Book Review-Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance

When you can look at the topic of conflict from the eyes of a hostage negotiator, you realize that it’s a unique opportunity. Few people have the role of hostage negotiator, and it seems like it’s a role that involves nerves of steel and powerful charisma. However, at the same time, it’s easy to think that the skills necessary for hostage negotiation aren’t skills that would be generally applicable to your day-to-day office environment. It’s rare for Suzi to hold a plastic utensil to the throat of Bill and threaten to hurt him if her demands aren’t met. (Whether the plastic utensil could hurt Bill is another question.) While, tragically, workplace violence happens, it’s rare. However, the applicability of the experience of a hostage negotiator extends to all conflict.

Hostage at the Table: How Leaders Can Overcome Conflict, Influence Others, and Raise Performance is a former hostage negotiator’s effort to take people into the experience, so the power plays, the victimization, and all conflicts can be addressed in ways that leave everyone more whole than when they started.

Making Ourselves Hostage

In a literal sense, most folks don’t make themselves a hostage. However, in a figurative sense, people often end up as hostages of their circumstances – or, as The Anatomy of Peace describes it, their boxes. We become hostage to our beliefs and perspectives, and we particularly become a hostage to our victimhood.

Martin Seligman and his colleagues, including Steven Maier, discovered learned helplessness in the late 1960s. Maier’s further research – with the help of an fMRI – indicated that it wasn’t learned helplessness at all. It was a failure to learn control. (See The Hope Circuit.) However, the result is still the same. Once a dog has learned that it can’t escape a mild shock, it stops trying. Even when it’s clear that escape is possible – and even easy – the dog wasn’t interested in freeing itself. The experience of learned helplessness is a trap. It holds us hostage to our beliefs that we can’t do anything about our situation. Like backing a wild animal into a corner, it’s dangerous, because you never know what might happen.

The Address of Victimhood

Victimhood is a place we all visit. We believe we’ve been victimized and feel frustration and anger. However, while victimhood is an ok place to visit, it’s a lousy place to build a home. Staying in victimhood is more than just feeling as if we were victimized one time. It’s the feeling that the situation is permanent, that we’ll always be victimized. It’s about us and who we are, so we can’t escape it.

The people who were able to escape from being a literal hostage are often those who never saw themselves as a victim. They refused to believe that they were powerless. They accepted their current reality but never gave up on changing it. Victor Frankl explained what helped concentration camp survivors make their way out in Man’s Search for Meaning. It wasn’t just some blind sense that someone would come rescue them – because, eventually, when that reality didn’t happen, their hope would be crushed. (See The Psychology of Hope for more about how hope works.)

One could easily conclude that a religious leader was wrong if they prophesized an event and it didn’t happen. The followers could look upon themselves and wonder how they could have been so misled. However, that’s not what happens most frequently. What happens most frequently is followers become more convinced that they were right. In Influence, Robert Cialdini explains how this process works.

Powerful forces lead us to lack of hope, learned helplessness, and descending deeper and deeper into our beliefs that the problems are internally generated, permanent, and global. The greater degree to which we see our circumstances this way, the more convinced we become that it’s our fault, and there’s nothing to be done. (See The Hope Circuit for more about attribution of circumstances.)

People Don’t Kill People

Of course, the instant response to “People don’t kill people” is “What is murder, then?” However, that is not the point that George Kohlrieser is trying to make. The point is that people don’t kill people – they kill objects. To allow themselves to kill, they’ve necessarily dehumanized the other person so that they’re now an object. Martin Buber in I and Thou helps us to understand how our interactions often drive us towards dehumanizing people and how that diminishes our relationships with them. Albert Bandura is more direct in Moral Disengagement, explaining how situations like the Nazi concentration camps could happen.

The more we can help ourselves and others see everyone as people – and not objects or sub-human – the better our chances at preventing violence.

Hostage Taking Triggered by Trauma

One of the statements that caught me most by surprise was when Kohlrieser indicated that he’d never seen a hostage situation start by anything other than loss. The trauma of a loss triggered some sort of change that made the hostage-taker feel like taking hostages was the only way to be heard and have their needs addressed. Hostage-takers didn’t proceed out of a sense of power or strength, they proceeded out of despair and desperation. It’s as if their powerlessness first took them hostage, and then they took others hostage.

The solution to both literal hostage-taking and the figurative hostage-taking that happens in our mind is bonding. That is, connecting with the hostage-taker whether in our brains or literally, is our way out.

Bonding

It’s fundamental to the human condition to need bonding with other humans. Our bonding mechanisms can become disrupted, and when they do, bonding becomes more difficult – sometimes difficult enough that it might be described as Intimacy Anorexia. At a lower scale, it may be found as people having difficulty relating to other people. (See The Secret Lives of Adults for more about how to form bonds with different kinds of relationships.) A failure to be able to bond to other people can result in loneliness, which has huge negative health implications. (See Loneliness for more.)

An area of bonding that’s most often overlooked is the bonding with ourselves. That is, how well do we accept who we are and talk to ourselves in a healthy way? Perhaps you’re a fan of Jonathan Haidt’s Elephant-Rider-Path model for how we coordinate the different aspects of our personality or you prefer to think in terms of Daniel Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2. (See The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch for the Elephant-Rider-Path model and Thinking, Fast and Slow for System 1 and System 2.

Focus on Freedom

As I mentioned above, there are some people who more or less refuse to remain hostages. They focus on their capacity to free themselves as soon as it’s possible to do so. High performers focus their minds on the positive and refuse to focus on the pains and challenges. They won’t get bogged down as they begin to struggle. They continue to tune out the unnecessary clutter and focus on only those things that matter. (Barry Swartz of The Paradox of Choice describes filtering as a basic function of consciousness.) High performers simply seem to be more able to filter out the clutter. When negotiating a conflict (both in the sense of navigating and, more traditionally, negotiating a position), the ability to filter out clutter is useful.

In Buddhism, there’s the story of the first dart (what someone else does) and the second dart (the way you process it). Basically, if you can ignore the darts people throw, you don’t have to throw darts at yourself. (See Resilient for more.) In conflict, our ability to remain neutral and detached serves us well. When we become emotionally engaged in a conflict, we’ve become the other person’s hostage. We’re no longer able to think rationally about what we’re doing.

Emotional Processing

The ability to remain emotionally detached is a goal for negotiators – of life. Dialogue quotes Richard Moon as saying that it’s not like the great masters never lose their center, it’s that they discover it sooner and recover faster. Such is the case with our ability to identify when we’re becoming emotionally triggered – and quiet our emotions quicker. In Emotion and Adaptation, Richard Lazarus explains that our emotions are one part stimulus and one part our appraisal of the situation. Specifically, it’s our ability to be okay.

All too often, we’re not taught how to process our way through emotions. The emotions are just things, and there’s nothing to be done about them. However, as we learn more about ourselves and our emotions, we can learn how to work better with them. When we realize that anger is just disappointment directed, we can process the judgements that lead to the disappointment and either more thoroughly understand our disappointment or realize that the judgement was wrong and the disappointment wasn’t necessary. (See A Force for Good for more.)

Emotional Covering

One of the most challenging aspects of our emotional lives is the real probability that the hurt we feel today isn’t caused by today’s events but is instead by the traumas from our past. Certainly, we can express a real and plausible reason for emotions today, but many times, the emotions that happen today are echoes and repetitions of unhealed hurts from our past. They’re wounds that have never healed and scars that have created sensitive spaces in our souls.

