Mind. I was like, "Wow, that would be a great title but I don't know, can we have a title like that? Sounds a little bit like I'm used car salesmen or I'm promising something, are we going to be able to deliver on that?" They said, "Well, let's see if we can deliver on that, and once we get to the place where we've seen whether we can deliver on that, we can figure it out.”
One thing I really enjoyed about this book is… I'm an academic - I teach in the marketing department, I'm well familiar with the literature on influence and marketing, and management, and sociology, and psychology. But the publisher made some suggestions that, "Hey, look, why don't you check out some more unusual ways of changing minds? Whether it's parenting experts, whether it's hostage negotiators, substance abuse counselors, looking at people who change folks' minds in politics.” I got a Democrat to become a Republican or a Republican to become a Democrat.
I talked to a cantor who actually got a grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, one of these high up folks in a very racist organization to change his mind, renounced the Ku Klux Klan and, years later, actually become Jewish after being a grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan.
Once the dust settled, once we had – we, mainly I - had talked to these different people and explored some of these principles. I don't mean to suggest that we can change anyone's mind in a minute. That I don't think is realistic; I don't think you can change anyone's mind in a minute, but do I think with the right tools and the right approaches and a little bit of time, yes, I do think you can change anyone's mind.
I use an analogy in the book, I talk about pebbles and boulders, and some things we're trying to change are pebbles. They require some effort; they do, but it's pretty easy to lift up a pebble. It's pretty easy to move a pebble. You need enough proof, enough evidence, enough things moving in the right direction, but it's not that difficult to move. Other things, or boulders, other things are going to take a lot of time, other things are going to take a bit of effort. Doesn't mean it's not worth doing, but it means it's going to take more than a couple minutes.
If you look at some of these people who did change their mind or change other's minds, and you see it is possible if we take the right approaches, if we use the right strategies. As the book talks about at a high-level, if we stop pushing and instead we think about removing the barriers to change, then I think we can really change anyone's mind.
It seems to me that the basis of, not only your book, but much of your wisdom - the gospel according to Jonah - the process starts with understanding others. Do you believe that you are at all at odds with Robert Cialdini, who Cialdini never really talks about understanding? His principles are of reciprocity and commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, scarcity. Now, you do have overlap in some of those six principles, but is there a fundamental difference here? Or is it just shades of gray, different emphasis?
Yeah. I mean, I would say a couple things. So first of all, I love Cialdini's work. I probably wouldn't be a behavioral scientist today if it wasn't for some of the great work that he's done over many years.
Influence is an amazing book. I still love that book. Is still on my bookshelf. Wonderful book. We have learned a little bit though since that book came out. In ten, fifteen, twenty years I hope someone else is on your show, telling people how my stuff was useful, but we've learned a little bit since then as well.
You know, marketing, obviously, quite well. I think part of this approach of starting with understanding is really where marketing as a discipline has come to. I teach the marketing core at the Wharton School, and so I teach a third of the incoming MBAs about the Modern Marketing and what it is Many of them, if you ask them, think that marketing is advertising and sales. It's about pushing people and figuring out how to get them to do something they wouldn't want to do otherwise.
I think one of the main take-homes of the course is: don't just sell what you can make, but make what you can sell. What does that mean? Making what you can sell means we'll start by figuring out what people want and then design products and services and ideas that meet those needs. Start with the customer. Put the customer in the center. Customer centricity. All those different things that Modern Marketing talks about.
I think this book is a version of that in the mind-changing space. Nobody talks about this better than hostage negotiators. They say, “Hey, novice negotiators come in and the first thing you want to do is jump to influence. Come out with your hands up, do what I want. If I just tell you what I want and what I need, you'll do it.”
That notion of just pushing, if I just push a little bit harder, people will change is what many of us have, many of us think is right. We want to push a chair or we want to move a chair, how should we move it, we should push it. Pushing a chair is a great way to get a chair to go. But when it comes to changing people's minds, when it comes to moving people, there's a problem. People aren't chairs.
When we push chairs, go. When we push people, they push back. They dig in their heels, they put up their anti-persuasion radar, they do all the things that we now know that they do to avoid us and avoid being persuaded. Pushing works sometimes but what I think is even more effective is starting with them, starting with understanding.
Negotiators talk a lot about don't start with you and what you want, start with them and what they want, where they are, what they need, why they're there in the first place. The more you understand about somebody whether they're a bank robber or someone's trying to commit suicide, the more you understand about them and the problems they're wrestling with, the more you can help them, but along the way help yourself as well. That's really what I'm trying to highlight here - not pushing but identifying barriers by starting with understanding, removing those barriers and so making change both easier but also more likely.
So to understand, you have to listen. So tell me how to listen.
I learned a little bit about listening through writing this book. I wouldn't say I'm the world's best listener, or even in the top ten percent of best listeners, but I've talked to some folks who are, and they talk about a lot of different strategies, both for two things: one, for actually listening but also showing people that you're listening because part of what listening is actually hearing what someone else is saying, attending, understanding what they said but it's also showing them that you listened because the more you show them that you listened, the more they're going to trust you, and everything from asking questions, and asking the right type of questions, though, so you have to be careful.
