YAPClassic: Jonah Berger on How to Change Anyone’s Mind
YAPClassic: Jonah Berger on How to Change Anyone’s Mind
Jonah Berger is a world-renowned expert on natural language processing, change, word of mouth, influence, consumer behavior, and why things catch on. Dr. Berger is a Wharton School professor and internationally bestselling author of Magic Words, Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst. He has published over 80 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches one of the world’s most popular online courses, and popular outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review often cover his work.
In this episode, Hala and Jonah will discuss:
– How Jonah started studying social psychology
– Why people have trouble changing
– What it means to be a catalyst
– How to think like a seasoned negotiator
– Why people enjoy engaging in forbidden behaviors
– Giving people a menu of options
– How asking questions can be more effective than making statements
– How Thailand reduced smoking by 40%
– The Endowment Effect
– And other topics…
Jonah Berger is a Wharton School professor and internationally bestselling author of Magic Words, Contagious, Invisible Influence, and The Catalyst. Jonah has been recognized with a number of awards for both scholarship and teaching, including various early career awards. He was named one of the top 30 leaders in business by the American Management Association and one of the most creative people in business by Fast Company magazine.
Dr. Berger is a world-renowned expert on natural language processing, change, word of mouth, influence, consumer behavior, and why things catch on. He has published over 80 articles in top‐tier academic journals, teaches one of the world’s most popular online courses, and popular outlets like The New York Times and Harvard Business Review often cover his work. Berger has keynoted hundreds of major conferences and events like SXSW and Cannes Lions, advises various early-stage companies, and consults for organizations like Apple, Google, Nike, Amazon, GE, Moderna, and The Gates Foundation.
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Jonah’s Website: https://jonahberger.com/
Jonah’s LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/j1berger/
Jonah’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/j1berger
Jonah’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/j1berger/
Jonah’s Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=220591
Jonah’s book Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind: https://jonahberger.com/books/the-catalyst/
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[00:00:00] Hala Taha: Hey yap fam, today we're replaying my first interview with Jonah Berger a full time professor at Wharton University. and a world renowned expert on change, influence, and consumer behavior. He's also the best selling author of four books on persuasion, influence, and the psychology of language. In this YAP classic,, Jonah explains why people are resistant to change and how we can counteract that.
We'll learn why people enjoy partaking in forbidden behaviors and how we can successfully encourage them not to. And Jonah will teach us how to think like a seasoned negotiator by asking the right questions. If you want to learn how to change anyone's mind, this episode is for you. Without further ado, enjoy my interview with Jonah Berger.
[00:00:55] Hala Taha: Hey Jonah, welcome to Young and Profiting Podcast.
[00:00:58] Jonah Berger: Thanks so much for this conversation.
[00:01:02] Hala Taha: You are a world renowned expert on the science of social influence, consumer behavior, and how products, ideas, and behaviors catch on.
I personally love these conversations. We always talk about persuasion and influence on Young and Profiting Podcast, so I can't wait to dive into it all and your book, The Catalyst. So first off, I'd love to learn more about you and your journey and how you found yourself here. From our research, we found out that you grew up in DC and all throughout school, you tested at genius levels.
So curious to understand why you decided to study human behavior and what got you interested in all of this.
[00:01:36] Jonah Berger: I don't know who said I tested at genius levels, but that's very generous of them. You know, I've always been interested in science. I've always been interested in how things work. Um, I grew up, I went to like a magnet high school for math, science, and computer science.
Uh, but I was particularly interested in applying those tools to the social sciences, right? So, experimentation is great, research is great, data is great. But can we use those same tools to understand human behavior? Uh, when I was growing up as a kid, I used to have ads up on my wall. You know, it's like my favorite Nike ad, or my favorite this ad, or my favorite that ad.
And I started to wonder, you know, why are some ads more effective than others? Why do some products become popular? Why do some things catch on while others fail? Why do we do what we do? And I started realizing that there was an opportunity to study that. Um, I was actually in college and I was doing a major called science, technology, and society.
where they look at the interaction between society and sort of science and tech. And we're reading this article about how the way we build buildings affects how people raise their children. So if you think about it, um, uh, you know, you live in a sort of a one story home with a yard outside, your kids play out front with the neighbors.
You live in a big, tall apartment building. There's further down to the ground, harder for parents to see what the kids are up to. And so maybe the parents are less willing to let their kids out. And so it's interesting to think about, well, Wow, building design might affect the way kids grow up and I sort of asked the professors like, Hey, you know, are there other courses you'd recommend where I could learn more about this stuff?
And they said social psychology. And so I started taking social psychology courses. I started doing research. Um, I was fortunate enough to do some research with a guy named Chip Heath. Um, who, uh, uh, now we know from books like made to stick and, and decisive and others. Um, and it really kind of started my journey into doing research to study sort of who we are and what we do.
[00:03:22] Hala Taha: That is a perfect segue to your new book, The Catalyst, How to Change Anyone's Mind. There's so many interesting nuggets. I don't want to waste any time getting right into it. So let's get a good understanding of how people change, starting with what doesn't work.