Whether it’s the feeling that the other person isn’t listening (we’re not being heard) because our parents ignored us, or it’s the feeling that the other person is out to get us because our childhood was filled with turmoil, we’ll never be able to address the current pains without moving backwards to address the root cause. Until we’re able to understand why we’re sensitive, to acknowledge and accept it, we’ll never be able to move forward.

The Not Knowing is the Hardest Part

We’ve all heard others say that it’s the not knowing that is the hardest part. From an emotional processing perspective, this is true. Once we know what the truth is, we can start the process of grief. (For more on the process, see On Death and Dying.) In our lives, we become hostage to the uncertainty and the fear that we’re not going to be able to survive what life throws at us.

Perhaps the hardest part about Hostage at the Table is not knowing whether it’s someone else – or it’s you.

Building a PDF to Image Converter

The Confident Change Management course was a major effort for us. The result is 800 pages of content and over 11 hours of video. It also required over 1,000 hours of time directly and the creation of four different pieces of technology to help us manage the process. This post is about the tool we built to convert PDF documents into images that we could use in videos.

PDFs for Exercises

There are lots of ways to build exercises for students. Just in the question and answer arena, you’ve got Word, PDF, online form builders, and whatever your LMS supports. Each of them has their benefits and limitations. We ended up deciding that, for our course, we could get to the best overall experience for most students by using fillable PDF forms, but we start with Word forms.

In truth, all the content we build starts in Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint. We’ll do note-taking in Microsoft OneNote and outline with MindJet MindManager, but the bulk of our content, including the things that we produce the courses from, are from Microsoft Office products. Word has a built-in forms technology, so why don’t we leverage that for prompting students to enter information?

The largest answer is that not everyone has Microsoft Word available to them in general or while taking the course. The largest common denominator is PDF, since everyone has or can get a PDF reader for free. There’s an issue getting the Word fields into PDF fields, but I’ll leave that for another post. For now, know the decision between Word and PDF largely came down to accessibility and ease for the students.

The question then becomes why not put this into some sort of electronic form and use that? The short answer is that it necessarily precludes someone from working offline. Given the nature of the course and our desire for the students to really reflect on the questions and dig deeply, we wanted to give them the option of escaping the onslaught of email and the ever-present interruption. With that in mind, PDF was the right answer.

Connecting Video Introduction and Exercises

To help orient the student, we wanted to record a video introduction to the exercise as well as providing written instructions. We felt that layering the two different communications approaches would give us the best coverage and retention of the intent of the exercise. The problem with that was how to connect the video component to the exercises.

Initially, we wanted to use a jib with an overhead shot, a leather three-ring binder, and some dual-mode front and overhead shots. When we did that, we realized that it just wasn’t coming together. You could either see what I was saying or the exercise, not both. That left us with the video overlay option. That’s what we do with slides and instruction anyway, so it seemed natural. That was until we realized the exercises were multiple pages, and sometimes I’d want to talk between the pages – and that would be awkward.

The solution was to create a single linear image of the exercise. We did this by outputting the Microsoft Word document to PDF, and then we built a tool to convert the PDF to images. The actual rendering part of the PDF wasn’t that hard, because we had a license to a PDF tool. What was interesting was addressing the gutter problem.

The Gutter Problem

Gutter margins are added to the inside edge to allow for binding. It’s used for 3-ring binding and every book you’ve ever read. The inside margin is larger than the outside. When you line up images for the different pages, you’ll notice the sawtooth effect, as the pages jump right then left. As a result, we detected the edges and added padding to the top, bottom, left, and right of the image we detect, so we could remove the whitespace then add back just enough of our own.

The Result

The result is a single linear image that we can scroll through in the video as I’m talking about each aspect of what the student will do in the exercise. Visually, they can connect what I’m talking about with what the pages look like. The result is lower cognitive load and better performance on the exercises.

Cognitive Load

In instructional design, I’m always trying to minimize cognitive load and free up more resources for the student to be able to focus on the work of learning the material. That means choosing words carefully, designing exercises and instruction that are progressive – in the sense that it uses very many small steps – and finding ways to make it clear what I’m talking about. I didn’t expect to need to use programming and image processing skills to make it a bit easier for students to learn – but I did. If you’re interested in what I built, reach out to me. I’m not going to post it publicly, but I’ll share it with folks who ask for it.

Book Review-The Hidden Persuaders

I can remember as a child sending off a letter about an idea that I thought was powerful. It came from a story I ran across about a movie theatre that ran subliminal advertising for their concession stand. The idea was that the advertising was conveyed in a single frame. It was too short to be perceived by the audience consciously but apparently was quite effective at selling popcorn. I found a reference to this movie theatre popcorn situation in The Hidden Persuaders. Though Vance Packard, the author, treats the recollection with skepticism, I wondered as a child how this could be used for good – rather than commerce.

I don’t remember who the letter was sent to, but, being a kid, I assume I wrote the President of the United States. The idea was to leverage subliminal messaging in prisons to attempt to adjust criminal behavior. An answer came back, I think from the Department of Corrections, that the FCC had issued a rule banning the use of subliminal advertising, and that was that for me.

However, after picking up Influence and Pre-Suasion, I wanted to go back and dig into the stories about how advertisers in the 1950s and 1960s started paying attention to psychology and how they could manipulate people in ways that weren’t expected. What I found in The Hidden Persuaders was strangely familiar and foreign at the same time.

What We’re Sold

We are, in many ways, a consumerism-based society in the United States. We as a people follow fashions, replace our cars every few years, and practice retail therapy when we’re feeling down. (Retail therapy is buying something to feel better.)

The overwhelming array of choices we face has transformed, from awe at what is available to us now that only royalty would have been able to afford a few centuries ago to a sense of entitlement that we must have all these things. However, at the heart of this isn’t the item itself: it’s how it makes us feel. We feel like “I deserve this” or “I’ve earned this.” The “this” we’re referring to is the feeling of beauty, freedom, status, or any of the other desirables that we want to believe we are – but don’t always feel like we are.

An interesting dynamic to this is that we buy things expecting they’ll make us feel better about ourselves; however, they don’t. We expect that a new car will refresh our vitality, but it doesn’t. We want to impress others by wearing a status symbol and are disappointed when our friends and peers purchased the same thing. How are we supposed to demonstrate our superiority if we’re constantly being copied – and are copying others?

Saying and Doing

We are willing to go to remarkable lengths to do what we say we’re going to do and maintain our public image. When people are looking, we will bend our preferences to support the identity that we believe other people expect of us, as we learned in Pre-Suasion. However, we feel no compunction to behave consistently with our answers if we don’t expect that people are looking.

Marketers have long known that people will answer one way and then behave in a totally different way. You ask them to commit to a course of action, but if they don’t feel they’re being watched when it comes time to take that action, their previous answer will likely not have much impact on their behavior. We want to be seen as rational, reliable, intelligent, and consistent people, when that’s rarely the way we are. We store up our reliability for those times when we believe we’re being watched. Even then, we often behave in ways that aren’t objectively rational.