If you say why, many of us... Why do you want to know that? Why do you care about that? Why is that important? Why can seem aggressive and why can seem a little bit negative, particularly something like “Why do you feel that way,” suggest that there's something wrong with you, that why do you feel that way? Whereas saying something like, "Oh, really interesting. Could you tell me a little more? I want to make sure I understand."
That, by the way, that's putting the onus on me. I want to make sure I understand. Nothing on you. It's not your fault, not your problem. I need to make sure I understand. “Tell me more,” is supportive. Showing I'm interested, “I care, I want to learn more.” People love to talk about themselves, they love to answer questions, but as they're doing that, you're learning more about where they are, what they need, and how you can help them and how you can meet their needs.
There are lots of other things as well. We're doing some research, actually, now on the power of pausing in conversation. So this is quite interesting, but if you're explaining something and you pause for a moment, listeners tend to do something in particular. Listeners tend to go, "Uh huh. Okay. Yeah." Or something like that. They tend to assent. They tend to say implicitly, "Tell me more. Interesting. Tell me more. You paused, tell me more. Let me fill in that blank with something that shows that I'm listening."
By doing that, they're implicitly agreeing to what you said. They're saying, "Yeah, uh huh. Okay." Going along with what you said, which actually, at the end of the interaction, makes them more likely to find what you said helpful and makes them more likely to like you.
We've looked at hundreds of customer service calls, for example, and find that customer service agent that pause more cause customers to assent more, to essentially agree, fill in those pauses, and as a result be more satisfied at the end of the interaction. There are lots of different things.
I actually haven't hold appendix in the book from asking the right type of questions and mimicry, pausing and using other types of linguistic devices, but there's lots of opportunities to both be better listeners, and I think, show that we're better listeners and I think that's a really powerful tool. I think, again, when we think about infants, we think about persuasion, we think a lot about the outcome we want to achieve, we think a lot less about why that person hasn't done it already. This is true of myself, as anybody as well.
If I may interject here. One of the ways that you can impress people with your attentiveness, and listening skills is to take notes. The Remarkable People podcast is sponsored by the reMarkable Tablet company.
This is a tablet with more or less a single purpose, taking notes. It has the feel of an old-fashioned pencil, not a stylus on glass. I think that when people see you working on a phone, tablet or computer, they assume you're answering email, but when they see you with a tablet and pencil taking notes, they assume you're listening, and that you have a high regard for what they're saying. So just Google reMarkable, and you'll see pages and pages of stories about the reMarkable Tablet. End of commercial.
Oh, why did the boss say no? Why did the customer say no? Why didn't they want to go along? People often say, "I don't really know." And if you don't know why they don't want to do something it's really hard to get them to come around. It's not about providing more information or tricking them. It's really about figuring out, “Well, what is that thing that's standing in the way between the two of you, reaching the goals that you both have, and how, by starting with understanding, you can get there.”
This is kind of an aside also, but I've now done about sixty podcast episodes, and I have disciplined myself. Maybe it's a negative now that you mentioned it, but I'd be listening to the interviewer. I would say, “Yep, yep. Okay, okay. I got it. Yep. Great.” I would give the positive reinforcement because I really did agree or like it, but then, when I edit the podcast there's so many places where I'm stepping over the person that I've trained myself to shut up. Then I may be limiting.
One of the beauties of recording a podcast where we're both seeing each other is you can see me nodding, but I don't have to edit out the nod because it doesn't make a sound, but anyway-
Yeah. It is a great example.
I mean, think about what Obama did, for example. He was amazing at this, right? He would say, "Look, the thing we need to understand..." And he would use really pauses to draw attention as well. I think there are many linguistic devices that are powerful, and pausing is certainly one of them.
What are the most common barriers to change?
Yeah, sure. So maybe just taking a step back for a second. We talked a little bit about this already but I think the main idea of the book is a very simple one.
Whenever we try to change minds, whenever we try to change behavior, whenever we try to change action, whether we're a marketer or a salesperson trying to change a customer or a client's mind, whether we're a boss trying to change organization, an employee trying to change a boss's mind, whether we're a startup trying to change an industry, whether we're a nonprofit to change the world, whether we're a parent trying to change our kid's mind, we often default to some version of pushing.
We often say, "Look, let me add facts or reasons or information. If I just make one more presentation, one more phone call. If I just try to convince someone why what I'm suggesting is a good idea, they'll come around,” and again, it's sort of clear why we think that.
Going back to the analogy with the chair, pushing in the physical world is a great way to get things to move but it doesn't work when it comes to people and so instead, there's a nice comparison to be made with chemistry. Some of your listeners may have a background in chemistry and may remember that change in chemistry is really hard. It often takes thousands, if not, millions of years for carbon to change into diamonds or plant matter to change into oil.
Chemists often add temperature and pressure. They squeeze things really hard, they heat them up in an effort to change them. But there are special set of substances that make change happen faster and easier, not by increasing the temperature, not by increasing the pressure but by doing something subtly and importantly different they lower the barrier to change. They essentially make the same amount of change happen with less energy, not more, and these things are called catalysts.
