Influence 51

The Five Principles of influence

By synthesizing insights from domains such as social psychology, cognitive neuroscience, and behavioral economics, Influence 51 has developed The Five Principles of Influence. If correctly understood and properly applied, these principles represent the cornerstone of a comprehensive, multidimensional influence strategy.

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Principle 1: The human brain is not a computer.

Humans are not perfectly rational creatures. Our brains were not built to maximize accuracy, but rather to find an optimal equilibrium between accuracy and effort. As a result, people are prone to a set of common cognitive errors. However, these errors are not random; they are systematic in both nature and directionality, and highly predictable. Understanding the pattern of cognitive errors, biases, and heuristics to which we are most susceptible allows us to better anticipate how one will think and behave and, consequently, position us to better influence those processes.


Principle 2: Our social nature matters.

Who we fundamentally are can be a tricky thing. We act one way in our social circles, another in our professional networks, and yet another way with our families and loved ones. Whether we like it or not, our character has a great deal of fluidity based on our social context. Individuals who understand how the presence of others moderates behavior have a distinct advantage over their less-informed peers. A conceptual grasp of how particular social dynamics can moderate processes like conformity, groupthink, and compliance can prove an immensely valuable asset in your ability to influence.


Principle 3: Our political sensibilities matter.

Liberals and conservatives differ in more than just their endorsements of policies. Individuals on disparate ends of the political spectrum differ genetically, psychologically, and philosophically. These differences manifest themselves in irreconcilable world views, wherein individuals can be presented with identical information yet process it in different ways, ultimately receiving two fundamentally opposed messages. Understanding how political leanings impact how messages are received allows us to design the most potent strategies for influencing liberal versus conservative constituencies.

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Timing is everything. How one responds to a particular stimulus is largely dependent on when they are presented with it. A bar of chocolate after hours of fasting might be an enticing - perhaps irresistible - offer, while that same bar of chocolate offered to the same individual after several pieces of cake might elicit disgust and refusal. How one will react to particular appeals depends heavily on the state of mind a person occupies at the time of engagement. As such, for maximum impact, savvy influencers will learn to prime their audiences prior to presenting them with information and choices.


Principle 5: Structure of presentation matters.

The content you present is important, but what you choose to include and how you choose to include it is critical in determining its potency. The color gray is neither light nor dark; rather, its brightness depends on the color to which it is contrasted. Next to a white pillow, a gray blanket looks dark, yet next to a black coat it appears light. Similarly, persuasive appeals can gain or lose impact depending on what information is included and how it is framed. One must pay attention to not only the substance of their offering, but also the careful construction of its presentation.


elements of influence

There are several concepts that are of critical importance to understanding influence. Many of these are human universals that possess an impressive range of applicability. Similar to the elements of the periodic table being the building blocks of matter, these concepts represent the building blocks of influence.

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Framing and Nudging

Loss Aversion

Conformity and Groupthink


How can we influence individuals to make particular choices by choosing our words deliberately and strategically?

Why are we wired to avoid losses more than pursue gains? How can this bias impact our judgments and be leveraged to craft persuasive communication?

How can group dynamics exacerbate our natural inclinations to conform? How can we mitigate these effects to counteract groupthink and optimize how our teams functions?


Inclusion and Social Pain

Subconscious Influence

Defining Human Nature

How do feelings of social exclusion impact an individual? More than simply a "nice thing to do," addressing social pain is critical to the success of an organization and the health and performance of its employees.

Why is it that our choices, actions, and performance are often influenced by factors beyond our conscious recognition? How can we develop an awareness of these effects?

Could it be that one of the primary reasons liberals and conservatives can't agree is because they have different philosophies regarding human nature? Are they "starting from fundamentally different premises?"


Roots of Prosocial Behavior

Politics and Genetics

Natural Limits of Empathy


Is catalyzing prosocial behavior more about stimulating benevolence or harnessing selfishness? Should you be employing a strategy that prioritizes altruism or egoism?

Are we born with a predisposition toward liberalism or conservatism? If our genetics play a role in our political orientation, how should that impact the manner in which we attempt to wield political influence?

How does empathy work? What are the natural barriers to achieving empathy, and how can developing an awareness of these barriers enable us to overcome them?


Cognitive Dissonance

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Most believe that it is attitude change that causes a corresponding change in behavior, but what is frequently overlooked is how changing someone’s behavior can produce immense shifts in their relevant attitudes.

Choice Architecture

How can we craft our offerings so as to drive people toward particular choices? For instance, how can strategically including options that nobody wants actually increase the appeal of similar options?

Shrouded and Drip Pricing


Organizations are learning that the longer they can get you to imagine owning something the less likely you’ll be to abandon the purchase. That’s just one of the reasons many are now using “drip pricing” and other shrouded tactics.