I’m the Most Important Topic to Me

Nothing appeals more to someone than themselves. It’s not exactly new news – it wasn’t even new news when The Hidden Persuaders was first published – but it is profound. We spend time trying to get people to be interested in something else – or someone else like ourselves – but we fail to recognize that, at the end of the day, what everyone is most interested in is themselves. While this news may seem like bad news to those who want to motivate us, nothing could be further from the truth.

Knowing that everyone cares about themselves, including how they feel about themselves and how they’re perceived, there’s a lot of room to help people feel good about themselves. Makeup can make you look beautiful. It’s not creating a beautiful appearance, it’s changing the person’s perception of themselves as more beautiful. A powerful car can make a man feel more vitality.

While when stated directly, it may seem far-fetched for someone to believe that a product can make them stronger or more beautiful in an intrinsic sort of way. But this is exactly the way we’re sold to every day. Having the latest phone doesn’t appreciably change the features for most folks, but it sends a signal about the kind of person you are – and if you’re that kind of person, you deserve a phone.

Avenues for Expression

We use the things we own as proxies for who we are. Are we dog owners? Are we townhome kinds of folks? The things we have shape how others perceive us – or, perhaps more accurately, how we project what we want others to see. Once an object has been imbued with meaning, the meaning tends to stick. This is how brands work. They associate a characteristic or a feeling to a product, and then the product is sold based on the characteristic.

Nowhere is this truer than in the American love affair with cars. There are truck people, SUV people, minivan people, sports car people, sedan people, and other variants too numerous to mention. When you hear about the kind of car they own, most people begin to form images in their heads of the kinds of people we’re talking about. Truck people are rough and tumble. Minivan people have a lot of kids to be transported to soccer games – too many to fit in an SUV. Sports car people are wild and adventurous; sedan people are refined and reserved.

The truth is that the automobile industry reinforces these images. It tries to convince us that, if we just bought their car, we’d regain some aspect of our lives that we’ve lost (or never had). The innovation of the hard top is one of those success stories.

The Wife and the Mistress

Dr. Dichter, one of the key players in the act of peering into our minds to sell us merchandise, says that men settle down with a practical, down-to-earth, and safe person. The wife, in his analogy, is a sedan. He continues, however, that in his perspective, a man never forgets his desire for youthful passion. Convertibles were this image of vitality, excitement, and passion. He considered the convertible the mistress. Convertibles were, at the time, canvas, because of the need to fold.

The introduction of the hard top, he argued, would be like the best of both worlds: the perceived safety and stability of a sedan and the excitement and toplessness of the convertible. Thus, a single car could help a consumer fulfill two aspects they have of themselves. They wouldn’t need to deny a part of themselves when they’re buying a car – or in their lives.

Kaleidoscope

Masters of the marketing game find ways to leverage these different aspects of products in a way that allows a product to be seen differently by different audiences. Younger adults see smoking as a way for them to look older, while older adults seek it to regain their youth. Both groups see the same set of products, but they see different facets of the products in ways that drive their interest.

The different perspectives for different audiences may be difficult to master and ever-changing, but, done well, it can be a powerful way to drive demand for your product.

Bad Looks

Of course, where there is a positive side, there is also the potential for a negative side. When you attempt to introduce an aspect of a product, it can conflict with core messaging or reason why people buy your product, as Jell-O found out. Jell-O is a convenient, inexpensive desert. It’s the kind of thing that you can do and not worry about it too much.

When Jell-O started running ads with these impressive, multi-color, molded creations, sales dropped. It turns out that people didn’t want to compete with what they were seeing in the ads. They wanted to be able to do something simple, and the beautiful creations interfered with that.

When we’re motivating people with features, we must expect that we may accidentally trigger a response we don’t want.

Higher Prices and More Sales

Traditional thinking is that higher prices result in less sales; however, the reverse is often true. As Predictably Irrational exposes, people use price as a signal for quality. If it’s low-priced, it must be junk. Thus, if the prices are high, it must be good. Whether it’s black pearls, turquoise, or anything else that people don’t know about, they’ll use price as a proxy for goodness.

Related to this is the awareness that people make decisions about how well they’re going to treat themselves, particularly with things that have no fixed price, like art or jewelry. The result is they go looking for something that matches the range they have set out to spend on themselves. Then they buy something in that range – or generally slightly above it.

Price should be about the exchange of money and should be logical, but it’s not. It operates in a different world of feelings and perspectives.

Frozen Panic

Another, unfortunate, thing that can be triggered in us irrational humans is being overwhelmed by panic. There is a state we can enter where we don’t feel like we know what to do. We’re overwhelmed, and we can’t process anything. It can be that we’ve got sensory overload (see The Signal and the Noise for more). It may also be that, in our quick assessment of whatever is going on, we’ve decided there’s nothing we can do. (See Emotion and Adaptation.) Said differently, we may have rapidly lost hope that there’s a way out of the situation. (See The Psychology of Hope.) Irrespective of the cause, the result is the same. The result is that we’ll do nothing. That’s why it’s important when communicating with the market that you don’t create panic, because the result is generally a lack of action.

Hopefully, you’ll decide that it’s time to look behind the curtain and find out more about The Hidden Persuaders.

Building Student Handbooks, Workbooks, and Lab Manuals via Book Builder

It was 2008 when I wrote the article for MSDN magazine that showed off the first book publishing Word add-in that I had built. It basically assembled individual Word files into one master document. We’ve used it to publish every version of The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide (2010, 2013, 2016), Secret SharePoint, Extinguish Burnout, and more. However, it had grown quite long in the tooth. Small problems cropped up that we worked around until now. We had to do something different, because we were building an exercise handbook with page numbers that matched the lesson and exercise, which meant we had to assemble the files with section breaks in them instead of page breaks.

The Problems

Being able to individually work on and track components of a large project is essential. We had that in spades. It’s a well-oiled machine as each element of the process moves from one state (and therefore queue) to another. However, when the OneDrive and Office integration happened, the book publishing tools choked, as Word and OneDrive got confused as to what was happening. We worked around the issue by copying the files to a non-synchronized folder and ran the tool from there, but it was frustrating and took time.

We also were always fighting the problem of starting new elements on the right side of a pair of facing pages. For The Shepherd’s Guide and other projects, it wasn’t such a big deal, but as we got to having separate exercises, it became important. The tool didn’t manage that – but it definitely could.

The tool didn’t do a good job of behaving well with the Word user interface. It would sometimes end up behind the user interface updates, and you’d wonder what was going on. We needed to make it reliably report status – all the time.

It also treated every file the same. You couldn’t say that you didn’t want to convert fields to text in the bibliography, but you wanted to convert all fields to their text for other parts of the file.

Other than the section/page numbering issue, everything was a small annoyance, which is why they hadn’t been fixed. However, that changed.

VSTO

Visual Studio Tools for Office was the initial name of the toolset used to build a compiled DLL add-in for an Office Application. Those tools have been carried through until today. The heart of it is a set of objects that expose the internals of the Office application – in this case, Word – to another program. It’s the same object model between the macros that Word supports internally and the externally compiled objects. The initial article made this point clear by first recording steps and then transitioning those into compiled code.

However, back then, I didn’t have a deep understanding of the threading model inside of Word or – to be honest – the complexities of updating the user interface from a single thread. The result was a kludgy implementation that made the user interface both in Word and in the dialog very non-responsive.

Threading and the User Experience

Since then I’ve had more than a few primers on threading, user experience updates, call-backs, events, and other ways to make the user interface better.