It turns out the same approach is equally powerful in the social world, not pushing, not adding more temperature, more pressure, more reasons, more facts, more figures, but figuring out what the barriers are to change, what the obstacles to change are and mitigating them. There are five key barriers that I talked about in the book. I think what was neat to me is doing these interviews, both with folks in psychology and sociology, and looking at the literature, but also folks like hostage negotiators or subsidies counselors or parenting experts. Many people are saying similar things, using different language, and so that's really where these five barriers came from, identifying parallels that would come up again and again in different spaces, something that a top selling sales person would do that a parenting expert also thought was a good idea.
Something that a substance abuse counselor that works in that space but also works trying to get a team motivated to take action. These five barriers can be put into a word, which is the word reduce, and that's exactly what great catalysts do.
They don't push, they reduce the barriers to change. The R is reactants, the E is endowment, the D is distance, the U is uncertainty, and the C is corroborating evidence. And so each of these is a barrier. They don't all come up every time we're trying to change something, but often, multiple barriers come up.
The goal is very simple. Once we understand these barriers, how can we be better at identifying them in the world around us? Identifying the barriers. We're so focused on pushing. Understanding what those barriers are, seeing them when they appear, and then learning how to mitigate them.
How would you explain a Steve Jobs are an Elon Musk, who, they don't exactly start with listening and building trust, and yet, they are absolutely persuasive, influential, change masters, and all the good stuff? So what explains their success?
So I would say a couple things, and I love this question. I often get a question like this from my MBA students. We teach about the importance of customer research and customer insight.
Some student always this, "Yeah, Steve Jobs didn't care what the customer thinks. Steve Jobs told the customer what to think." Or someone says, "Henry Ford! Isn't Henry Ford famous for saying, if you ask the customer what they want in a car, they'd say a faster horse." You don't want to ask people what they want, and I think a few things are true.
So first of all, Steve Jobs, very successful guy, Elon Musk, very successful guy. Not everything those guys did, though, turned into gold. Both companies had examples of successes but also examples of failures. We tend to remember the successes, and we tend to say, “Oh, someone's very persuasive because they had some successes.” We tend to forget the times that they failed or maybe they were less persuasive, they get less attention.
Then, I think that the second thing I would say is - I'm not saying we always want to ask people what they want because people may not be able to tell us what they want. Part of what good market research is about, good customer insight work is about, part of what asking the right questions is about, is discovering what people want even if they can't tell you.
Henry Ford is right - if you would ask people what they wanted from a horse, they might have said, “A faster horse from a car,” but at the same time, I bet if you followed people's pain points, you did some qualitative research, you followed people around, you looked at what annoyed them about riding a horse, or same thing, if you looked at the iPhone, for example. If you looked at what people's pain points are, if you looked – “Wow, people are carrying around digital cameras and they're carrying around these little paper reminder things, little calendars, and they're also carrying around phones they probably don't realize it'd be great not to have to carry around all three of them,” because it's outside the realm of what they think could be true, but by observing them, I can realize that they would really enjoy something like this. They would really find it invaluable.
Same thing, people say, "Oh, Google knows exactly what customers want." They have had a lot of successes, but Google Glass didn't do so well. That was an example of a solution in search of a problem. It was a great piece of technology. I bet in fifteen, twenty years, we will be using some version of that technology, but at the time, it was too far ahead of what people actually wanted and needed.
I'm still a big believer in starting with the customer. I'm not saying, "Hey, ask them what they want." I'm saying, “Figure out what they want. Whether that involves asking them, whether that involves using other ways to determine even if they would have a hard time telling you.”
So in asking, or figuring out what customers want, I think the first practical stumbling point is sampling. So who do you ask and who do you listen to and how do you know if they're representing the lunatic fringe or Main Street?
Yeah. I do a lot of work with market research firms and I do a lot of consulting projects where we have to collect information about customers. There are certainly easy ways to get random samples of your customer base or stratified samples of your customer base, but anytime I start a project, I just start with friends and family qualitative work. Whether I'm working with a company on a new phone, or I'm working with a dry cleaner, or I'm working with someone who's launching a new B2B service, I just start by talking to some customers and understand what they're doing at the moment.
I'm working on an advisory board at the moment of a startup that does something in the housing space, the home buying space. I just started talking to some people at their home buying journey. Are they a representative sample? Certainly not. They're not. They're a convenient sample of people that I happen to be connected to but they're a good place to begin collecting insights and start a more quantitative program of research.
I think there are lots of easy ways to random sample and when doing a big, a more quantitative focus thing, it's definitely important to do that. But at the outset, even a non-random sample is great for those qualitative insights that can be helpful to start you out.
I think the most useful sample to start with is one's wife.
Or a husband is-
No, no. Not husband, only wife. Only woman, but we won't go down that path. I think women are better judges. But anyway-
They're certainly more empathetic and they certainly start more with understanding that men often do. Yeah, that's definitely true.
So the R in reduce in reactants, and my interpretation of that is about feeling that freedom is lost or threatened is a very negative thing, and yet, I look at Australia and I look at New Zealand, and I say, “Well, in Australia you're required to vote. You cannot own a gun. You have to get your kids vaccinated or you don't get this child care allowance.” Why aren't Australians and New Zealanders reacting that way that their freedom is lost or threatened?
Yeah. A lot of this depends on what the default is and whether something is... Once you legislate something, there's no question that people in general are going to follow the rules most of the time. The challenge is that most of us can't legislate things.
