It was a pleasure to find a popular book that begins and ends with the science of behavior change - social cognitive theory. Once I saw the first reference to Albert Bandura (the most cited psychologist alive), I hoped this book would be different from the usual story-telling fare. As a second generation Bandura progeny (in the academic world, my dissertation advisor and major professor, David Rimm, was one of "Uncle Al's" doctoral students and Dr Bandura kindly reviewed and commented on my dissertation proposal and results), I can say that my expectations were met.
Influencer: The Power to Change Anything complements my recent post noting that it is skills in social marketing that are needed to help the new legion of change agents. The authors note ...what most of us lack is not the courage to change things, but the skill to do so. And that most of the wicked problems don't require solutions that defy the laws of nature; they require people to act differently.
The book draws on the work of several 'master influencers' and social cognitive theory to provide guidance to anyone who wants to be an influencer. While the vicarious experience (when was the last time I saw those words in print?) of reading the stories will be helpful to many, achieving success at scale with social marketing is not addressed here (guess you will have to stick with this blog a bit longer). What every social marketer and change agent will find here though are the basic principles for behavior change that should be the essence of your change vocabulary and actions:
- Finding high leverage behaviors (which behaviors are the most important ones to change) through the study of positive deviants. Is it possible, as the authors report, that exercising on home equipment, eating breakfast and weighing yourself daily are the vital behaviors for achieving at least 30 pound weight loss and keeping it off for at least 6 years? My look at their source, the National Weight Loss Registry showed a more complicated picture, but still far from having to focus on over 200 eating decisions people make a day.
- Changing minds needs to focus on two, and only two, essential questions: Is it worth it (change outcome expectations)? and Can I do this (change self-efficacy)? That is, motivate and/or enable a vital behavior.
- Using three sources of influence on motivations and abilities - personal, social and structural - and connecting them to six behavior change strategies of (1) making new behaviors desirable, (2) surpassing personal limits, (3) harnessing peer pressure, (4) finding strength in numbers, (5) designing rewards and demanding accountability and (6) changing the environment.
In their discussion, the authors reinforce the need for us to become much more attentive to how our actions as change agents build social capital - and not just social support. They also address the 'environmental incompetence" of many change agents, not in the 'green' sense of the word, but in our failure to notice how often even minor modifications in the environment (the size of the cups that are offered in fast service restaurants and convenience stores) have profound impacts on behavior. They also offer additional tools and resources at a companion website you can check out as well.
People from marketing backgrounds have promoted the transtheoretical (stages of change) model as the de facto theory of behavior change in social marketing (despite the fact that few get beyond using it as a segmentation scheme and trying to reduce perceived costs of change). But as someone who was educated and trained as a behavior change scientist, give me SCT any day for a robust and dynamic approach that incorporated structural and environmental change, modeling, diffusion, social norms and collective action long before many people rediscovered and began repackaging them. Influencer makes a good place to start expanding your approach to changing behaviors. Follow it up with health promotion from the perspective of SCT [pdf]. Then be a more effective social marketer.