I settled on an approach that used DataGridView bound to a data set that managed. The result of that is the infrastructure would handle all the screen updates if I handled my data and fired the right events. The data source turned out to be my core objects, which isn’t the most normal case, but it’s completely possible to bind your collection (IList<>) to the data grid view.

Even the preparation to start the process changed as well. Using a similar strategy, the default settings were established, and then files were added to the list. Unlike the previous iteration that only allowed you to load a manifest at the end, this version of the user interface would allow you to load files, change settings, add files, and save the results. Where the previous version only supported a text file, this version would support XML files as well – where settings were stored with the individual files.

Settings Control

One of the user interface components that was moved into its own component was a settings control. This control would be responsible for creating a settings object and allowing a user to adjust it – whether the settings were the default settings or the settings for an individual file. By creating an entry point in the control to load from a settings object and to push back to a settings object from the screen, it became easy to adjust settings in the user experience without making changes every place the settings user interface was needed.

Restructuring

While the user interface updates were relatively easy to do by leveraging a data grid view, the rest of the code was a mess that needed cleaned up. It reflected the fact that it was a macro that was converted instead of a set of objects designed to work together. The restructuring started by moving from a one-size fits all to a per-file approach to settings.

A method would bring in a file using the settings object that it was provided. This allowed for fine tuning of individual files and some isolation. Additional separation of concerns was achieved by having the settings object be a cluster of other objects for different aspects of the assembly. Page settings and image settings had their own object and their own method for addressing these concerns.

The file assembly method, then, was largely a process of sequencing these individual calls. It kept the loading of the files and the copying, but most of the other detailed work got kicked out into separate methods. One class of settings, assembly, stayed in the main method, because it impacted the overall assembly. Adding breaks – including section breaks instead of page breaks – remained in the core methods, as did copying to a temp directory was a handled in the main method.

Copying to Temp

One of the problems that we were facing was the new behavior where Word was getting confused regarding synchronization when in a OneDrive synchronized folder. The solution was to do a quick file copy to a temporary directory and open from there. The mechanisms for doing this are straightforward in .NET, so having compiled .NET code that plugged into Word was a powerful combination.

In the End

In the end, the new tool is easier to work with, supports all of the new features we wanted, and allows us to create materials quicker and more reliably than we could ever do by hand, either with individual documents or with a single master document.

Book Review-The History of Iceland

I’m by no means a history buff, but there’s something about Iceland that drew me in and made me want to understand the story behind the island nation in the North Atlantic. The History of Iceland is a tome about the Icelandic people and how this amazing island came to be.

Sucking You In

My interest started with an invitation to deliver a keynote presentation to the Icelandic Records Management Association. Iceland arose from the deep recesses of my memory as a place that seemed wild and different. I accepted the invitation and began learning about the island, the people, and the history.

The more I learned about Iceland, the more interested I became.

Geography

The first bit to understand is where it is. It sits on the fault line between the tectonic plates that North America and Europe sit on. The gaps between the plates created a way for lava to flow up and create the land mass that is Iceland.

Though it’s very far west compared to European countries, the time zone that it observes is GMT/UTC. That means it’s on the same time as London, and five hours ahead of the US Eastern Time Zone. The time zone is as good as any other, since there’s plenty of light in the summer and not much in the winter due to its very high longitude.

However, the relatively low habitation means that it’s a great place to see the northern lights. (Or so I’m told — we did get to see them on our visit.)

Government

The initial settlement was by the Vikings, and because of the rugged nature and some misfortunes, the island struggled to reach and maintain a population of 50,000 people. Modern day Iceland boasts roughly 400,000 people – roughly 40% of which live in the capital of Reykjavik and the surrounding area.

As a result of their heritage – and failure to desire independence – they remained subject to the king of Norway and eventually Denmark. Independence was officially conveyed in 1944. However, in an odd turn of events, not a single shot was fired. Independence was granted without a fight.

Through the ages, Iceland had a largely decentralized government. Though subject to the King of Norway, the King largely left the Icelanders alone. It seems like no one really wanted to put up much of a fight over Iceland. In fact, the Danish rule of Iceland was overthrown by the capture of a single person.

Icelanders have, reportedly, protected their national image of neutrality and defenselessness. Having a national identity in defenselessness is to me – an American – a very foreign concept. However, for a country that’s spent most of its history largely undefended, the concept seems to make sense.

Farming and Fishing

The early history of Iceland required that everyone have or work on a farm. While it seems like fishing would be a primary commercial activity, the Icelandic people are described as sedentary pastoralists. That is, they would live off farms and livestock. Fishing, while done in the winter months, wasn’t a full-time vocation for centuries.

Today, marine products may make up 70-80% of exports, coming down from an estimated high of 90% in the 1940s through 1960s. So, while there are still many farms, most of what is grown locally is eaten locally. Fishing became so important that Iceland extended its fishing rights from 2 miles to 4 miles to 12 miles and, ultimately, to 50 miles and 200 miles. The extension of the fishing around the island was the cause for the only real “war” the island had when the British had a different idea of where their trawlers should be able to fish.

What’s in a Name

Iceland is greener than Greenland, and that’s a bit of marketing by Erik the Red. He figured if it had a good name, then men might like to come there. Iceland had no such marketing-based name, thus there’s a reversal of conditions between Greenland and Iceland.

There’s another name-based uniqueness in Iceland. They don’t use family (or sur-) names. Instead they use patronymics. That is, your second name is the name of your father or mother followed by son or daughter. To trace your lineage, you track back through the names of your ancestors one at a time instead of claiming and continuing a family name. The result, I’m told, is a propensity to just use first names, even if you’re not very familiar with the person to whom you’re speaking.

Christianity

Though initially the island was settled in pagan times with pagan chieftains, the island was converted to Christianity in 999 or 1,000 A.D. through public decree at the big meeting – called Althing – after a dispute was brought forward because of the different laws that were being followed by the pagans and Christians on the island. With a non-existent centralized government, it made sense that there needed to be an agreement on what the laws should be.

Christianity in countries outside of Iceland would ultimately prove to be a boon to Iceland because of the decision that fish didn’t count as meat when it came to fasts – particularly during Lent. There was an increase in demand for fish since it was allowed during fasts.

Christianity becoming the law of the land would ultimately drive literacy but not always in the most straightforward manner. Literacy was defined as the ability to recite Luther’s catechism (summary of principles as a question and answer), while literacy in other countries at the time was the ability to write your name. Despite this, the requirement that children be “literate” before they were confirmed started the process of learning.

Real Literacy

Real literacy came from the humble beginnings of Christianity. Children were required to be literate and this eventually transformed into the kind of literacy (reading and writing) that we expect today. However, adults were often concerned that the effort spent learning to read and write would prevent the children from doing their work on the farm. So, like all good teenagers, the thing that was forbidden became the thing they did. They would often learn how to read and write in secret despite the concerns and sometimes instructions of their parents.

Today, Iceland has a love affair with books – both reading and writing. Much of this love affair can be attributed to generations of literacy – and probably at least to some degree due to the lack of distractions. Radio and televisions service came to Iceland late – and only due to the American base.