We can't legislate that the boss adopts our new project, we can't legislate the consumer buys our product. I don't think most of us sit there going, "Oh, man, my freedoms are being impinged because every year I have to take my car to the shop to make sure it passes an inspection." Whatever it might be. We just say, "Oh, that's the way it is. I have to take my car in for inspection,” but the challenge is that when we can't legislate something, how do we change minds?
I think actually a good example, this comes from a very different domain. Some of your listeners might be familiar with these little cubes made by tide called tide pods. But I think this story is quite illustrative about them.
So a number of years ago, tide owned by Procter and Gamble, wants to make laundry easier to do and so it turns out there are a few problems with laundry. You don't know how much detergent to add, some gets sticky on the counter, it'd actually be better if someone at the beginning, someone in the middle, someone at the end of the laundry. So they solve these problems.
They came up with these little packets called Tide Pods - they're multicolored, they're beautiful. You toss them in the laundry, they solve all your problems. They're great. They spent $100 million on marketing, launching these things. They hope to take a big chunk of the over billion dollar laundry industry. They launched them. They're doing well, but then they hit a speed bump; they hit a problem, which is that people are eating them.
You might be sitting there going, "Wait a second, people eating laundry pods? Aren't they filled with chemicals?" Yes, they are, but yes, people are eating them. There's a satirical article in The Onion and there's a funny video on College Humor. Suddenly, mostly young people, mostly teenagers, are challenging one another to eat Tide Pods. It's called the Tide Pod challenge.
Now, imagine you're a Tide executive in this situation. You're sitting there going, “What should I do? It's obvious people shouldn't be eating these, but just in case, let's tell them not to.” So they make an announcement: Don't eat Tide Pods. And in case it's not enough, they hire a celebrity Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski to shoot a public service announcement saying, “Don't eat Tide Pods, never eat them. No, no, no.” They think this will be the end of it, okay?
They post this content online, but if you look at the data, you see something quite interesting. So you look at the search data for searches for the Tide Pod challenge over time. See it's going along. It's increasing a little bit. Tide makes their announcement and the hope is that will decrease interest in the Tide Pod challenge but that's not what happens, it actually increases, and not by a little, but by a lot. It goes up over 400% in the next few weeks. It's not just parents wondering what their kids are up to, visits to poison control go up as well. In the next few weeks, a number of people coming into poison control are more than two years prior.
Essentially a warning becomes a recommendation. Telling people not to do something makes them more likely to do it. As you were saying, this has some resonance with the world we're living in at the moment where many people have been told, “Don't go out, stay in your home, wear a mask, don't do this, don't do that. Restaurants need to close, bars need to close, you need to act in this particular way,” and many people have said, "No, I don't want to do that."
What's interesting is it's not even clear that if you would’ve ask them before you told them what to do, they would have cared that much, but it was because you told them what to do, as you nicely said, they feel like their freedom is being impinged on. We all like to feel we have freedom and control over our lives. Why did I make a certain choice? Why did I engage in a certain action? I did it because I wanted to. I bought this product. I used this service. I wore a mask. I bought groceries. I went out to dinner because I wanted to do it.
But as soon as someone else whether that person is a spouse, a colleague, a boss tells us what to do, tries to tell or suggest us what to do suddenly, now we're not sure whether we're making that choice because we want to or they're making it for us. The more we feel like they're making it for us, the more we don't want to do it anymore. This is the essence of reactance.
Essentially, a negative feeling when we feel like someone's trying to persuade us. We almost have like an ingrained anti-persuasion radar. Almost like our missile defense system that goes off when we feel like someone's trying to change our mind, we avoid the message, we ignore it. Even worse, we counter argue.
Sure, we seem like we're sitting there. Sure, we seem like we're listening but we're not. We're really thinking about all the reasons why what someone's suggesting is a bad idea.
They're sitting listening to your pitch or your proposal going, "Oh, that's too expensive. It's going to be difficult to integrate. It's not going to work for these various reasons." It's almost like a high school debate team member - they poke and they prod till it comes crumbling down.
I think the key question then is: how can we change minds, not by pushing people, but by getting them to persuade themselves, not by trying to sell them, but by getting them to buy in? I'm happy to talk about some of the ways to do that, but the core insight I think there is how do we reduce reactants not by telling people what to do but by allowing for freedom and autonomy? Allowing them to feel like they've participated in the process, that they're making a choice, that they are getting to decide what happens. The more they feel like it's up to them, the more they feel like they participated, the happier they'll be in going along.
Every day in America, everybody who gets in a car, puts on a seatbelt. No problem. Now, maybe it took twenty years to get to that point, but I'm looking at it, just today, everybody gets in a car, puts on a seatbelt, no problem. Half the people refuse to put on a mask. Why is it any different?
Yeah. I think part of the challenge is they feel like their liberties are being impinged on. "This is up to me, and you were telling me what to do. We don't like that.” By the way, if you look at the government's playbook for this, the health organization's playbook. It's the same thing that organizations have been doing for decades that hasn't been working.