So typically, we tend to persuade and pressure and push, but even after all that work, nothing seems to move, and a lot of us think that we can just provide more information, provide more facts, more reasons, more arguments, and then people will end up changing, but that's not the case. In your book, you say that this approach assumes that most people are like marbles.
Push them in one direction and they'll go that way. But people aren't like Marvel, so tell us about that.
[00:04:01] Jonah Berger: Yeah, you know, did a survey a few years ago and so I was starting to think about this area and trying to sort of think about whether there might be a new way to get people to change. And so I did a survey of executives and individuals across a wide variety of industries.
So everybody from, you know, the C suite all the way on down, entrepreneurs, people that worked at big businesses, B2B, B2C. And I asked them two questions. I said, Hey, what is something that you want to change? anything at all? And then second, what's something you've tried to do to change it? And so people gave an array of different responses.
Some people talked about trying to change a client's mind. Some people talked about trying to change consumer behavior. Uh, leaders talked about transforming organizations. Uh, non profits talked about changing industries. Startups talked about changing the world. But when it came down to what they had tried, for over 98 percent of the responses I got back, it was some version of pushing.
And what do I mean by pushing? Well, let me add more facts. More figures, more reasons, more information. If I just tell you why this is a good idea, if I could just explain to you, give you more information, you would come around. Let me make one more phone call, one more pitch, send one more email, if I'm a salesperson, for example.
You know, if I just push people a little harder, they'll go. And it's clear why we think that, right? You mentioned a marble, but we can even more simply think about a chair. If you're in a room and there's a chair, pushing is a great way to get that chair to go. Put a pressure on one side and the chair slides across the floor, but when we apply that same intuition to people, it gets a little bit stickier, right?
Because when we push people, they don't just slide across the floor, right? Often they dig in their heels. They push back. They think about all the reasons why they don't want to do. And so, rather than pushing, we really need to take a different approach.
[00:05:45] Hala Taha: Yeah. And as I was reading your book, I, I couldn't help but think I have a marketing agency and so we're very successful.
I have 70 people around the world who work for me. But, you know, I don't land every deal, right, that I, that I talk to. When I was thinking back about some of the bigger deals that I've lost, it was me like overly trying to convince them with like use cases and references and this and that.
And so it's just so funny to think about like the times where I didn't necessarily do that, how I won the deal and how it really turns people off when you just. overly trying to convince them.
[00:06:20] Jonah Berger: Yeah, and I think, you know, there's a neat analogy we made to chemistry here. Um, and I don't know if you were going to talk about that soon, but if it's okay, I'll talk about it now for a second.
But if you look at chemical change, it's really hard. Right? So you think about a diamond, for example. It didn't start out a diamond, it started being carbon that was, like, squeezed together through eons of time and temperature and pressure. You know, gasoline was once plant matter, and, you know, animal, this and that, and it took a long time to get there.
And so, if you look in the lab... What chemists often do is they add temperature and pressure to create change. They heat things up, they squeeze it together to create change. But there's a special set of substances that chemists use to make change happen faster and easier. They don't require more temperature and more pressure.
They do everything from cleaning the grime on our contact lenses, to cleaning the grime on our car's engine. And multiple Nobel Prizes have been won for innovations in this space. And very simply, these substances are called Catalysts. Right? And when we think about catalysts in the social world, we think, oh, that person was a change agent.
That thing was a catalyst. But catalysts actually has a very specific meaning. What's so neat about them is they allow change to happen with less energy, not more. Rather than pushing so much, they identify the barriers or the obstacles to change. and they mitigate them. And that's really what, um, you know, I've thought a lot about over the past few years.
And this approach is all about not pushing harder, but identifying the obstacles or barriers and, and mitigating them. It's kind of almost like, you know, imagine you're, I don't know, you're in a car. So you get in it, you walk out of a, a game or, you know, picking your kids up at the, this or going to the office and your car's parked on a hill.
You get in the car, you stick your key in the ignition, you turn your key and you step your foot on the gas. If the car doesn't go. We just think we need more gas, right? And the same thing happens with that potential client, that potential customer, that person that we're trying to sell something. We just think if we step on that gas a little more, they'll go.
But here's the problem. If that parking brake is pulled up, we can step on the gas all we want. And the car or the person isn't going to go anywhere. And so the key insight is how can we be better at finding those parking brakes? How can we be better at identifying the obstacles or the barriers that are getting in the way and by mitigating them make change more likely?
It's not about pushing harder, it's not more. facts, more figures, more reasons, more pressure. It's about figuring out what's getting in the way and moving those, those barriers.
[00:08:36] Hala Taha: Yes. And I know that in your book, you say that asking a question like why hasn't that person changed already can really help us start on the right foot when it comes to persuading others.
So what kind of questions can we ask ourselves? or ask other people to kind of understand the barriers that are at play?
