Book of the Month Club: Influence: Science and Practice, by Robert Cialdini

Influence: Science and Practice (4th Edition)I've been meaning to get back to the Book O' The Month club idea for awhile. My buddy Matt started the idea, and I'm glomming on, since I think it's a good one.

Mitnick Recommended

The book I just finished is entitled "Influence: Science and Practice" by Robert Cialdini. Before I dive into the why you need to read this book, I wanted to quickly cover the funny circumstance of how I came to read this book. As many of you know, I'm currently pursuing my MBA in Information Assurance (aka "computer security"). I've already completed all the security requirements for the degree, but still have the core business classes to complete. One of those mandatory classes is Marketing Management. If you have ever seen me speak at a conference, you know I tend to use Sales and Marketing people as the butt of my jokes, as they are often a thorn in the side of the IT Dept (which I'm sure is mutual). Before you start flaming me with comments about the importance of the Marketing department, let me quickly add: I know. My wife is a Marketing professional of 10+ years and was a Marketing Manager at Microsoft, among many other roles. I also happen to work in the Marketing Communications (MarComm) arm of the Trustworthy Computing Group at Microsoft. I fully understand the importance (and the love of my life is quick to remind me lest I forget).

Last year, I attended an INFRAGARD conference where Kevin Mitnick spoke. he highly recommended reading this very book! Of course, I always wanted to get around to it....but never seemed to find the time...until it showed up on the Required Reading list for the Marketing Management course. I was even reading it at an ISSA conference recently, and had 3 people come up to me inquiring or commenting about this book. Isn't payback fun?


Weapons of Influence

This book explores the reasons behind the fixed action patterns we seem to do automatically in life, or as the author calls them, the "Click, Whirrr" actions.  He identifies several principles including: reciprocation, commitment, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity. I'll cover the last one scarcity, briefly. Why is it that when there's only 1 Tickle-Me Elmo doll left at the toy store, that everyone wants it? Did it get more valuable all of a sudden? Why is that you're out shopping for a gas grill and the salesman tells you, "Darn...we just sold the one you were looking at." (in which case you're very sad, cuz you love BBQ, and you DO wish you had bought one last week when you were here!) but he comes back a few minutes later, saying that after some digging around, he was able to locate another one....if you want it. Well, of COURSE you want it!! You better get it because there probably aren't anymore! Why do stores mention "for a limited time only"? One reason: They're leveraging the Principle of Scarcity on you. Collectors know this all too well...the less of something there is, the more it's worth.

Kai, Why Do I Do What I Do?

This book not only explains the things that you do, and why you have an overwhelming, sometimes automatic response to things, but it also explains with great examples, why you do them.  Do you ever wonder why the folks at Costco give you free samples? Sure...they want to demo how good the smoked salmon is....but they also want to put a feeling of "Well darn....I did take that free sample...maybe I'll just toss it in the cart this time." Welcome to the Principle of Reciprocation. "This is our gift to you sir. Would you be willing to make a donation of $100?" No way! "How about a smaller donation of $5?" beats the heck out of $100......BAM...hello Rejection Then Retreat technique from the same principle.

Why Do I Care as an IT Security Person? 

The best part of this book is that it provides you techniques to defend yourself against these tactics!!! My wife is always telling me that for someone who jokes about marketing, I'm about the most easily marketed too person she's ever met. Case in point:

Kai: Sweetie...this <Insert Geek Toy of Choice> is the best one out. We need to get it.

Wife: How do you know it's the best?

Kai: Because everyone I know uses it (Social Proof), Keith recommended it (Authority), and it's the only one left on the shelf (Scarcity). It's pretty obvious, isn't it?

Wife: But how do you know it's the best and not just good?

Kai: Look at the says so.

(Go ahead an've been there too. This is why I love my wife and why God has put her with's a safety boundary for my long term financial solvency. Still not sure what I bring to the table.)

...the bottom line is that this book explains the techniques that Social Engineers use to gain access to your secrets. It explains how we go through life with this "automated response" to stimuli without ever realizing that someone else is using it against you. We should be aware of why we do what we do and not just go through life in a series of "Click...Whirr" moments. It's a pretty easy read and one that will certainly having you realize that marketing is certainly getting in the last laugh.

So get it's probably the last one left.

Comments (1)

  1. Dan Cornell says:

    I have had this on my list for a while after seeing a reference to it in a book I finished called "More Than You Know"  You have just inspired me to finally pick up a copy.


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