If you want someone to do something, tell them to do it. Wear a condom. If you don't want to do something, you don't want them to do something tell them not to. Don't drink and drive. Don't do this. Wear a bike helmet. Wear a safety belt. Don't do drugs, and that does work for some people some of the time, particularly if they feel like they've come to that decision on their own.
If I'm sitting there going, "Man, I'm wearing a safety belt because I want to protect myself." Then I'm going to do it. If I feel like I'm doing it, though, because you told me to do it, not only am I not going to be interested in doing it, but I may not do it at all.
I wrote a piece near the beginning of the pandemic for Harvard Business Review about how to get people to wear masks and other things, and one thing I talked about was a strategy that is very much always used in the book, which is called highlighting a gap. There's a great example of this in Thailand.
I'll give you the Thai example and then I'll get to the US in a second, but there's an anti-smoking campaign in Thailand. So they want people to quit smoking. Obviously, people who are smoking don't want to quit smoking and so they're trying to figure out what to do.
There’s a quit line. There's people hoping they'll call the quit line, not enough people are calling and so they end up doing something interesting. They end up going up to smokers on the street and they ask smokers, "Can I have a light?" And this is something that happens to smokers all the time. If you're a smoker, you know other smokers come up to you they ask you if you have a light you say yes, of course, you're happy to, but this time smokers say no. In fact, almost all if not all the smokers say no and they say no, even though it's a simple request because the person who asked is a kid.
So imagine an eight to ten-year-old kid walking up to a smoker saying, "Hey, can I have a light?" And the smoker says, "No way. Of course, I'm not going to give you a light, you're a kid? Don't you want to go run and play? Don't you know smoking causes emphysema, causes lung cancer, all these different things. You're too young to do this. It's a bad idea. Don't do it." What's great, by the way, is no one knows more about the dangers of smoking than smokers. It's not an information problem. Smokers know that smoking is dangerous.
At the end of this interaction, the kid goes, "Okay, thanks anyway." And hands the smoker a slip of paper and the smoker unfurls the slip of paper, and in it is a small note that says, “You worry about me, but not yourself but if you're interested in quitting, think about calling this quit line. You wouldn't tell me to smoke, yet you're smoking, is that something that you want to do?”
This campaign is hugely successful – forty percent increase in calls to the quit line, videos of it go viral on the web, millions of people view it around the world, but I think why it works is not only very clever but it also has a lot to say to the current mask debate and the stuff that's out there at the moment. The reason why it works is it's based on a simple idea in psychology, which is, we like to be consistent. This is actually something you know Cialdini talks about in Influence - we want to be consistent.
If I say I care about the environment, I’d better recycle. If I say I care about a certain sports team, I’d better watch their games. If I say smoking is bad, I’d better not smoke. I want my attitudes and my actions to line up. I want those two things to be consistent, and when they don't, cognitive dissonance occurs and I do work to resolve that dissonance. I have to bring my attitudes and my actions in line. That's exactly what happened with smokers.
The kid highlighted for smokers, "Hey, you told me not to smoke, but you're smoking? Do you want to do something about that?" They didn't say you have to, but they said do you want to do something about that. So the smokers are sitting there with a choice, they can either tell the kid, “You should smoke,” or they can stop smoking, which is exactly what forty percent of them did. That message highlighted a gap. Didn't tell the smokers what to do, it highlighted a gap between what the smokers were doing and what they would recommend to someone else, and ask them if they wanted to do something about it.
We can imagine the same thing with masks or vaccine, really anything, in this space. Rather than telling people, "Hey, wear a mask." Which people say, "Don't tread on me. These are my civil liberties. I don't want to do it." Imagine if you ask someone a question. You said, "Hey, think about your elderly parent, if you have elderly grandparents. Think about your young child, if you have young children, would you want them to wear a mask? Would you want the people around them to wear a mask? Would you want them to get the vaccine if it comes out?" Most people would say, “Yeah, I want the people around my elderly parent or grandparent to wear a mask. Yeah, I want them to wear a mask. I want them to be safe." "Okay. Well, then why aren't you wearing one? Or do you think you should wear one? If you want them to wear one do you think it's a good idea for you not to wear one?"
Encouraging them to do the work themselves. Again, it's not being entirely hands-off. It's not saying, “Do whatever you want.” It's guiding them down a journey. It's not forcing down a particular path. It's not telling them what to do but it's guiding or shaping their process without making them feel like they have no choice in the matter.
But still, can you explain why seat belts work?
I haven't looked into seat belts so I can't tell you how seat belts came about. I can tell you that there's a... I think it's this movie, is it Adaptation? This movie where there's a car crash at some point in the movie and the guy goes flying through the front window, and every time I get in a car and I don't think about putting my seatbelt on, I think about that message and I buckle myself in, and so that has certainly worked for me but I think, more generally, there’s going to be some set of people that whenever we tell them to do something won't do it, but I think the more we can get people to buy in, the more we can help people see that the outcome is something they want to reach the more excited they'll be about doing it.
Now, let's move on to E for endowment. How does one calculate the true cost of doing nothing?
Yeah. So I'll talk a little bit about endowment and we may not have time maybe for all five of the aspects of them so I'll connect endowment and uncertainty a little bit in case we don't get there. To go back to the idea of me and my phone, or go back to really any opportunity to change, there are always some costs of action.
