Why is it that some products, ideas, and behaviors catch on, while others are simply forgotten? The answer often lies in social influence, a concept that has important implications for those of us in the business of lifelong learning.
Dr. Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of the books, Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior, has spent the past decade and a half working to understand the psychology behind social influence in order to leverage word of mouth and impact people’s decisions and behaviors.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Celisa talks with Jonah about what drives people to talk and share ideas and products, effective ways to influence people’s behavior, and how social influence impacts learning.
Listen to the Show
Read the Show Notes
[00:20] – A reminder to check out the Leading Learning Symposium, an event designed specifically for senior leaders at organizations in the business of lifelong learning, continuing education, and professional development. The symposium takes place this year on October 24-25 in Baltimore, Maryland.
[01:21] –A preview of what will be covered in this episode where Celisa interviews Jonah Berger, best-selling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior.
[02:54] –Introduction to Jonah Berger and background information about his work and research, which includes how to leverage word of mouth and social influence.
[04:07] – In your book Contagious, you talk about six principles you found cause things to be talked about, shared, and imitated. Would you briefly talk us through those six principles? Jonah explains how his research found 6 things that seem to consistently drive people to talk and share and lead products, ideas, and behaviors to catch on. In the book, he puts them in a framework called STEPPS (social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories) and each of these is a psychological principal which drives people to talk and share and causes all sorts of things to catch on.
[05:00] – One of the key points for me in Invisible Influence is that not only is social influence real and powerful, but we’re largely blind to it. What is the value for us as we begin to recognize these principles and invisible influences that are working on us? Jonah points out that we would all like to change people’s behavior, whether to persuade someone to take an action, encourage a customer to purchase something, or help a new idea/initiative to catch on. The best way to do that is to turn listeners/customers/people who already like us into advocates. This doesn’t require a big advertising budget or even social media – just that you understand the psychology of what drives people to share, why people influence one another, and when it can be used to help.
[06:17] – Do you see an application of your work on how learning happens? Do you think there’s a potential application for these ideas to how we might design learning to be more effective? Jonah references an internal learning project he recently did with GE to illustrate the importance of a trigger when learning to help with pattern matching. For example, if you hear “peanut butter and…” you automatically think of jelly which makes peanut butter as a kind of advertisement for jelly, or a trigger to remind you to think of something else that isn’t there. He explains how in pattern matching and learning it’s important to have the learning triggered near where the behavior takes place.
[08:32] – Jonah references a study he did at Stanford University to illustrate the importance of including a trigger in order to influence people to take action/change their behavior.
[10:15] – Learner motivation is really important when it comes to making learning stick—do you see potential application of your work around learner motivation? Jonah discusses how we usually think about motivation in terms of a carrot or a stick (reward or consequence) but that neither of these is very effective. He says a more effective way is to use peers or social comparison and he shares an example to illustrate this point. If people know how they’re doing relative to others, they’re much more likely to actually engage in that behavior and it’s very effective when others are just a little ahead of us (a proximal peer) – if you feel you’re just slightly behind, you’re much more likely to be motivated. In an organizational context, figure out how to compare people to their peers, give them a sense of what others are doing, and use that to motivate others to take action.
[13:58] – I listened to the How Ideas Spread course you did for The Great Courses and in it you talk about how we now have huge amounts of data but you caution that we have to be careful because data can direct our attention to doing unimportant or event stupid things. Measuring the impact of learning is a major issue for folks in the lifelong learning business – what advice do you have for choosing the appropriate things to measure and the “right” metrics to go along with that when we have so much data to choose from? Jonah stresses that we need to pull insight from the data and says to look at what the goal is in terms of learning to help guide the metrics that we find valuable. If you’re goal is to make sure learners use the material, he advises using situational learning (rather than multiple choice questions) to measure whether they improved after the course. He admits testing and measurement is certainly a challenge but for his MBA class, they use case exams in order to see how learners apply what they’ve learned in as close to a real-world application as possible.
[16:54] – You’ve done a lot of research over the years, but what topics are you curious about now and looking to explore next? Jonah says there is a never a shortage of interesting things to examine but one thing he found particularly interesting recently is mining textual data for information. This includes finding out whether people share articles based on the content or what about written content makes people read further down in an article.
[18:05] – You’re immersed in marketing and social science, but you are a teacher too. When you think about the future of learning, what do you think or hope might change in the next five years? Jonah shares that what’s exciting about learning is the way it’s changing and the different channels we can now learn through and from. He talks about the importance of weighing the value of those channels and thinking about how to deploy these different tools effectively across learning environments and organizations, which is the key to making them actually effective.
[19:08] – What’s your approach to your own lifelong learning and development? Jonah reveals he always tries to stay curious which keeps him wanting to learn more.
[19:57] –How to connect with Jonah Berger:
For information about his books and to find additional resources/tools: jonahberger.com
[20:29] – Wrap-Up
A reminder to check out the Leading Learning Symposium.
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[22:15] – Sign off