[00:08:54] Jonah Berger: Yeah. You know, you mentioned negotiators and it reminded me, I talked to a couple of, uh, Negotiators in writing this book and they, they told a great story with, they basically said, look New negotiators, novice negotiators, the first thing they do is they want to jump to influence.
They want to start by saying, how can I get you, whoever you are, to do whatever it is that I, that I want? And that often doesn't work, right? It often backfires, as we'll talk about probably in a couple minutes. The more you push people, the more they push back, the more they, just like that, that thing we talked about before, they dig in their heels.
What seasoned negotiators do is they start with the person they're trying to change. They start with understanding. They start by... Understanding them and what those obstacles or barriers are, and only then do they move to influence. You can think about the same thing with a doctor, right? You don't go to the doctor and the doctor doesn't start by saying, let me put a cast on your leg.
The doctor starts by saying, well, tell me what the problem is. What's the issue? What are you looking for? What do you need? And they use that diagnostic to help figure out the solution. And so, whether we're a salesperson, whether we're an entrepreneur, whatever it is, I think starting with the same ideas.
Find the root. What is that underlying thing that's driving what the person is doing or not doing? And use questions to figure it out. Collect that information. Understand what they need before you try to change them. When I do a consulting project or pitching for a consulting project, I always start by saying, well, what are you looking for?
What are you hoping to achieve here? What are you trying to get out of this? You know, what are you looking for someone to offer? And then by understanding what they need, I can say, okay, great. Well, you know, here's how I think, given what you're looking for, I can fit best rather than jumping into a pitch that I have, you know, given a hundred thousand times.
That's great. But may not be the best fit for them, starting with them. It not only shows that you care, which I think is good, but it gives you more information to help you show them that you are the best solution for what they need. And I think that's a key insight, whether you're a host negotiator or a salesperson or otherwise, starting with them really helps you get to the best place for you as well.
[00:10:54] Hala Taha: 100%. It reminds me of that quote, to be interesting, you've got to be interested and questions in general. It's so important. Questions make people feel like you're listening, makes people feel like you care about them, and they feel good, they like you more. And we're going to learn more about questions and why they're impactful, uh, in this discussion later on.
Okay, so in the Catalyst, you give readers five key barriers to change. reactants, endowment, distance, uncertainty, and corroborating evidence. Let's discuss a few of them because we don't have time to discuss them all. So in terms of reactants, why is it so important to let people make their own decisions?
[00:11:33] Jonah Berger: Yeah. Is it alright if I tell a story here?
[00:11:36] Hala Taha: Of course.
[00:11:36] Jonah Berger: Okay.
So a few years ago Tide, owned by Procter Gamble, wanted to make doing laundry faster and easier. Doing laundry is not that difficult, not impossible, but um, you never know exactly how much detergent to add. Uh, you know, sometimes you spill it on your hands or the counter and it turns out it'd be better if some detergent went in early.
in the cycle, and other detergent went in, uh, late. And you can't do that with liquid or powder detergent. So, they spent a bunch of money on R& D, and they end up coming out with this thing called Tide Pods. Basically, set it and forget it, throw one of these little colorful things in the laundry, and it takes care of the problem.
They spent a hundred million dollars on marketing, uh, and they hope it takes a big chunk of the over billion dollar laundry industry. They release them. They're doing okay, but then they hit a snag. Which is that people are eating them. You chuckled, I'm sure many people in the audience sort of gulped a little bit.
You might sit there going, what do you mean people are eating them, right? I mean, aren't they filled with chemicals? Yes, they are filled with chemicals. And yes, people are eating them. There was a video online that showed them melted on top of a pizza. There was an image saying they looked good enough to eat.
And suddenly, mostly young people were challenging one another to eat Tide Pods. It's called the Tide Pod Challenge, as many of you may remember. Imagine you're a Tide executive in this situation. You're sitting there going, I mean, what to do here? How did this happen? People should know not to eat these things, but just in case, we'll do what companies often do when they don't know what to do, which is we will put out a press release telling people don't eat Tide Pods.
Right? And in case that's not enough, we'll do what companies also do when they don't know what to do, which is hire a celebrity. Rob Gronk Gronkowski to put big public service announcements saying, Don't eat Tide Pods. Right? They told people not to do it. Gronk told people not to do it. They thought that would be enough.
So, uh, if you look at the data, you see something interesting. So, sort of, it's, you know, little bit of attention, little bit of attention. Tide releases their announcement. Now, the hope is that it will stem interest in the Tide Pod Challenge, that it will go down, people won't be interested anymore. But it turns out the exact opposite happens.
There's a 400 percent increase in searches for the Tide Pod Challenge, and it's not just parents wondering what their kids are up to. Visits to Poison Control shoot up as well. In the next two weeks, more people come into Poison Patrol than had in the two years prior. And basically, a warning became a recommendation.
Telling people not to do something made them more likely to do it. Now, you could look at this example and say, that's nuts, you know, kids are crazy, what's going on, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But it's actually just one example of a much broader phenomenon. And that is reactants. At the core, when pushed, people push back.