Social Support

A network of neighbors and churches along with some interesting economic policies kept unemployment low in Iceland. Unemployment didn’t officially exist in a unified way until 1956. Perhaps that’s because being able to work – but not working – was considered a crime. It may also be related to the fact that if you had received public assistance you would likely not be allowed to marry. (Which was mostly a sign that you intended to have children.)

The other policies that led to people working was as high rate of inflation that made it useful to spend your money when you had it – generating a demand for labor – so that it would not become devalued. This high demand for labor and the societal stigma surrounding not working likely kept the rate low.

As I prepared travel to Iceland to get a chance to learn more about these amazing people and this amazing land, I looked at my research as a kind of social support as I felt more prepared to take in all that Iceland had to offer. The History of Iceland is amazing. I’m grateful to have read it before I experienced the island.

Confident Change Management Launch

Today is launch day. It’s the culmination of my career to date, over a decade of research, and nine months of seemingly endless days creating what we believe is the most comprehensive change management course available. It’s designed to help anyone become confident with their ability to deliver change in their organization.

The course is available as an online, on-demand course that has over 800 pages of printed instruction, exercises, and examples with 11.5 hours of video instruction. I recognized that, when you need to learn how to do change management, you typically need to learn how to do it now. It’s not some wishful thinking about something that might be helpful. Most people I know were given a project to change the way the organization works that needed to be done immediately with little or no preparation.

The course has an optional facilitated application sessions component that can be purchased. It is ten weekly two-hour sessions, with an additional one hour of introduction in the first session. They are designed to deepen your understanding of the content and provide you a community of people that you can ask hard questions and get honest answers. The first five sessions are exercise reviews, and the second five sessions are facilitated discussions around the barriers that make it difficult to be successful with change in your organization.

I’ve spent decades helping organizations of all sizes implement technology changes. We’d deploy SharePoint and Office 365 and realize that we needed to transform the way the organization communicates and collaborates. This experience taught me what works and doesn’t work. I backed this up with research on change, influence, psychology, marketing, and dozens of other topics to ensure that the successes we were seeing weren’t flukes, they were supported by the best thinking and research.

All of this is bundled in a layered learning approach that is designed to make the process of understanding the information easy and quick. If you just need a quick basic understanding, you can watch the video (at 2x speed, even). If you want a solid understanding, you can read the student handbook and do the exercises. If you need an even more detailed understanding, you can follow the references in the materials – and there’s a six-page listing of references included as a part of the course.

The online course lists for $2,999, but until July 31st, you can enter the code LAUNCH at checkout and receive a $1,000 discount. The facilitated application sessions are available separately for $999, but you’re offered an automatic $500 discount when you purchase the online course and the facilitated application sessions at the same time.

We understand that you may not be in the position to make this kind of an investment in your success today. We’ve also made available a free Introduction to Change Management Course, which explains why change is about people and not technology or models. We’ve also made available a change management resource toolkit that is designed to make it easier to accomplish change in your organization – whether or not you take the Confident Change Management Course.

Book Review-Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen

Every brand has a story, but does every brand tell a story? Unfortunately, the answer is no. Not every brand has a coherent enough message that it does tell a story. That’s what Building a StoryBrand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen is out to fix. The interesting thing about the work is that, when you’ve seen the root works it’s drawn from, there’s a sense of familiarity and clarity that makes you wonder what level of detail is right.

Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey is a classic framework that’s been used for movies and stories. In A Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell explains that every civilization with stories have a commonality. These stories all follow a predictable 12-step pattern. I was first exposed to the idea by Nancy Dwarte in her book Resonate. Her explanation wasn’t perfect, but it was a great launching point. When asking my good friend Heather Newman for additional resources, she suggested that I look at StoryBrand as a possible source. While I don’t believe that Building a StoryBrand is the best framework for building a hero’s journey, it’s a simplified model that can make sense as a starting point.

It was in my review of Story Genius that I first wrote about the journey and the criticisms that it’s too formulaic. However, in the context of marketing like Building a StoryBrand talks about or, more broadly, for corporate communicators trying to encourage change, I think that the framework is helpful. Without a framework, it’s hard for someone who isn’t a professional to get started. The journey is sort of a paint-by-numbers deal: you know the basics of what goes where, and you use what little – or great – skill you have to paint those colors in.

Who’s the Hero

It was in a darkened room at a comedy club when I first heard that you should never be the hero of your own story. Early on in our training, we were taught that the audience should see you as relatable and not better than them. That meant we had to be careful to tell stories in the third person if we were really a hero. (See I Am a Comedian for more about my comedy training.) Donald Miller makes a similar statement about your organization’s brand. The hero of the brand’s story isn’t the organization. The hero is the customer.

If your organization isn’t the hero, then what is the organization’s role? The organization’s role is that of the mentor. Your organization is the helper who enables the hero to be great.

Clear not Complete

Many organizations develop solutions that are complete and therefore complex. Their products have the greatest features – but those features aren’t what people buy. They buy clarity. They buy what they understand. They buy a solution they feel they can sink their teeth into. When designing a StoryBrand, the goal isn’t to check every box and enable every feature. The goal is to make your brand understandable, so that people will feel okay buying it.

Clarity can come through a clear message about who your customers are, what they’re facing, and what you do to help. It can come from speaking in a language that they understand.

The Internal External Split

Embedded into the hero’s journey is the split between the outside environment, circumstances, and behaviors when compared to the inner thinking world of the hero and those around him. There’s a natural tendency for organizations to sell their products and services on the features that will drive external rewards. However, the actual reason that people buy is to address their internal needs.

Campbell makes the point that each hero struggles with their being up to the task. Every hero doubts that they’re the right one to accomplish the mission. It’s the meeting with the mentor (one of Campbell’s 12 stages) where the hero realizes that they are the one. They are intended to accomplish this mission.

Discovering internal needs isn’t easy. Clayton Christensen in Competing Against Luck (and many of his other works) describes the process of figuring out how to optimize products as the process of figuring out what job consumers are “hiring” a product or service to do. The famous example is the milkshake being hired as a treat for children in the late afternoons and a treat for adults in the morning. During the morning commute, consumers want the milkshake to last. As a treat for children at night, the goal is the opposite – to make it possible for kids to eat it quicker so the parents can move on with their evenings. It’s one product with two different jobs to be done – or two different stories using the same actors.

Caring, The Challenge, and Getting Married

Graeme Newell and Stan Phelps in Red Goldfish speak about how consumers are changing their buying habits, and they’re looking for more responsible organizations. They make it clear that you need to communicate the good work you’re doing in a way that employees and customers can resonate with. Miller makes the point that you must tell people you care – or they won’t know. I’m not convinced this is the case, but it’s never a bad policy to share that you care about someone.

The problem is that even if you care about them, there’s no impetus to action. They need a trigger, a challenge, a push into the world of resolving their challenges. They need to have that moment of conviction when they decide they need to address the challenges.

However, the challenge has to be such that it seems more like asking the customer out on a date – a chance to get to know one another – rather than a marriage. Too often, the calls to action and requests an organization makes are too large too quickly. They tend to scare prospects off more than draw them in.

Being Scared is the Salt

Salt is an interesting ingredient. The right amount is imperceptible. Having too much salt in food will taste bad. However, a lack of any salt will feel off. Many recipes don’t work without a pinch of salt. The use of fear – or the prospect’s perception of fear – as a part of your pitch is important, but, just like salt, too much fear can create problems and prevent forward motion. The goal in your messaging is to explain what they’ll miss out on without your solution and what the risks are and prepare them to be able to say yes – without pushing so hard that they’re turned off.

