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About Influence, perceived Authority and Freedom

The last set of books I bought from Amazon also counted one I had already read - but then a revised version of it (and I do tend to re-read books anyway, so no harm done really).

Robert Cialdine's "Influence, the Psychology of Persuation" - revised


Robert's book focuses on how we human beings so often take the easy way out when it comes to making a decision. A decision to buy something, to accept something, to agree to something and many other daily decisions. From fairly simple matters to big life changing matters. We tend to take the easy way out.

He calls it the click/whir reaction: we encounter a situation that requires us to think and decide, something triggers the easy way-out option (the click, the correct tape is placed in our head) and we take an almost snap decision (the whir, the standard message on the tape - or here: the triggered standard reaction onto which we base our decision).

Triggers: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, authority, social proof, liking and scarcity

Some triggers are scary reading: the title of doctor has proven to be enough to follow instructions that could (has) result(ed) in administering wrong medicine (by highly trained nurses), the pin-striped suit is enough for a crowd to cross a busy road because a pin-striped suit does so and they simply follow.

And we all do, because authority and social proof of what others do, say gives us the easy way out and we don't have to think (takes time, plus we risk missing out) for ourselves. We're trained in this click/whir response since childhood.
(Funny example of this click/whir reaction can also be seen on Drew McLellan's blog in his post "How potent can brand be?")

Cialdini gives per trigger solutions or realisations to prevent you from being persuaded by this click/whir reaction - hard to do when it seems to be ingrained in our Western Society.

Eric Frank Russell's The Great Explosion

The book, specially the chapter about authority, reminded me also of one of my long time favourite Science Fiction Novel: The Great Explosion - Eric Frank Russell. The only real science fiction bit is the characters travel in a space ship, the classic book is more about bureaucracy and mindless following of rules (indeed. again click/whir).

To make my point how ingrained we are I copied the following from The Great Explosion to show how we (often mistakenly) accept authority to know it all, to guide us. The copied text starts when a crew-member is sent into a nearby town on the planet the ship has just landed on and first tries to find the government/authority have failed (misserable). His quest to comply with the orders he received goes like this:

Tenth Engineer Harrison reached the first street on either side of which were small detached houses with neat gardens back and front. A plump, amiable looking woman was trimming a hedge halfway along. He pulled up near to her, politely touched his cap.

“Scuse me, ma’am, I’m looking for the biggest man in town.”

She part-turned, gave him no more than a casual glance, pointed her clipping-shears southward. “That would be Jeff Baines. First on the right and second on the left. It’s a small delicatessen.”

“Thank you.”

He moved on, hearing the steady snip-snip resume behind him. First on the right. He curved around a long, low, rubber-balled truck parked by the corner. Second on the left. Three children pointed at him dramatically and yelled shrill warnings that his back wheel was going round. He found the delicatessen, propped a pedal on the curb, gave his machine a reassuring pat before he went inside and had a look at Jeff.
There was plenty to see. Jeff had four chins, a twenty-two inch neck, and a paunch that stuck out half a yard. An ordinary mortal could have got into either leg of his pants without bothering to take off his diving suit. Jeff Baines weighed at least three hundred pounds and undoubtedly was the biggest man in town.

“Wanting something?” inquired Jeff, lugging it up from far down.

“Not exactly.” Harrison eyed the succulent food display and decided that anything unsold by nightfall was not thrown out to the cats. “I’m looking for a certain person.”

“Are you now? Usually I avoid that sort—but every man to his taste.” He plucked a fat lip while he mused a moment, then suggested, “Try Sid Wilcock over on Dane Avenue. He’s the most certain man I know.”

“I didn’t mean it that way,” said Harrison. “I meant that I’m searching for somebody particular.”

“Then why the blazes didn’t you say so in the first place?” Jeff Baines worked over the new problem, finally offered, “Tod Green ought to fit that specification topnotch. You’ll find him in the shoe-shop at the end of this road. He’s particular enough for anyone. He’s downright finicky.”

“You persist in misunderstanding me,” Harrison told him and then went on to make it plainer. “I’m hunting a local bigwig so that I can invite him to a feed.”

Resting himself on a high stool which he overlapped by a foot all round, Jeff Baines eyed him peculiarly. “There’s something lopsided about this. Indeed, it seems crazy to me.”


“You’re going to use up a considerable slice of your life finding a fellow who wears a wig, especially if you insist that it’s got to be a big one. And then again, where’s the point of dumping an ob on him merely because he uses a bean-blanket?”


He groaned low down, then informed, “I’m chasing the mayor.”

“What is that?”

“Number one. The big boss. The sheriff, pohanko, or whatever you call him.”

“I’m still no wiser,” she said, genuinely puzzled.

“The man who runs this town. The leading citizen.”

“Make it a little clearer,” she suggested, trying hard to help him. “Who or what should this citizen be leading?”

“You and Seth and everyone else.” He waved a hand to encompass the entire burg.

Frowning, she asked, “Leading us where?”

“Wherever you’re going.”

She gave up, beaten, and signed the white-coated waiter to come to her assistance.

“Matt, are we going any place?”

“How should I know?”

“Well, ask Seth then.”

He went away, came back with, “Seth says he’s going home at six o’clock and what’s it to you?”

“Anyone leading him there?” she inquired.

“Don’t be daft,” Matt advised. “He knows his own way and he’s cold sober.”

Harrison chipped in. “Look, I don’t see why there should be so much difficulty about all this. Just tell me where I can find an official, any official—the police chief, the city treasurer, the mortuary keeper or even a mere justice of the peace.”

“What’s an official?” asked Matt, openly baffled.

The complete story is available online here - look for chapter 9 if you want to find out immediately if Harrision did manage to find an official - it does make you think about what we have come to take for granted.

Freedom to decide for ourselves does seem - again - further away from us than ever. Until we realise that the click/whir response is making the decisions and not our own free mind.

Freedom - I won't (#f_iw)


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