Whether we're pushing people to do something, or they're pushing them not to do something, right, they have an ingrained motive to push back against us. And so I'm happy to talk more about why that is, but I think that's a really great example of this underlying idea.
[00:14:29] Hala Taha: People just want to engage in that forbidden behavior, right? So I'd love to understand why that is. Like why do people push back and do things even when they must know that it's not good for them?
[00:14:41] Jonah Berger: Yeah. I mean, I think the, the type. Uh, example is certainly an, a strange one, but this happens all, all the time, right?
It's not just if something's dangerous, we push back. Even when someone tries to get us to do something, we become less likely to do it. And, and the reason why essentially is, is we like being in the driver's seat, right? It's all about freedom and autonomy. Why do I, why did I make this choice? Why did I buy this product?
Why did I use this service? Why did I work with this supplier? Why did I agree to do whatever it might be? I did it because I wanted to. I'm in the driver's seat. I'm making my, my choices. But as soon as we. Whether we are an entrepreneur, whether we are a colleague, whether we are a marketer, whether we are a salesperson, whoever we are, or a boss, however, whoever we are, as soon as we come and we say, Hey, you should do this.
Now it's no longer clear who's in the driver's seat, right? Are they in the driver's seat or are we in the driver's seat? And the more it feels like we're in the driver's seat, the less interested they are in doing what we want. Essentially, people have an ingrained anti persuasion radar, right? So you can think about it like a missile defense system or something that's sort of scanning the environment for incoming projectiles.
When they detect one, they engage in a set of defensive actions. So think about what happens when you're watching TV and an ad comes on. You change the channel, you leave the room. Think what happens when you get a piece of direct mail that's, uh, you know, someone you're not expecting. You throw it away.
Think what happens when you get a pitch over email or a phone call from a telemarketer. You hang up the phone, you delete the email. In all these cases, we avoid or ignore the message. Right? We engage in a set of defensive actions to avoid being persuaded. But it's not just those. Even worse is counter arguing.
And some of you are probably doing this right now, right? Yes, someone's listening to us. We're pitching, we're talking, we're suggesting something. They're listening, but they're not just listening. They're thinking about all the reasons why what we're suggesting is wrong. Why it's too expensive, why it won't work, why it won't integrate with what they're doing already, whatever it might be.
Poking and prodding the argument till it comes crumbling down. And so I think the key insight is we can't push people. We have to allow for autonomy. We have to give them back some sense of freedom and control and put them back in the driver's seat.
[00:16:49] Hala Taha: Awesome. And we're going to talk about strategies and tactics to put them back in the driver's seat.
But before we do, when you were talking about getting people, like, not only does this happen when we're saying, don't do something. So the government says, you know, don't drink and drive. Don't smoke cigarettes. That doesn't work. But it also, the same thing goes if we say. eat less fat or take your vaccine for COVID 19.
And so, as I was reading your book, I think you wrote it before COVID because you didn't have any of that in there. And I'm sure you would have if you had written it in the COVID world. But you must have seen the CDC and how they approached getting people to take their vaccines. And I would love to hear like your thoughts about what they could have done better or what they did.
Good or what they did bad. I think it's so interesting.
[00:17:35] Jonah Berger: Yeah. So I had the bad fortune to release this book basically two days before COVID hit. And so I, I launched against a much more, um, formidable opponent than I predicted. And so everything shut down from bookstores to, you know, no one was interested in buying books at the moment.
Everyone was interested in figuring out what was going on with COVID. Um, and so in some sense, it was a terrible time to release a book. But it was also an amazing time to release a book on change and that so much of, uh, what I had talked about, uh, played out in, in the world. And so I wrote a piece for HBR about a month, uh, into the pandemic, initially about how some of these strategies could be applied.
And it's amazing when we talk about these things. I mean, this is exactly part of the problem, right? What did the government say? What did the CDC say? They said. First off, you know, don't go to stores, uh, don't shop anywhere, uh, you know, get a vaccine, wear a mask, don't do this, do that. Basically, if you want someone to do something, tell them to do it.
If you don't want them to do something, tell them not to do it. And the challenge with this, right, is Even if everyone would have done it originally, hey, nobody wants to be unsafe, nobody's interested in getting sick or hurting themselves, but the more they feel like somebody else is telling them what to do, particularly the government for some people, the less interested they become in doing it, right?
They would have been fine if they came to that decision themselves, but because they feel like someone else is telling them what to do, they're less likely to do it. And so, you know, um, we'll talk about some of these strategies, but, uh, I wrote a lot in the piece about How we could use these stream strategies to deal with with COVID.
Not telling people do this or don't do that, but encouraging them to come to that conclusion themselves. In some sense, guiding them down a journey to encourage them to move in a direction. But not forcing them in that direction. The more they feel forced, the more they feel cornered, the less interested they are, uh, in doing what we want.
[00:19:25] Hala Taha: It's super interesting and feel free to use that as an example as we go through and talk about some of these strategies. Um, so let's talk about one of the strategies that you talk about in terms of counteracting reactants and that's to let people choose their own path, give them a menu of options so to speak.
