Archive for the ‘Influence’ Category

Influence a group: speak first, speak often

October 31, 2007

In a previous blog I describe how being the first person to speak (in a group) results in framing the ensuing discussion (Start the discussion, frame the discussion).

In this blog I describe how simply talking a lot results in influencing the group.

The following comes from The Wisdom of Crowds by James Suroweicki:

Talkativeness has a major impact on the kinds of decisions small groups reach.  If you talk a lot in a group, people will think of you as influential almost by default.  Further, talkativeness feeds on itself: the more you talk, the more you are talked to by others in the group, which causes you to talk more, and so forth.  So talkative people tend to become increasingly important over the course of a discussion.

Want to influence a group?  Be the first person to speak, and be talkative.

Start the discussion, frame the discussion

October 28, 2007

The order in which people speak in a group has a profound effect on the course of a discussion.  Earlier comments are more influential, and they tend to provide a framework within which the discussion occurs.  Once that framework is in place it’s difficult for a dissenter to break it down.  This wouldn’t be a problem if the people who spoke earliest were also more likely to know what they were talking about.  But there’s no guarantee that the most-informed person will speak first or will be most influential.

Start the discussion, frame the discussion.

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki

Influencing a System by Finding its “Levers”

August 12, 2007

In the field of Complex Adaptive Systems (CAS) people talk about “finding levers” to influence a system [1].  This idea of a “lever” in a system has always puzzled me.  Now I understand!  What follows is an example.

Consider a road, say Route 3, which runs between New Hampshire and Boston.  The road is a “resource”.  Further, it is a limited resource – it cannot hold an unlimited number of cars.  During rush hour lots of people use the road, and travel can be quite slow.  What we have is a failure of individuals to cooperate on the use of this resource.

Route 3, the surrounding roads between New Hampshire and Boston, the cars, the buses, the trucks, and all the drivers collectively comprise a “complex system”. The system doesn’t work very well – during peak hours there’s lots of congestion  on Route 3, with little traffic on surrounding roads or during off-peak hours.

It would be useful to find a “lever” that could be applied to get people to cooperate better and thus have a smarter system.  Specifically, we want people to use other roads and stagger the times they drive on Route 3.  What lever that can be applied to this complex system?

Answer: charge a toll to use the road during peak hours. A toll will make the cost of using the resource obvious, and will force individuals to ask themselves, “Does the benefit outweigh the cost?”  Some people will answer “No” and use alternate routes or drive at non-peak hours.  Congestion is reduced on Route 3.  By introducing a toll we are influencing the system.  The toll is a lever.

A toll is a lever that helps eliminate traffic jams that result from pure congestion.  Other levers are needed to deal with road problems that are not due to pure congestion, problems such as accidents, construction, sun blindness, or a slow-moving truck in the right lane.

Can you give examples of other levers?

[1] We do not attempt to “control” the system; rather, we just “influence” the system.  Complex systems are typically not controllable.