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Book Review – Influencer: The Power to Change Anything – Sandy Chan

by on November 11, 2007

Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield ,Ron McMillan, Al Switzler. McGraw-Hill, 2007,
288 ps. $24.95 (ISBN: 0-071-48499-X)


“Influencer: The Power to Change Anything” is a guide toward building the ability to influence others or one self. Written in collaboration of Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler—the leaders of VitalSmarts, a well-known consulting company for corporate training and organizational performance, it draws upon real cases of Master influencers (this is a term used several times in the book) changing people’s behavior and accomplishing difficult tasks from all over the world. The authors interviewed these Masters, analyzed these Masters’ work referencing academic studies, and presented the keys of their findings in this book.

The book begins by defining the term “Influencer” as a person who has successfully changed the behavior of large numbers of people in a positive direction. Then it expands the term to include anyone who would change behaviors of other people, whether in a family, a community, or in the business world. To be a true “influencer,” you have to change your way of thinking. The real secret is not to concentrate on producing the outcome you desire; instead, you must focus on the behaviors that are responsible for producing that output. You will have to change behavior patterns in order to get the results you want. It takes work, experimentation, etc. but as long as you are in the right direction, you can ultimately lead to giant leaps in virtually any aspect of life.

The authors identify two major reasons why changes fail: (1) Questioning ability: The people involved do not feel capable of making the change. (2) Insufficient motivation: The people involved do not feel that the proposed change would be an improvement. To avoid these to happen, the book then talks about how to find what behaviors to change, how to change them by selecting key vital behaviors: while putting effort into changing a dozen of behaviors is never going to work, there are vital behaviors that can create a cascade of change. “It takes a combination of strategies aimed at a handful of vital behaviors to affect change in profound and persistent problems”(Influencers, Pg.76).From there it then talks about the “strategies”—abilities and motivations on personal level, social level, and structural level: “Make the Undesirable Desirable” (personal motivation), “Surpass Your Limits” (personal ability), “Harness Peer Pressure” (social motivation), “Find Strength in Numbers” (social ability), “Design Rewards and Demand Accountability” (structural motivation), “Change the Environment” (structural ability), and then become an influencer.

Influencer vs. Heart of Change

Despite how Influencer defined “Influencer” at the beginning of the book, I felt the book was more aimed at mangers or people wanting to initiate changes in large group of people than individuals. Hence, I thought to compare it with The Heart of change. Influencer talks about change from a very different perspective than from The Heart of Change. Influencer talks about elements in motivating changes but not the change management process. Since it is not about the process, the elements do not necessarily have dependence on each other or chronological relations. Although from two different perspectives, The Heart of Change and Influencer did not conflict each other in any way. The way I see it, The Heart of Change gives the step-by-step instruction of how to make changes, Influencer, on the other hand, states the must-know facts in starting a change. I felt it was a very nice follow up reading of what I have learned in The Heart of Change. It might be better if I read Influencer first because motivation comes before management in reality.

In fact, I felt the two books were complementary. Influencer recognized some key points that I felt were very important but were not mentioned in The Heart of Change. For example, finding the vital behaviors—“A few behaviors can drive a lot of change” (Influencer, Pg. 23)this should take place before “increase urgency (step 1 in The Heart of Change).” Finding the vital behaviors before putting any effort into implementing changes can yield twice the result with half the effort. When we really analyze a problem and boil it down to the most vital elements, we can work smarter not harder at solving it. This might sound common sense in some ways but Influencer was able to call it out and make people acknowledge the importance of it. When we isolate vital behaviors and work to change those behaviors then we can influence those around us. We want to make the right changes, not making changes to everything.

Likes and Dislikes

One thing I really liked about Influencer was the examples that it used. As I have mentioned before, the ideas in Influencer are rather common sense than groundbreaking. However, the cases and true stories that revolve around the ideas were so powerful that it made me dream up my own scenarios and how the concepts would apply in my personal situations when I was reading the book.

While my favorite part of Influencer was these very powerful examples, ironically enough, repeatedly using these examples was one of the things I disliked about this book (more related discussions in following paragraphs). The example of Dr. Hopkins eradicating Guinea worm disease was the one that stroke me the most. Guinea worm disease is an infection caused by a worm-like parasite. There is no vaccine or medicine to cure this disease but there is a way to prevent it from spreading—changing the way people drink water and changing their behaviors. Before Dr. Hopkins declared his war against the Guinea disease in 1986, there were an estimation of 3,500,000 cases of infection in some villages in West Asian and Africa. At the end of 2005, the number was only 10,000 cases. This made me thought about some discussions we had in class and Kate’s Fast Company article (Change or Die by Alan Deutschman, about how people still do not really change even when facing personal health threats. In the case of Guinea disease, it may or may not threat a person’s life but it is a painful disease. What Dr. Hopkins has accomplished is more than amazing. This powerful example steered me to finish the book because the whole story was chopped into chunks and was revealed throughout the entire book.

I was also very impressed with the depth of research shared in Influencer. It was intriguing to know that so many incredible change efforts from all over the world have used virtually the same strategies that were presented in this book. The authors used a number of studies to show how all it is trying to say works from a scientific standpoint, but they also have a large number of real-life situations that bring the concepts to real-life. An interesting point that was brought up in the book was how you can influence human behavior just by making even the smallest of changes inside a person’s environment. It gave the example along with numbers from scientific studies of how the sizes of dishes can affect people eating more or less. It was a real-life experience that anybody could relate to. I would say the most impressive part of this book was the way that it outlined their research in such a “common sense” approach that nearly anyone could relate, follow and apply to their own situations.

Influencer was written in a listener-friendly, conversational tone. However, the structure of the book was weak and confusing. There were two examples—Dr. Hopkins eradicating Guinea worm disease and the Delancey rehabilitation organization— in the book that they returned to again and again, giving little chunks of information each time. I was very fascinated by the worm example at first but when it was mentioned the sixth or seventh time, it was not as exciting as it was. Even worst, the different concepts behind its being cited at different chapters started to blur into one. The book also jumped back and for the between topics too many times. Perhaps the authors were trying to write one book rather than 10 separate chapters, but I personally thought the book was confusing and long-winded. This also made me wonder the process of writing this book—was there a committee or was each author responsible for a few chapters?— since the book has five authors.

To Sum Up…

Despite its structure, over all, I felt Influencer was worth reading, it was an insightful, educational and entertaining book which presented points on what does and does not influence us or people. It would be even better if the book was shorter. After reading Influencer, I must admit that it hasn’t radically changed my life, but it has given me a lot to think about. I would definitely recommend it to people who are facing the challenge of leading changes in any environment. I feel this book would be most useful to mangers since it is a guild book to becoming an influencer, a role each manger should be able and often needs to play. I do not think this book can give a quick fix to people in urgent need but it does inspire thinking. For those who are interested but need more information, the authors of Influencer built a website ( with short video interviews with some of the Masters mentioned in the book, a blog, and information about the upcoming book tour around the country.

  1. After watching the video provided by Influencer website, I am shocked by the influences made by these scientists and researchers. They not only studies the how to improve people’s life, but also did help millions of people improve their life. In our class, we more focused on the discussion of how changes influence the employees, company or industry. Here, I found actually, changing people’s minds matters a lot for the entire world. Someone may say that it is impossible to change the whole world by individual effort. But cases here did disapprove that. I think this is a good book and I would like to explore more if I have a chance.

  2. It’s very common for people to look at organizational skills and say, “I can use these skills in my personal life.” They should also say, “I can use these to change the world!”Here is a moral question: Why is it that only bad behaviors seem overdetermined in our culture? When you look at unhealthy or morally corrupt behaviors–the ones that are persistent and resistant–you find they are supported by multiple influences. Our world has been perfectly organized to support and perpetuate these bad behaviors.It’s time we applied our influence skills to the good behaviors. Remember the two vital behaviors Dr Mimi Silbert focuses on–the behaviors that set hardened criminals onto the path toward rehabilitation? First, she requires each person to take responsibility for someone else’s success. Second, she demands that everyone confront everyone else about every single violation. If each of us adopted these two behaviors–if we each accepted responsibility for a societal problem, a neighbor, or a family member and if we confronted bad behavior whenever we saw it–we would change ourselves and our world. I challenge you as students to look for ways to apply your skills to the societal problems you care about. My mentor, Albert Bandura, is currently working to reduce smoking in the People’s Republic of China. My wife and I are involved in micro-credit on Native American reservations. What can you do to change the world?

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