So how does that help?
[00:19:41] Jonah Berger: Yeah. So, so let's go back to a simple example we talked about already. Let's say you're pitching something. Okay, you're pitching something to a potential client or a potential user, whatever they might be. What do we tend to do? We tend to pitch them one option. This is what I think you should do.
This is why I am the best choice for you. This is why this product or service is the best choice for you. This is what I think you should do. And we've all been in that meeting, right? Everyone's sitting there shaking their head. Really, if we opened up their head, if we could do that, what would be going on inside is counter arguing.
This is why it's not going to work. This is why someone else might be better. This is why I should do something else. Sort of poking and prodding that, that argument. And so, what great catalysts, what great change agents do, is they don't just give people one option. They give them multiple. Right, they say, hey, I think you should do X or Y.
Which one do you think is better? And notice what that does. Right, it subtly, but importantly, shifts the role of the listener. Rather than sitting there and thinking about all the reasons they don't like what we suggested, we've given them a new job. And that new job is to say, well, which of these do I like better?
And because they're focused on which one they like better, They're much more likely to pick one at the end, uh, of a meeting. And so, I call this providing a menu really simply because this is what happens when we go out to dinner. When you go out to dinner at a restaurant, they don't say, Here's dinner.
They say, What would you like for dinner? But notice what they also don't say. They also don't say, What would you like period for dinner? They say, Here's a limited set of options. Choose from within that choice set. Right? And so, in that sense, it's guided choice. You're not giving people no options, but you're not giving people unlimited options.
You're giving them a limited set, encouraging them to focus on those options, and be more likely to pick one. Right now, could they pick something off menu? They certainly could. But if the options are good enough, they're going to spend their time and energy focused on what's there. Rather than what is it and be more likely to choose from them.
And so it's not about giving them fake options. And it's not about giving them, you know, 500 options, which would be overwhelming and won't work either. But it's about giving them 2, 3, you know, 4, maybe 5 tops options that are real options. That encourage them to focus on what's on the table rather than what isn't and encourage them to choose from the set you wanted them to choose from in the first place.
[00:21:48] Hala Taha: Yeah, I think that's such an unbelievable strategy. And so basically what you're saying is if you give somebody one choice, they're going to just try to poke holes in it. They're going to try to just figure out what's wrong with it, why it's not for them, and they're going to just focus on that. But if you give them multiple choices, they're going to be comparing the choices rather than poking holes in everything.
[00:22:06] Jonah Berger: Yeah. You know, I find this happens to me and maybe it happens to you as well when we shop online also. So when you go to like a store that only has a couple of options or, you know, you're buying something in a category, you know, comes from multiple retailers. When you look at one place, you tend to want to go to check somewhere else, right?
Maybe they'll have a lower price. Maybe they'll have better options, better colors, better selection. If I'm just looking at one place, maybe I should look elsewhere. But if you go on Amazon, often they'll have 2, different options in the category. I was just looking at birdseed for, we ran out of birdseed, so I need more birdseed, right?
There were so many options on Amazon. So many I didn't even think about going anywhere else, right? Because I'm assuming, well, there's enough good things here, I don't need to look elsewhere and I can focus within the options that are here. And I'm not saying be like Amazon and give people hundreds of options, but the notion is the same.
If you're giving people enough that they feel like that set is reasonable and they can focus there, They don't need to look anywhere else.
[00:23:02] Hala Taha: Yeah, totally makes sense. So let's move on to another strategy you have in the book called ask, don't tell. And basically you're saying to ask questions rather than making statements.
So how can we use this to counteract reactants?
[00:23:16] Jonah Berger: Yeah. So, you know, when we make statements, As we've talked about already, people push back, right? If I'm the CDC and I'm saying, uh, you need to get vaccinated because it's dangerous if you're not, people go, oh, well, yeah, my cousin though, I mean, he or she's not vaccinated and they're fine, right?
Um, if, uh, we're pitching something, we say, oh, you know, this is why we're better. Someone focuses on why it's not, but questions allow us to get around that. Right. Rather than trying to persuade people, it allows us to get them to persuade themselves. I was talking to a startup founder a few years ago, and she was having trouble motivating her team.
She had a big team of engineers and other folks, and there was a big deadline coming up, and they need to work harder and put in extra hours. And people didn't just, they didn't want to do it. Right. They didn't want to work weekends. They didn't want to work nights. And so she's pushing and pushing. People weren't changing.
So finally she calls a meeting. And she starts with a rhetorical question, not a real one, but a rhetorical one. She says, hey, what kind of company do we want to be? A good company or a great company? We know everyone answers that question, say, ah, great company. But then she asks a real question, says, how do we get there?
How can we become a great company? And she starts a conversation, right? And questions, as we've talked a little bit about already, do a couple things, right? First, they deactivate that anti persuasion radar. Rather than thinking about why they hate what the boss is suggesting and pushing back against that statement, they've got a different job, right, coming up with their opinion about how the company could become better, which people are more than happy to do, right.
