Influencer by Patterson et al

Influencer is about changing behavior, whether of an individual, a group, or an entire nation.  The premise of the book is that any behavior can be changed.

Behavior is changed by searching for vital behaviors, and once they’re determined using six sources of influence to change them: personal motivation, personal ability, social motivation, social ability, structural motivation, and structural ability.

The book is full of case studies from scientific research and business to show how the various concepts are applied.  Whether it’s changing the behavior of hardened drug addicts and criminals into productive citizens, stopping the spread of aids, or turning around a software business plagued by missed deadlines and cost overruns into a business that executes its business plan and meets deadlines in a timely manner, there are examples of applications of the concepts to a wide variety of behavioral problems.

I first listened to the audio version of the book, and then checked out the book from the library.  While the narration is good, it would be very hard for me to apply the concepts from the audio version alone.  To be useful, I think you need the book.

Applying the concepts will take some work; it’s not a quick fix.  Just determining the vital behaviors can take some subtlety.  I’ve yet to apply the ideas in the book, but I do intend to.

I recommend the book to anyone who wants to change their own behavior, or the behavior of others.

Switch by Chip & Dan Heath

Switch is about how to change behavior, whether of individuals or organizations or societies.  The book is full of research and case studies to help you do just that.  It’s well worth a read; I know I’ll read it again.

They use Jonathon Haidt’s metaphor (which he in turn took from the Buddha) of the elephant (our emotions) and the rider (our reason) to represent the tremendous inertia involved in accomplishing change.

Change in behavior requires three things: clearly state the desired behavior (direct the rider); engage the emotions (motivate the elephant); change a hard problem (teaching people to think differently) into an easy problem (give them smaller popcorn buckets), i.e., change the situation by shaping the path.  The trick is to accomplish all three simultaneously.

In order to direct the rider, we need to learn to look for behaviors that lead to positive outcomes.  They point to research that indicates human nature tends to do just the opposite: we focus on behavior that leads to negative outcomes.  Looking for positive behaviors is itself a learned behavior that requires some practice.

We need to clearly describe for the rider what the critical moves are in order to accomplish the positive behavior.  The most successful goals are behavioral goals, not outcomes.  Until you can describe an idea for change as a behavior, you’re not ready to change.

Show the rider his destination in a way that captures his imagination.  In other words, show the rider how changing his behavior will change his identity.

The elephant has all the inertia.  That inertia is the embodied feelings of the elephant.  To move the elephant you have to move it emotionally; visually, sensually, or via a story.  Numbers won’t move the elephant.

Another way to motivate the elephant is to make it think it’s almost there, that the destination is close.  Break a large task into small steps, and get the elephant to move one step at a time.  Make the change small enough they can’t help but score a victory.

We adopt identities throughout our lives.  Make your change a matter of identity rather than consequences.

Flow (P.S.) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

The book is about the “flow state” of consciousness: what it is, how it comes about, and the consequences of its presence or absence in a person’s life.

In particular it describes the current existential malaise of western society, describes the flow state, and presents it as a kind of tonic both for the individual and for society as a whole.  It discusses flow in the context of physical, mental, vocational, and social activity, dealing with the accidents of life, and meaning making; and how it can heighten the enjoyment of each.

He defines the flow state as: “…a sense that one’s skills are adequate to cope with the challenges at hand, in a goal-directed, rule-bound action system that provides clear clues as to how well one is performing.  Concentration is so intense that there is no attention left over to think about anything irrelevant, or to worry about problems.  Self-consciousness disappears, and the sense of time becomes distorted.  An activity that produces such experiences is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, with little concern for what they will get out of it, even when it is difficult, or dangerous.”

Flow activities, “…have rules that require the learning of skills, set up goals, provide feedback, make control possible, facilitate concentration and involvement…”

The book is often cited as one of the seminal works of positive psychology.  At times, particularly in the beginning of the book, it feels like a harangue.  But the insights found in the later chapters are worth waiting for.  The content is useful and applicable to one’s own life.  While I may not read it again from cover to cover, I am certainly likely to refer to it from time to time.