Fear can be paralyzing, or it can be motivating. The big difference between the two is that paralyzing fear is generally too much fear.

Transforming or Being Transformed

StoryBrand proposes that everyone wants to transform. I’d argue this is incorrect. What’s correct is that everyone wishes they would transform or be in the process of transforming. I’d also argue that the true sentiment is they would like to see that they’ve been transformed and that it’s in the past. Learning you have done the transformation is more powerful than any recognition you might see.

Not all writers enjoy writing – but most enjoy having written. Being done with something offers the sense of completion – and accomplishment. Done well, the process of writing can be frustrating, difficult, and seemingly endless. Managing Transitions explains that we want to have the results of the change – but we don’t necessarily want the change process itself.

We want to have a clearer message that will resonate better with our audience, but we don’t necessarily enjoy the process. However, the process of Building a StoryBrand leads to having a clearer message, and that can be worth it.

Book Review-Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain

I think, therefore I am. Reason never had a stronger advocate than Descartes. However, Descartes encapsulated all that is human into our rational thought, and in doing so separated the inseparable connection between reason and emotion – at least, that’s Antonio Damasio’s argument in Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. Damasio’s in good company. How Emotions Are Made and The Tell-Tale Brain both agree that the relationship between emotions and reason is complex. Daniel Kahneman expresses a similar sentiment in Thinking, Fast and Slow when he explains that our automatic processing (System 1) can mislead our rational thinking brain (System 2).

Friends or Foes

At the heart of Damasio’s argument is the belief that emotions can be helpful to rational behavior – that without the capacity for emotions, rational thought is robbed of its power and drive. Through the study of patients with neurological trauma in various regions of their brain and using neural imaging (mostly fMRI), his research led him to a hypothesis of somatic markers that inform the reasoning process.

The reasoning is basically that the primary emotions we feel shape the way we reason our way through problems.

Mind and Body

There’s a reasonable case to be made that what we attribute to our brains occurs more broadly in our bodies. Our hearts and our digestive systems both have substantial neurons. There’s direct imaging to couple patterns of activation in our brains to various emotional states and thinking patterns. However, that imaging doesn’t preclude activation in other parts of our body.

Given the electrochemical nature of the signaling the brain uses – and the apparent ability for the heart to reject that signaling – it’s not hard to believe that sometimes our bodies have a mind of their own.

Similarly, learning from the experience with those suffering from phantom limb syndrome and the treatments that rely on creating a visualization of the amputated arm, it’s a reasonable hypothesis that our brains rely on the constant signaling from our bodies to shape their processing. When robbed of this data, they sometimes end up in altered states. It seems like the body is our ground state – our frame of reference – for our thinking, and without it, we’re not in our right minds.

Hardware and Software

One of the tragedies of our modern society is that we vilify those with psychological issues. Those people for whom we cannot find biological defect are considered diabolical. Those with observable physical issues due to disease or trauma are somehow not considered accountable for their actions like those with mental illnesses are.

It seems as if we’ve developed the attitude that hardware (physical) issues are not the responsibility of the person but somehow software (psychological) issues are their responsibility. While this makes little sense, the prejudice exists and creates guilt and shame for those who are suffering.

Tabulae Rasae

The truth is that we’re not a blank slate when we’re born, nor are we fully written. (See The Blank Slate and No Two Alike for more on this line of thinking.) We’re born with enough preprogrammed in so that we can survive and a set of genetic factors that move us towards some ways of growth, but we’re substantially formed by the environment that we’re raised in. Adverse childhood experiences have a substantial impact on our adult lives. (See How Children Succeed for more.) Our adult diseases can even come from fetal origins. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers for more.)

If Damasio is correct, then the pages are rewritten as our body changes, and our emotions are formed from the signals our bodies are sending us. If he’s right, then that is truly Descartes’ Error.

Video Studio 3.0

It was 2017 when I last shared about the video studio and the configuration. Since then, we’ve made some important upgrades, like retiring the two Canon XH A1s in favor of a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 6K. We also added two teleprompters (Glide Gear and Magicue), a jib, and a few other pieces to pull it together. Let’s take a step back and talk about the problem.

The Limitations

Most of the time, we’re shooting video for the internet, and that means a final resolution of 1280×720. The limitation of the Canon XH A1s – 1440×1080 wasn’t a problem. However, some of the more recent stuff has been going to a final resolution of 1920×1080 – so the Canons weren’t going to cut it. We have the Nikon D750, but it has a 10 minute recording limit.

We also recognized that even though we had managed most of the angular deflection of our eyes while recording, it was becoming more apparent that we weren’t looking at the lens of the camera when we were recording – we were looking right below it.

Finally, we didn’t have a good way to get overhead shots. For some of the infection prevention videos that we were shooting for Terri, we needed a way to show people multiple angles of handwashing and hand rub.

The Camera

There are a lot of factors that go into picking a digital video camera. For us, it needed to work primarily as a studio camera and secondarily as a camera that we could travel with. Blackmagic Design was a reasonable choice if for no other reason than we’ve had the ATEM and liked it. We landed on the Pocket Cinema 6K for two key reasons. First, it would use standard Canon EF lenses, giving us some flexibility. Second, it would allow us to do cropped frame to 4K for the foreseeable future.

The Good

There’s a lot of great things about the camera. We married the camera with a Tamron 28-300mm lens, which is great. The images are clear, and the minimum F/3.5 isn’t a problem in the studio, where we’ve got plenty of light. The screen is good. The menus are intuitive. The recorded video is very clean. The adapter cord allows us to attach the Rode NTG-1.

We ended up adding a SmallRig cage to it to provide mount points and protect it. We decided to add a top carry handle and we grabbed a few Magic Arms – double-headed threaded articulation. Overall, we’re very happy with the camera, but it didn’t come without a few issues.

I had some trouble with the CFast card I bought to record on. Ultimately, I decided to transition towards recording to portable storage drives. The onboard USB-C port allows for SSDs (solid state drives) to be attached through an adapter or enclosure. I could then slide in a pair of 1TB SSDs – one at a time. They record great, and a simple USB3 adapter cable allows me to pull the data off them and on to the editing bay at about 300MBps, or roughly 2.5x the recording rate. From a workflow perspective, this means that I can be offloading recorded information at the same time that we’re recording more. Given that 1TB is about 4 hours of recording at the settings we use – 4K ProRes – we can basically swap drives during the middle of a day of recording.

The Bad

Perhaps the biggest disappointment was the problems with the USB-C port that’s on the camera. It was supposed to be that you could power the camera with USB-C, but it wouldn’t charge the camera. However, the language of marketing copy kept shifting, as I was digging into the problems I had with why my USB-C power pack wasn’t able to keep the camera powered. The camera would turn itself off after about 40 minutes. Ultimately, I got the answer that it wouldn’t work that way. If you must, you can charge the onboard battery with the USB-C – when the camera is powered off.

I ended up getting a V Mount/V-Lock battery plate with a D-Tap, a D-Tap cable that would connect to the camera, and an adapter between Sony F970 batteries and V Mount. That all required a cheese plate to allow for mounting. Assembled, it’s good. Finding all the pieces wasn’t easy.