There are very few things people like more than sharing their opinion. And so you've gotten them engaged, which is good. They're leaning in rather than leaning, leaning back. But second, it allows her to collect information. And this goes back, I think, to one of the first questions you asked me in the interview, you know.
How do we collect that information? Questions are a great way to get there. We may have a sense of what someone wants. We may have a sense of what we think is good for the organization, but by asking them, we get much better information that can help us do something better. I, I work with a lot of clients when I say, Hey, um, you know, why didn't someone change?
Why didn't something work? And they don't know. Questions allow us to get to those answers that help us target our appeals and be more effective. But the third thing that questions do, we talked a little bit about already, is they encourage commitment to the conclusion, right? Because now if someone says, Oh, well.
Um, you know, I think the best way for us to become a great company is to do this. And you say, great, we're going to do that. It's a lot harder for them to say, I don't want to. Because they suggested in the first place. Same in sales, right? If you say, great, what are you looking for? And they say, I'm looking for X.
And then you say, great, well, you know, we have X. We are X. We do X. It's a lot harder for them to say, well, I don't, I don't want this. Because they told you what they wanted, right? And you told them how you, you achieve that. And so. I was talking to someone who said, you know, it's so funny, my boss loves feeling like, you know, whatever I come up with is his idea.
I said, the only funny part is it's not just your boss. Everyone likes feeling like something is their idea, right? The more you can give away ownership, the more you can let people participate in both the choice of the outcome and the journey. The more ownership they have, the more bought in they are and the more now it's not your solution, it's theirs and they want to see it succeed.
[00:26:21] Hala Taha: Yeah. Based on what you said, it just sounds like people are more bought in when you're asking questions and you can get them to the same outcome and end point, but they're getting it on their own and you're kind of just spoon feeding them the thought process to get there.
[00:26:37] Jonah Berger: Yeah. And I think this is, I mean, it's interesting in a couple ways, right?
So some of us say, well, oh man. I want to get to the best thing for me, why does caring about my customer or client or colleague or whatever it is, that's not going to help me get there, right? And, and I think that's not only narrow minded, but also wrong, right? The more you understand what other people want, the more you can help them get what they want and help yourself along the way, right?
And so it's not that the better off you make them, the worse you make yourself, very much the opposite. The better off you make them, the more they're going to like you, the more they're going to choose you and the more you're going to win, uh, as well. And so whether it's, you know, sales or convincing clients or otherwise, I think.
So understanding that person that you're interacting with is, is really powerful.
[00:27:28] Hala Taha: So in your book, you give some more tactics in terms of self persuasion. So let's talk about highlighting a gap and can you help us understand why internal consistency is a big factor when it comes to driving human behavior?
[00:27:41] Jonah Berger: Yeah. So, uh, there's a great example of this. I'll, I'll sort of unpack the example and then we can talk about it more generally. So there's an organization in Thailand, uh, called the Thai Health Promotion Foundation. And they're trying to get people to quit smoking. Uh, and the only problem is no one wants to quit smoking.
Uh, and so they're trying to figure out what can we do to get people to quit. And so they end up coming up with this campaign where they have people walk up to smokers on the street and they ask smokers for a light. And that's something if you're a smoker, it happens all the time. Someone asks you for a light, smokers often say yes.
Usually say yes. But this time the smokers say no. And the reason the smokers say no is that the person who asked them is a kid. Someone who looks 8 to 10 years old, a little boy with a monkey shirt, a little girl with pigtails. They say, can I have a light? And the smokers say, no way! I'm not going to give you a light.
You're a little kid. Don't you want to go run and play? Smoking will make you look old. It'll give you lung cancer, emphysema. Smoking has pesticides in it. Cigarettes have pesticides. All these horrible things. No, I'm not going to give you a cigarette. Right? They basically give the young people a lecture about why smoking is bad.
And the young person shakes their head yes and goes, okay. And then they say, but then why are you smoking? And they hand them a little card that says, hey, you worry about me, but not yourself. Um, if you're interested in quitting, uh, here's a number to call to help you out. Now, this campaign is hugely successful.
40 percent increase in calls to the quit line. Videos of the campaign go viral on the web, get millions of views. But I think what is the coolest about this campaign, the most interesting thing is why it works, right? What makes it so effective? And so the Health Promotion Foundation had a key insight. And that key insight was luck.
We can't push people. We're going to push people, like I've been talking about, they're going to push back. We have to figure out another way to get them to change. And I think that has broader implications. Often as change agents, we think information is the issue. You haven't changed because you don't have the right information.
If I give you that information, you'll change. That's very self focused and egocentric. It's not thinking about the person who's going to change. Often they have all the information. Smokers know all the dangers of smoking. It's not like they don't know.
Yet they're still doing it, and so telling them to quit because it's not healthy for them isn't going to work. And so they said, well, how can we get those smokers, as you nicely said, to convince themselves? And so what they did is something called highlighting a gap. People want their attitudes and their actions to line up.