Keeping my old phone is, in some sense, costless. Doesn't take more time to learn how to use because I already know how to use it. It doesn't require more money to buy a new phone. New things always have these switching costs, whether it's time, whether it's money, whether it's effort, whether it's energy. Buying a new car takes money. Buying a new software program, not only takes money but requires time to figure out how to use it.
Even as something as simple as a new phone or a new operating system, a new layout. Anytime Microsoft updates my computer I'm always scared to try to figure out where things are down in drop down menus. There's a cost of change.
Where people feel like doing nothing, sticking with the status quo, is costless. Oh, it won't cost me anything to use the same phone, to use the same car. Even in the case where have to pay money to re-up a service should we have to pay money to re-up for the next year, but we don't have to learn how to use that new service from a different company.
We often feel like doing nothing is costless whereas, doing something, creating a change, requires a lot of cost. Not only that, but when we think about the cost of change, so whatever it is, the monetary cost, the time cost, the energy cost, when did the cost of change occur? And when did the benefits occur? So maybe think about something in your own life. When did the cost of that change happen? And when did the benefits happen?
So here's a case in point that covers a lot of principles. So I need to buy a car. Yeah, let's just take that as an assumption. One could argue, why does anybody need to buy a car? But let's just say I do need to buy a car.
I think of myself as someone who believes in climate change, so to not have cognitive dissonance, I should buy an electric car or a hybrid, or at least a high mileage car. But I really like fast cars that are noisy which puts that in complete conflict. I have done extensive fact searches and it's still not clear to me the total impact of creating lithium batteries and all that, so I swing from buying a Tesla all the way to buying a V8 Mercedes Benz.
Yeah, and by the way, notice all the work you have to do to change. To keep your old car, you don't have to do anything. You already have it. Whereas to buy a new car, not only do you have to pay the money, but you have to go to the dealership, you have to try it, you have to do all this online research. And so all these costs are upfront, they're now, whereas the benefits of change are often later.
Yes, the car might be better than your existing car, but you're not going to find out till you pay all those upfront costs. Not only that, this is called the cost benefit timing gap, costs are upfront, benefits are later, but costs are often certain, benefits are uncertain. You know that's going to cost at least a certain amount of money to buy this car. It's going to take at least a certain amount of time to figure it out. The benefits, maybe the car will be better than what you have, but you're not completely sure.
This stymies a lot of action. We sit with what we're doing ready because we have the status quo bias because we feel like our existing car, our existing phone, our existing whatever it might be, is not very costly, whereas doing something new is very cost heavy and the costs are upfront. One way to overcome this is to ease endowment just to help people realize that sticking with what you're doing already isn't as costless as you might seem.
It turns out there's some very nice research on this when it comes to injuries. So if you ask people, "Hey, what do you think causes more pain, a minor injury or a major one?" A minor one being, I don't know, your lower back tweaks every once in a while. Major injury being you shattered your kneecap, you have a heart attack, you break your leg, whatever it might be. Most people say, “Of course major injuries are much more painful than minor ones. God, if you break your leg that would be a huge, immense amount of pain, whereas you have these minor injuries, it doesn't hurt that much.”
That intuition makes a lot of sense, but it's actually wrong because minor injuries hurt a lot more than major ones. Why? Because major ones do hurt a lot right away, but you get them fixed. If you have a major injury you get a cast put on your leg, you get a stent put in wherever you need that stent, you do the work, you go to physical therapy, you get surgery. You do whatever you do to fix the problem.
When you have a minor injury you never get the problem fixed because that lower back pain is never enough to be above the threshold to drive action and so you just sit with it. You never get it fixed, you never get it solve but it stays there forever. If you think about over time, taking the area under the curve, it causes a lot more pain overall.
I think this is a great analogy for change because if something was terrible, people would have changed already. If your car is so bad that you can't drive it, you're going to buy a new car if you need a car. But if your car is just a little bit old or it doesn't get the most gas mileage, or it tends to be a little bit expensive to repair.
It's never so expensive that it gets above the threshold, never get it fixed. It's a minor injury, not a major one. It's like if you have, I don't know, a couple flies in your house - once in a while you don't call an exterminator. Your house is infested with cockroaches, you call them right away because you want to get rid of the cockroaches. It's because that problem's never above the threshold, it doesn't get the action to get it to change.
So part of what we need to do to change agents to ease that endowment is to make people realize it's not costless, make people realize it's not actually as safe as they think to do nothing. Make people realize that it is a major injury, not a minor one. If it's a minor one it's going to cause them a lot of pain.
One way to do this is highlight the cost of an action, and there's an example from the book that I find quite valuable, at least in my own life. I had a cousin who would write his emails at the bottom of his emails regards Charles every time he writes an email. I was like, "Look, every time you write that it takes five or ten seconds, why don't you just add that to an email signature?" He goes, "Look, I don't really know how to use email signatures, and it'll take minutes to figure that out. It's just not worth it. It only takes a couple seconds. I'm just going to stick with it,” and so I tried many things to get him to change. He wasn't willing to change.