I settled on this approach, because I hate having to carry around so many kinds of batteries. When I got the light panels, I got a Watson Duo LCD Charger, which charges the F970 batteries they take. With this solution, I’ve got one set of batteries that the light panels or the camera can use. The charger also means I can recharge the batteries from a wall or any 12-volt lighter socket.

I have no idea how long the camera will run on battery power in this configuration – but it’s a very long time.

The Teleprompters

I knew that I wanted a teleprompter and was trying to get one without spending an arm and a leg, that led me to the Glide Gear TMP100. It was designed for a tablet, but I expected I could use a 10″ monitor. The key consideration for me was that it be full resolution HD. What I didn’t account for was that the monitor was substantially thicker than what the rig was designed for. It required some modifications to get things to work out, and even then, it wasn’t quite right. Ultimately, that led us to a 19″ teleprompter from Draco called Magicue. It’s much bigger and better in many ways – and of course, more expensive.

For both, I needed to address the problem of the mirror flip. Most people do special software to do this, but for our workflow, having the ability to use Microsoft Word or Microsoft PowerPoint was important. We produce video every week, and we have guests renting the studio. It had to be easy. That required a Decimator MD-Cross to flip the signal. It’s like the Decimator MD-HX that we use to frame up signals for the Blackmagic ATEM – except that it supports flipping.

The other thing that I needed for both was a Z-Tilt Tripod Head/Mount. In the teleprompters, getting the camera positioned right is critical. Trying to do that on a micro-ball head just wasn’t stable or easy enough. Since you don’t need side to side, the Z-Tilt is perfect.

Glide Gear

In addition to the issue mentioned above with mounting the monitor, the hood on the Glide Gear was a problem. It wouldn’t seal around the edges of the lens. That’s important both for recording quality, but also because, if you don’t seal it, you get light pollution through the back of the glass, and you can’t read the teleprompter.

Because of the dimensions, it also necessitated a fixed 28mm lens for the Blackmagic to get the right angle and get close enough to the glass to not see the frame. The lens isn’t much crisper than the Tamron 28-300mm – but it’s lighter and much shorter.

Ultimately, we put the Sony DHR-11 on it, since it’s a compact camera and works well on a mini-ball head, and its zoom makes it possible to control what the camera sees (and doesn’t see) through the teleprompter.

We’re set up for this as a backup teleprompter, but it’s dwarfed by the Magicue 19″.

Magicue

Not withstanding the issues with the Glide Gear itself, the problem was that it’s small. The farther away you place the camera the less well you can read text. So, the problem is simply one of being able to read. The Magicue solves that problem. It’s also a more adaptable solution. You can adjust the tilt of the mirror – where it was fixed with the Glide Gear. It sounds like a small thing, but in this case, it counts. When you’re trying to get as wide a shot as possible, it’s sometimes necessary to tilt the monitor down just a bit rather than being horizontal – so it’s not seen by the camera.

The hood for over the camera is great. It seals around the lens well, and it doesn’t fall into the field of view as the Glide Gear’s shield tended to do. It even feels sturdier. Of course, you’d expect that with the greater cost – but it’s really nice.

The one hitch to the Magicue is the monitor – and, in truth, it’s an inexcusable limitation. The unit ships with a monitor that is 19″ diagonally but on a 4:3 format. On the surface, it looks good. Integrated signal flipping, SDI, HDMI, and VGA support. The detailed problem is the 1280×1024 resolution.

The challenge with a monitor for a teleprompter is that it needs to be bright, so that means just any monitor may not do. Because the image is reflected and some of the light is lost, it needs to be brighter than you’d normally need a screen to be. More importantly, you need it to be the right size. It needs to be about 19.5″ diagonally on a 16:9 format, because that format allows the width to stay inside the reflected area of the mirror. On the brightness side, it’s hard. The monitor they provide is 300cd/m2, which is moderately bright. Most monitors available off the shelf are 250 cd/m2 at best – and few places are selling 19.5″ in the consumer market these days. I did manage to find a ViewSonic VA2055SM that works fairly well, though I’ve got to turn the brightness all the way up.

There are other options that even get to 1000 cd/m2, but they’re specialty and command the specialty price tag. For now, I’ve decided that the monitor is OK. If I need to do something different in the future, I can.

Get Jibby with It

There are just some shots that are difficult to get without the right gear. The overhead shot is one of those. We wanted the overhead shot for the infection prevention demonstration videos, but also because I thought we were going to use them for the change management course we started building. Though we decided against using it for the change management course, it’s become an important part of how we can shoot demonstration video.

A jib is fundamentally a long arm that you mount a camera on the end of. In our case, the PROAIM Astra is an 8 foot jib that allows us to get a camera overhead. We elected to put the Nikon D750 on it, so we could shoot front with the Blackmagic and overhead at the same time. This created a handful of problems. First, the D750 has a camera door that ejects via the bottom, which isn’t convenient to change. We had purchased a vertical grip for it that it’s much easier to add/remove the battery, so we used it. The other problem was that the Jib is set to keep the platform vertical, so we had to get a 90-degree downward turn – and a micro ball head wasn’t going to cut it. We turned to a full tripod head that has great control for locking things off.

We had one last problem. The primary lens we use on the Nikon D750 is a Nikkor 28-300mm f/3.5 that’s great for all around shooting but also extremely heavy. Facing downward, we can lock out the zoom and stay at 28mm or let it zoom all the way in and end up at 300mm. Neither really works from 4 feet above your head (to stay out of the way of the Blackmagic camera.) That why we picked up a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lens. It’s a beautiful lens and has a reasonable zoom. We’d love to add a Nikkor 85mm f/1.8 lens to the studio, because it might be a tighter and better shot for some things, but it’s definitely a nice-to-have, not a must-have, for us.

The only real challenge for the jib is managing the counterweights. It’s sometimes interesting to get the camera on one end and get weights on the other to counterbalance. I had some 6lb mic boom counterweights that I had available, so I threw them into small bags and hung them on the post that is designed for regular bar weights. It’s not perfect, but it works.

The other thing for the overhead shot was to add a black rug, since our existing rug was a bit too distracting.

Miscellaneous

There were other things we rearranged, most notably the tower that used to hold the two cameras. It’s rather bare now, as we’ve removed two camera preview TVs and one switcher preview monitor, and have left the stand with little more than one preview monitor for the ATEM. There’s more gear on the floor now on various light stands and tripods, but we’re in a much more flexible position to be able to capture content in ways that make it seem seamless.

As you can tell, we’re in a much better place, not perfect still, but we’ve got a better picture, and we’ve got more flexibility to get the shots we want.

Book Review-Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

What can you do to make people more likely to accept your proposals? That’s the key question Robert Cialdini answers in Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. He’s the same author who wrote the classic book Influence. His point is that the most successful sales professionals aren’t persuading in their actual ask. They’re preparing the person to be more receptive before they make the ask.

Trust

Influence has very little to say about trust. Pre-Suasion acknowledges the power of trust to shape the receptivity of someone – both positively and negatively. If you’re interested in trust, see my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited. If I have one criticism of Cialdini’s work, it’s the limited weight he assigns to the role of trust in a situation – and the ability that we can signal others to trust us.

The homage he did pay to the topic was in the form of a story: a sales professional asked a couple if he could be allowed to let himself out, get something from his car, and let himself back in. This fairly innocuous request – they were, after all, home and had met him – subtly changed him to be the kind of person they’d let walk into their home. This was a nudge that made the difference in at least some people, as his sales performance demonstrated.