If I say I care about the environment, I better recycle. If I say I care about a certain sports team, I better watch their games. If I say I care about, you know, kids not smoking, I better not smoke. We want our attitudes and our actions to line up, and if they don't, A negative emotional reaction occurs called cognitive dissonance.
And so people do work to reduce that dissonance. They change their attitudes or they change their actions. In this case, they had two options. Hey, uh, I can quit smoking, which, uh, might be a good idea. Or I can tell these kids, uh, smoking is okay, which I'm not gonna do. So, well, I better quit smoking, which is what 40 percent of them did.
And so, what this campaign did is it highlighted a gap. Often, attitudes and actions aren't next to one another. A prospective client may say that they care about a certain thing one day and hear your pitch another day and they're not connecting those two things. And so, why it's called highlighting gap is let's bring them together.
Let's show where, hey, you know, you say you care about this thing. Okay, great. Let me remind you of this thing when encouraging you to take an action so that I'm not telling you, hey, take this action. I'm saying, well, didn't you care about this thing? Cool. Maybe you want to change your behavior,
Encouraging them to go, huh, I seem to care about this, but I'm not behaving in a way like I care about it. Maybe I should do something about it, which is exactly what people do.
[00:31:13] Hala Taha: It goes back to questions and, and ask questions, not statements. It sort of relates to that as well.
[00:31:19] Jonah Berger: It certainly can. Yeah. And I think, you know, it's not just about asking questions about asking the right questions, right? Um, uh, and we can use questions to do it. We can use other ways to do it, but bringing those things to the fore, certainly.
[00:31:29] Hala Taha: Okay, so let's talk about endowment. So I thought this one was really interesting too. It basically says that when something is ours, we actually value it more. So what else can you tell us about the endowment effect?
[00:31:42] Jonah Berger: Yeah, I think the big challenge here, and I'm happy to cover a couple more things, um, but I think the big challenge here is people think old things are safe and new ones are risky, right?
So if I have an existing supplier, if I'm buying a certain product already using a certain service, I feel like that thing is safe. And whatever the new thing is is risky. Why? Because I haven't used it yet. And so I tend to stick with the old things. That's the endowment effect. We're attached to the old.
And I tend to think new things are risky and unsafe. But we often don't realize that old things aren't as costless as we might think. Right? We think, Oh, the old way is easier. And it is easier. But we may not realize how challenging it is. Um, a couple years ago I was talking to a cousin of mine. Every time he wrote an email, would sign at the bottom, you know, best Charles.
Every time he wrote that email. And I was sort of going, you know, why don't you use an email signature, right? Wouldn't that save you time? And he's going, no, because it only takes me a couple seconds to write best Charles. It would take me minutes to figure out an email signature and how to do it and so it's not worth the time.
And so I sort of pushed him and pushed him and he wouldn't do it. And finally I said, interesting. How many emails do you write a day? I don't know, you know, 30, 40, 50, whatever it is. How many to write a week? He said, I don't know, 200, 300 emails. How much time do you spend every week writing your email signature?
And he thought about it and then he goes online and, and figures out how to automate his email signature. Because at each moment, it's always cheaper to do the old thing than the new thing. The new thing is always going to be more costly at the beginning. But over time, it actually ends up being better.
And so the challenge is how can we highlight the cost of an action? How can we make people realize that doing the old thing that's sticking with what they're doing already isn't as costless as it might, it might
[00:33:22] Hala Taha: Okay. As we're wrapping up, uh, the interview here, we're running out of time. I did want to ask a more general question.
So earlier we were talking about giving too much information, like giving that extra deck, trying to convince people, giving them facts. thinking that we're going to push them to get to a conclusion. But there has to be some way for information to be relevant to getting people to make a decision. So what's the wrong way and the right way to use information to try to persuade people?
[00:33:49] Jonah Berger: I'm not saying to ignore information. I'm not saying that information is never part of the solution. But there's a difference between someone asking for information. and us forcing it on them, right? We talked about before, you know, the cases where people are leaning in versus pushing back. The cases where people are drawn in and want more from you, rather than sort of shying away and trying to get away from you.
I think information is great at the right time in the journey. Right? I like thinking about customer journeys, even if they're not a quote unquote customer. You know, what is that path to purchase or action, whoever that customer might be? And there's certainly a place for information, right? Particularly if I'm going to buy something complicated or do something different, I'm going to need some information.
Maybe I have that information, maybe I don't. But starting with someone pushing that information down my throat is going to lead me to do the exact opposite. It's going to lead me to run away. And so, it's more about rather than selling people, starting with a conversation. Finding out what they need.
Finding out how you can help them. Finding out what they care about. And then helping them get to where they need to be. In some cases, showing them that the best way for them to get what they want is by doing what you wanted them to do in the first place. And that's where you can bring that information.
