Influencing Change

“How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve forgotten that we can fix them?”[1]

This week I’ve been reading various books on the subject of influence. How people change their behaviour, and how other people can persuade them to do so. So timely.

Jonah Berger’s book The Catalyst is framed this way, “Rather than asking what might convince someone to change…start with a more basic question: Why hasn’t that person changed already?”[2]

Too often when the need for a change seems more obvious to us than to someone we’re talking to, we push harder. Yell louder. Repeat ourselves. Present more evidence. And just as often, our exasperation grows. Berger suggests that instead of adding horsepower, sometimes we may need to remove the parking brake. What’s blocking the change?

Dan Heath’s Upstream provides one answer. He calls it problem blindness: we can’t solve a problem we can’t see. He writes “Every system is perfectly designed to get the results it gets,” suggesting that “the escape from problem blindness begins with the shock of awareness that you’ve come to treat the abnormal as normal.” Change comes when people take responsibility to say, “I was not the one who created this problem. But I will be the one to fix it.”[3]

Taken together, you can see the irony. Blindness may be the problem, but convincingly pointing it out may not always be the solution.  As Kieran Flanagan and Dan Gregory remind us, “relying on facts rather than influence can actually be counterproductive.”[4] Sigh.

These writers draw on assorted examples across many spheres and at many scales, ranging from health care to selling cars to elections to buying a second computer charger. All very resonant at various times. But at this time, reading these books through the lenses of Black Lives Matter and COVID-19 (and locust infestations and murder hornets and parenting several young adults in close quarters for months and….) their messages land in a very particular way.

How do they land for you today?

Photo by Ben den Engelsen on Unsplash

This week has helped many of us to see more clearly. May it also help us to be less exasperating. And to remember that problems are fixable, by us. And to leverage our influence. And to ask ourselves, “Why haven’t we changed already?” (At a global scale and around our dinner tables, as the need for change plays itself out in both places).



[1] Dan Heath, Upstream: How to solve problems before they happen, (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, 2020): 17

[2] Jonah Berger, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, (Simon & Schuster, 2020): 10

[3] Dan Heath, Upstream: How to solve problems before they happen, (Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster, 2020): 26, 27, 28

[4] Kieran Flanagan & Dan Gregory, Forever Skills: The 12 Skills to Futureproof Yourself, Your Team and Your Kids, (Wiley, 2019): 84

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *