Two Cialdini Books on Influence

The most important edtech skill?

October 20, 2014

Influence: Science and Practice, 5th Edition by Robert B. Cialdini
Published in August of 2014.

The Small BIG: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein and Robert Cialdini
Published in August of 2014.

I’m constantly amazed by just how unprepared I am for my job.  How do folks like me end up in higher ed administrative leadership roles with no training in higher ed administration or leadership?

Does spending 8 years or so getting a PhD and a bunch of years teaching and in other administrative positions qualify me to help lead organizational change?  I’m not so sure.  I know that I can wax eloquent on topics as diffuse as the demographic transition and Bloom’s Taxonomy, or on the difference between a hosted and a multitennant cloud based LMS, but ask me about organizational leadership and change management and I fear that I’m must making things up.

It is with this mindset that I approach much of what I read, and which brought me to these two Cialdini books on influence.  Cialdini’s work on influence is apparently part of the cannon of the “we are predictably manipulatable and barely clued into our own behaviors” literary tradition.  Reading these two enjoyable and complementary books showed me mostly how bad I am at knowing when I am being controlled, and how good a range of compliance professionals (Cialdini’s term) are at controlling my behaviors and choices.   There are huge numbers of very well paid people whose job it is to get us to do something that we don’t know that we want to do.  From what and when we purchase, to who and where we donate, there are a large number of experts and organizations skilled at bringing about our compliance.

In a way those of us that work in academic technology are a sort of compliance professional.  We have something to sell (edtech services), and we have a market of “buyers” (faculty, students, administrators, alumni and other stakeholders).  We need to persuade any number of colleagues and stakeholders that our priorities should take precedence.  That investing in educational technology and instructional designers makes more sense than investing in something else.   We need to convince, build coalitions, nurture champions, promote evangelists, and gather support.  We need to exert influence in the absence of authority.  We need to rally colleagues to work on our projects who don’t report to us.  We need to use whatever levers are at our disposal to catalyze changes in support of learning and the learner, levers outside of traditional authority or hierarchy structures.

It is difficult to know if reading lots of books like these two Cialdini books can help us lead from the middle.  I think that these two books have helped make me aware of behaviors, both those of others and my own, that I was pretty much blind to in the past.  These Cialdini books can also help provide a language and a framework to think about individual persuasion and organizational change.  

What books would you recommend about personal leadership in higher ed?

What are you reading?


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