Closing Windows

Cialdini believes that many of the tactics he describes in Pre-Suasion have a limited lifespan. The techniques open a limited time when a person can expect a biased response. Contrast this with Influence, where he explains six factors that have a much longer lifespan of usefulness. The impact of being allowed to walk in their home may last for the current visit – when he walked in unescorted – but sometime later, that effect may have been completely wiped out.

As a result, it’s not just the fact that you were able to execute a move to shift someone’s perception but that these were timed so they could be effective at the time of the ask.

The Future Vision

The actions we’re asking for won’t happen unless we can create a compelling vision for the end state. We can’t expect we’re going to get anyone to move if they don’t know where the destination is – and how we intend to help them get there. Few people would start down the road without knowing where they’re going, yet when we try to persuade people, we often fail to help them see the vision we have and why it’s desirable for them.

Hope, as C.R. Snyder says in The Psychology of Hope, is made up of willpower and waypower. Willpower is the desire to see the vision of the future come to fruition. Waypower is learning what steps can be used to help us get there. In casting our vision for people and asking them to join us on the journey, we must ensure that we share both the destination and we must help them understand how they’re going to get there.

Identifying with the Change

If you really want someone to take action, make some aspect of your ask seem like it’s the kind of thing that people like them say yes to – even if you had to ask for smaller commitments to get them to focus on this aspect of their identity. If they’re civic-minded – due to identifying as that after an earlier, smaller ask – they’re more likely to respond when asked to do something civic-minded, if the ask is framed in a civic framework rather than a more generic framework.

Sometimes all it takes to create the connection is a question. You can ask someone if they believe they are some desirable trait – for instance, adventurous. Most people, when asked if they’re likely to have a desirable trait, will say yes. Once they have identified with the desirable trait, they’ll feel compelled to behave in a way that’s consistent with their newfound identity in the trait. If you ask someone if they’re adventurous, they’re likely to say yes, and if they do, they’re more likely to be willing to take a risk to fill out a survey, participate in an interview, and so on.

Desirable Difficulty

In training and development circles, there’s an awareness that the difficulty level for effective learning is a narrow band. It needs to be significantly challenging enough that people feel they’ve conquered the learning but not too challenging. It can’t be too easy, because people will feel as if it’s beneath them. The same is true of people and their ability to engage in the information. Dr. Erikson used to wait for times when a truck was struggling to climb the hill outside his office and would then lower his voice. This forced the person in his office to lean in and listen a bit more intently, subconsciously cueing them that they should pay more attention to what is being said.

When we cause people to listen a bit more intently, they’re naturally inclined to pay more attention to what they’ve heard.

Unconscious Awareness

Numerous studies have affirmed our ability to be influenced by things – without us being consciously aware of them. We can be influenced by a word or an image even when we don’t believe we are. The study of judges’ responses to parole hearings – where they would grant more releases in the morning and right after lunch rather than either late in the morning (before lunch) or at the end of the day – proves that we can be influenced by things (like hunger) even when we’re not conscious of it.

Sometimes, the ads we see are shaped to fly under our conscious radar but leave a sticky residue on our subconscious to pull us back to a website that we visited. The ads may seem repetitive to the trained observer and the creator of the ad; however, it may fly under the radar to the point where it creates an affinity, even if it’s not conscious.

One-Way Bias

Another way that marketers bias our opinions is by asking about our opinion of their products – and only their products. The detailed evaluation of a product – without considering competitive offerings – tends to improve our perception of the product and not the rest of the market. Perhaps in our need to be heard and understood, we value those people – and, by extension, products – that are interested in what we have to say.

The Face of Blame

We tend to assign accountability to people – and more specifically to the people we see. If we see people, we assume that they’re causal to whatever is happening. The president is assumed to have the impact on the economy, but most economists agree that the factors that lead to economic stability, growth, or decline take place well before the current president is elected. If you’re going to be interviewed as a witness to any sort of crime, you may want to think about positioning of the video recorder. When we see people speaking about something, we believe them to be causal to the situation, so a friendly chat as a witness may move you into the suspect category if you’re being filmed and others are going to watch it. In that case, you want to make sure that you’re not the only one on camera – looking straight or nearly straight into it.

In fact, if you happen to be convinced or coerced into signing a confession – even if you renounce the confession later – you’ve got an 81% likelihood of being convicted, even if the confession is false (that is, if you’re really innocent).

Message Timing

It’s believed that sex sells – and it’s certainly true that sometimes it does – but not always. If someone was in the market for a relationship, they spent more time looking at images of attractive people. However, for those who weren’t in the market for a relationship, they spent no additional time looking at the images of the attractive people. The message is that maybe that wandering eye is a sign that they’re trying to keep their options open or they’re looking to “upgrade.”

There’s more to it than that. Sometimes you want to sell being a part of a crowd. It’s about belonging and being a part of something. Other times, you want to sell to the message that you’ll be able to distance yourself from the crowd. It turns out that, when you’re watching something frightening, advertisements about belonging work better than those that have you stepping out from the crowd. Conversely, if you’re watching something that’s romantic, messages of separating yourself from the pack work better. (This is perhaps to give you that added edge in your own romantic endeavors.)

Mimicry

Have you ever found yourself in a conversation with someone and realized that you were drifting your language towards theirs? Maybe it was the words they were using or just the inflection of their voice. Perhaps it was the southern drawl when you’re down south. This natural tendency to mimic other humans is built in – and it’s powerful. Waitresses who more closely matched the speaking style of the diners got larger tips. Even Larry King and his guests would align to each other’s messages. If the person was higher in stature than Larry, he’d adapt his speaking. If they were lower, they’d often adapt their speaking to match his.

Mimicry works throughout the animal kingdom. The more we feel like we belong, the more that we feel comfortable. (See The Deep Water of Affinity Groups for more.)

Blurring of Identities

There’s a fallacy about ourselves. We believe that we’ve always been the way we are today. We accept changes begrudgingly. We look back at our previous pictures and recordings of ourselves and wonder how that person could be us. There’s a sort of tension between the acknowledgement that the picture was us and the simultaneous belief that we’ve always been the way we are now. We believe our identities are fixed points instead of the relatively fluid and floating things that they are. Kurt Lewin described behavior as a function of environment and person. While he didn’t note that the person is constantly changing, he did acknowledge that our behavior is not completely dependent upon ourselves. Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

The fluidity of our identity can be exploited to create the illusion of greater capabilities and a deeper connection. When we work closely with someone, there’s a temporary merging or comingling of identities. We tend to attribute more than 100% of the benefits to ourselves and the other person, because, at some level, we’re not completely distinct any longer.

Distracting Environment

If I wanted you to accept my assertions here without question, I’d deliver this to you while you’re distracted. I’d put you on a bus. I’d have you in a noisy environment where concentration is required. The cognitive capacity to question what your hearing is a secondary step – not a primary one. In distracted situations, people will often accept what they’re hearing as fact, even if it is absurd on its face. That’s the trick sometimes used by marketers who are trying to get you to make a quick decision – and by social engineers hoping to get one past you.

If you want to figure out how to avoid the traps that are laid out for you, maybe you should do a bit of pre-reading of Pre-Suasion.