You know, you're talking to a customer. Hey, what are you looking for? We care about X, Y, Z. Awesome. Do you know how we provide that? Do you know what we do on those dimensions? Do you know how I could help you there? They say yes. Awesome. If they say no, I'd like to learn more. It's a great opportunity to tell them more, but get them asking you for it rather than sort of stuffing it into them.
[00:35:14] Hala Taha: Okay. So one of the last questions I want to ask you on this topic is about uncertainty tax. Can you tell us about that?
[00:35:20] Jonah Berger: Yeah, sure. And I think a good way to describe this actually a story in my own life a couple of years ago. So I was getting on a plane to go somewhere to speak in an event or something.
And I got a note that every traveler dreads saying, you know, your flight is delayed. Uh, and I didn't want to be delayed at all. Obviously, I was worried about missing this event, uh, or worrying about getting together with the client, whatever, whatever it was. Um, and so I was worried about it, worried about it, worried about it.
and if we think about the worst outcome that could happen there, the worst outcome that could happen is that I missed my meeting. Right? That's a bad outcome. That's, that's the worst that can happen. But it actually is funny, when they eventually cancelled the flight, and so I couldn't make my meeting, in some sense I was better than I was before.
Because now that I knew that the meeting was cancelled, I could set up another meeting, or I could agree to do something on Zoom, or I could figure out a way to solve it. And so what it turns out we hate is not the worst outcome sometimes, we hate the uncertainty. Right. What's even worse than the worst outcome in a situation is not knowing what that outcome is.
There was a great study that was done where they asked some people, how much would you pay for a hundred dollar gift card? And I asked another set of people, how much would you pay for a 50 gift card, Amazon or whatever it is. And so, you know, one set of people gave their number, another set of people gave their number and they said to a third group of people, Hey, how much would you pay for a gift card?
If you're not going to know whether it's 100 or 50, but it's going to be one or the other, how much would you pay for that card? Now, you would expect that third set of people, the lowest they would have been willing to pay was for the 50 gift card, because worst case, that's what they're going to get. But what the researchers found is that the valuation was even lower than the 50 gift card, because people don't just dislike uncertainty, they devalue uncertainty.
Anytime there's uncertainty, We decide to do nothing. We don't want to take action. Essentially, we hit the pause button, which is great for the status quo, which is great for whatever people were doing previously, but is terrible for moving forward. And so, I talk about in the book a lot of ways to alleviate uncertainty, remove that uncertainty, because that's key.
A lot of times what's stopping people is not just information, it's the uncertainty about is this going to be good or not, and if I don't know if it's going to be good, I might as well stick with it.
[00:37:22] Hala Taha: Yeah, and that's why since we were talking about sales like pilot programs or trialing or even money back guarantees, they all work because they kind of reduce the uncertainty.
[00:37:32] Jonah Berger: Yeah, you know, I talk about the book about freemium or test drives or free samples, all these things. And we think freemium is sort of this new business model that's completely different. But at the core of what freemium really does. It allows people to experience the value of what we're offering, right?
And here's the challenge. Whatever you're telling people to do, they've got an old thing they're doing already. You're saying the new thing is better, but how do they know it's better? And as we've talked about, there's all this cost up front to switch to something new. And so what we're trying to do is lower that barrier to trial, make it easier for them to experience the value of what you're offering.
So that they say, Hey, it's pretty good. Now it's worth paying some, whether time, effort, or, or money to, to learn a bit more.
[00:38:10] Hala Taha: Awesome. So everybody, this book is absolutely amazing. Like I wish we had enough time to cover all five barriers because it's so interesting. Jonah, thank you so much for joining us.
One of the last questions that we ask our guests on the show is what is one actionable thing that our young and profiteers can do today to be more profiting tomorrow?
[00:38:30] Jonah Berger: I would say identify the roadblocks. Whatever it is that you're trying to do, whether you're trying to convince a customer or a client, whether you're trying to convince a boss or a colleague, whether you're trying to start a new business, whatever you're trying to do, what are the roadblocks that are getting in the way of that person, people, or organizations you're trying to change?
The more we understand about them, the more we understand about the things that are preventing them from changing, the more effective catalysts we can be.
[00:38:54] Hala Taha: Awesome. And what is your secret to profiting in life?
[00:38:58] Jonah Berger: I think always be curious. Um, uh, you know, uh, we're born, uh, however we're born. We can't become smarter than we are necessarily, but we can always be curious.
And I think it's a great skill. Um, you know, wherever we are, whatever we're dealing with, I think the more we approach life with wonder, uh, and ask questions, um, the more successful we'll be.
[00:39:16] Hala Taha: I love that. Where can our listeners go to learn more about you and everything that you do?
[00:39:20] Jonah Berger: Sure. Yeah. Jonahberger.
com. Just J O N A H B E R G E R. com. There's a bunch of free resources there. So guides for changing a customer, a client's mind, changing a boss's mind, videos, one pagers, sorts of stuff to help you in your, in your journey to apply these ideas.
[00:39:37] Hala Taha: Awesome. I love this conversation. Thank you so much.
[00:39:39] Jonah Berger: No problem.
Thanks for having me.
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