So eventually, I asked him a question. I asked - don't tell - and I said, "Hey, how many emails do you write a day?" "I don't know. forty emails, fifty emails, whatever it is." "How many emails do you write a week?" "I don't know, 200, 300 emails." "How much time do you spend on each email writing your email signature?" He goes, "I don't know, five seconds, ten seconds." So I said, "Okay, how much time each week do you spend writing email signatures?" He thinks about it for a moment and then he goes to Google and types in how to automate an email signature because for him, each time was a minor problem - it was a minor injury. It wasn't that big of a deal. It was a couple flies in your house, it isn't a big deal to type it, but aggregating across all those times, it's actually a major injury. It's actually your house being infested with cockroaches.
Part of the job with changing, again, it's not to tell people, "Hey, do this,” but to help them realize it's not costless to do nothing. It would actually be in your best interest to take some action. Let me show you how that's the case and encourage you to move in the right direction again, not by telling you, but by helping you come to it on your own.
I have a text expansion paradigm where to say no to something, to say yes to something. I have a four or five stock answers where I just type three letters and the whole thing explodes out-
In the distance section, I found it very interesting that there's a theory that exposure to the truth increases misperceptions. How can that be? How does that work?
Yeah. There was a great study that a friend of mine at Duke University did. His name is Chris Bale, Christopher Bale, and so he's a sociologist. He was interested in polarization, still interested in political polarization. How can we reduce polarization? Something, obviously, all of us want to do, and there's this theory out there, if we just give people more information, they'll come around. If we just expose them to what the other side thinks, they'll come around.
Same by the way, in research on misperception, if we give people access to the truth, they'll come around. If we just give them the right information, they'll change.
We did this study on Twitter where he had people, he paid people actually to follow information from the other side. So Democrats followed a Republican, Republicans followed Democrats. He followed up with them months later to see how their attitudes changed. He hoped that this will reduce polarization. Many people said, "Look, if we were just exposed to the other side, that these filter bubbles, if we just step outside our bubbles, if we just reach across the aisle, if we just learn what the other side is thinking people will change."
That's a great theory except that's not what he found. He found that exposing people to information from the other side had the opposite effect. Giving Democrats information about Republicans.
What Republicans believed made them actually more liberal, and same thing happened for Republicans, giving them information about the liberal beliefs made them even more conservative. The reason why is because we have this thing called the confirmation bias. We look for information and we filter information based on our existing beliefs. We don't just take something for its face value, we don't just take it as true. We say, “How does this relate to what I think already? And if it's close to where we are ready, if it's within what we call the zone of acceptance, right around where we are at the moment, we're willing to believe it.”
If you want to put people on a football field - think about a political spectrum - put them on a football field five or ten yards in either direction, they're willing to consider that information. May not be where they are at the moment, but they're willing to listen to it. But twenty, thirty, forty yards in either direction, they're probably not willing to listen to it. It falls in what's called the region of rejection.
It's so far from where people are currently, that they aren't even willing to listen to the possibility of being persuaded. That's exactly what happens with false information, some set of people, you tell them information is false and they'll listen to you. It's within the zone of acceptance, it's within the realm of possibility they'll listen to you. For people, that's so far away from where they are currently not only will they not listen, it'll actually push them in the opposite direction or cause a backfiring effect.
So that's to say that people in the zone of rejection should either be prioritized lower, ignored, or at least they need a completely different approach from people who are at least in the zone of acceptance?
Yeah. So one thing I talked about, and how to mitigate this, I talk about a few things. So one is starting with the movable middle. And this is, I think, traditional startup one-on-one. When you're launching a new product or service, start with the people for which your product or service is a painkiller, not a vitamin. Start for the people for whom they can't live without you, they need you. You're a need to have, not a nice to have. Start with them.
Once they find out you exist, you don't have to convince them that you're great. They have the problem already, they know they're looking for a solution. Once you provide them with a solution they'll take it. Only then once you've moved through them then move to some of the people that are a little bit harder, the people that this is a nice to have, the people that it's a vitamin. It's something they'd like but they don't necessarily need. Certainly one option is to start with the people that are close by already, that your thing falls in that zone of acceptance.
Even when you're going after someone for whom what you're suggesting is in that region of rejection, then it's about asking for less than asking for more. Rather than asking for big change right away, it's about chunking the change down into smaller chunks and moving people step by step in the right direction.
I was talking to a doctor who was trying to get a guy to lose weight. He was a trucker and was drinking three liters of Mountain Dew a day. Was stuck in a truck all day, driving a long-haul truck. Three liters of Mountain Dew. Huge amounts of sugar. Way obese.
The tendencies, like with many of us, is to tell someone, don't do it. I know you drink three liters of Mountain Dew, quit cold turkey, which is great if you're somebody who doesn't care about Mountain Dew or is probably pretty athletic already, but if you drink three liters a day, you're probably not willing to quit cold turkey. It's probably in that region of rejection, unwilling to consider.
Instead, what she did is she said, "Look, I know you love Mountain Dew. I'm not going to tell you not to drink any of it but rather than drinking three liters a day, can you just drink two instead." He grumbled. He didn't want to do it. Finally said, "Okay, I'll give it a shot."
He came back a couple weeks or months later and was actually able to do it, went down from three to two then she said, "Great. You did a really good job. Now, go from two to one." Grumbled again. Didn't want to do it. Was eventually able to do it. Came back again, she said, "Great. Now, go from one to zero,” and eventually, he did. He lost a huge amount of weight along the way because she chunked the change.
She took a big ask, which is usually something people don't want to say yes to, broke it down into smaller chunks, and moved him in the right direction. So that now his region of rejection changes, his latitude of acceptance changes, he's more willing to consider that information because now it's not so far away.
How would you do a drug intervention?
So you're talking about what I talked about in the last chapter of the book. I think, by the way, most of us are never, hopefully, won't have to be in the challenging situation of trying to get someone to quit drugs. One of the reasons interventions work so well is they provide multiple sources of proof at the same point in time.
So there's an old adage, if one person says you have a tail, you laugh at them. That makes a lot of sense. If someone has a tail, you probably don't have a tail and so you laugh at them, but if five people tell you that you have a tail, you turn around to take a look. Why will five people say the same thing? Maybe they're not so crazy. Maybe I'm actually the one that doesn't have it. This is one reason that interventions are so powerful. It's not just multiple people saying something. It's not just one person saying something, but it's multiple people saying the same thing at the same time.
If you're an addict, you've probably heard that you have a problem already but you've probably heard one person, it's easy to die, say, "Oh, that person's crazy. That person's wrong. No way. I'm not going to listen to them,” but when all of your closest friends and family members are saying the same thing at the same point in time, it's really hard to dismiss them all as crazy. Just like the people that said that you have a tail.
One thing I talk a lot about in that chapter is how can we provide corroborating evidence? How can we give people multiple sources of proof in a short period of time and use that to drive action? This is really important for startups and organizations like that as well.
When we're trying to get a product to catch on, often, we think, "Great, let me cover the landscape, everyone is hearing about me." The challenge of doing something like that is that most people only hear about you once from one person and particularly when we're trying to create big change, trying to get people to do something very new, they often need to hear from multiple people, multiple times to drive them to... Need multiple sources of proof to provide enough proof to drive them to change their behavior.
In those situations, it's less like a sprinkler, where we spread a little bit of water out everywhere and more and more of a fire hose approach. We really pour a bunch of water into one place. Once people started doing something in that place, whether it's a physical place or a demographic group or a segment of the market, once we've covered that segment and gotten big buy in there then move to some of the adjoining segments. Concentrate our resources rather than spreading them out.
Okay. This is my favorite story in the book is: what are the lessons of seeds of peace?
One of the things I thought a lot about in writing this book was can we change anyone's mind. I was on the lookout for examples of situations that were difficult. I would call the Israeli Palestinian conflict one of the most difficult, intractable situations out there, not necessarily the most. I'm sure any listener can think about one that's even worse, but definitely one of the most challenging ones. Both sides highly heated, going back decades worth of conflict, many lives lost, many people made worse off, very hard to get people not only to change, but to even see the other side as people, as individuals to be open to the possibility of connecting with them.
It turns out that there is a situation that has enabled Palestinians and Israelis to become friends. It's this program called Seeds of Peace. Seeds of Peace is a camp that happens in northeastern United States every summer, I believe - it may even happen now multiple times in the year other places around the world as well, but it basically brings people together both from Israeli side and Palestinian side and encourages them to have conversations, encourages them to sleep in the same bunk, to eat dinner at the same table and doesn't necessarily drive head on into changing minds, but really focuses more on creating a bridge between these two sets of individuals.
I talked to someone who talks about it very eloquently, and she says, "Look, I didn't trust the other side. I didn't want to believe in them, but we start doing these exercises where I'm on a ropes course and I'm forty feet above the ground and the only way I can see what I need to do next is trusting someone who's on the other side. I have this choice, am I going to trust them or am I not? I really don't have much of an option or, you know, I'm eating dinner with these people. I'm realizing, “Wow, they like the same food that I do. They use the same shampoo that I do,” and suddenly, at the end of this two weeks or month long of camp, do they sing Kumbaya? No. They don't all sing Kumbaya, and they don't all agree but what they start doing is seeing the other side is real people that are just like them.
They are complicated, they start to see the issues as more nuanced. No one's pushing them. They're removing the barriers to change. They're asking them rather than telling them, they are shrinking the distance, whereas one seem very far apart, you have the same shampoo in common because, maybe, we're not actually that different.
To remove some of the uncertainty by allowing them to interact in a safe environment provides that corroborating evidence by having them interact multiple times. It's an amazing program that really showcases the power of removing barriers - not telling people what to do, not pushing them, but showing that if we understand what the barriers to change are, and we understand how to mitigate them, we can really change anything.
So now, you're empowered with a bag of tips and tricks to go out and influence and persuade people from Jonah Berger. I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. My thanks to Jeff Seih and Peg Fitzpatrick, who have made this a remarkably influential and persuasive podcast.
For their safety, do you think your kids should wear a mask? Should they avoid crowds? Should they get vaccinated? Do you think that the people you and your family are around should wear a mask, maintain a large social distance and get vaccinated? If you do, shouldn't you wear a mask? Shouldn't you avoid crowds? And shouldn't you get vaccinated?
I'm all about reducing cognitive dissonance. Mahalo and Aloha.
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I like his ideas but why he talks too fast!
Is it possible that you try to slow his down a little so that someone like me could follow his discussion more easily?