Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion

Yes! is a book with three authors, which had me a little worried, after all can three people collaborate on a small volume like this successfully?

The answer is in the title - yes! Quite simply this is a book of information gems. 50 of them, each presented with enough data about the reasoning and research behind each point to validate it completely, yet not academic enough to be boring.

Each chapter takes a single persuasive element, builds up a reference point around it, shares research to back up the reasoning and then before you know're at the next chapter. Nothing is overdone, so you don't get bored reading it. Some of the stories you may have heard before - maybe it's the one about the study on the use of hotel towels, maybe it's the example about starting prices on eBay...

My personal favourite is entitled "Why should restaurants ditch their baskets of mints?". We all know of the restaurants that have a bowl of mints by the exit - well it turns out why there are a lot of reasons why it could be better to give them out in different ways. It's a good example of how Yes! doesn't rely on old war stories from sales people, or possibly apocryphal stories with non-verifiable facts.

Yes! quotes research from behavioural scientist David Styrohmetz and some research he did to investigate what difference receiving a sweet at the end of the meal would make to the waiter's tips. There was a control group where no sweet was given.

Group one received the sweet at the end of the meal and tips went up 3.3 per cent. Group two received two sweets and the tip went up 14.1 per cent...not bad. Most people would stop there...but this book is about persuasion. So group three were all given one sweet, then as the waiter left, they turned around and gave each diner another sweet. Magic...and increase of 23 per cent.

The strength in the book is in the explanation of why? You can understand simply why increasing the gift from one sweet to two increases a tip, but both group two and group three both get two sweets. However, the difference is in the way it was presented. Firstly, it was a surprise - the waiter had turned to leave. Secondly, the waiter by appearing to choose to give an extra sweet to this particular table made it seem like he especially liked them and the table wished to reciprocate.

Yes! doesn't try to be a book on persuasion for any particular reason. It's not a book about better negotiation, better sales or how to write a proposal. It steers clear of practical application and context. Until the end that is. The last three of chapters add some useful elements. Firstly, looking at influence in the twenty-first century - for example looking at email communication. There's a short chapter on ethical influence and lastly some real world examples of the science of persuasion in action.

I mentioned that Yes! has three authors - Noah J. Goldstein, Steve J. Martin and Robert B Cialdini. They all deserve credit for making a book that's an entertaining read - it would have been so easy to be overly academic and over-long. As it is, it's easy to dip into and pick up some ideas and then come back to it later for another dip. Recommend it? Yes!

Buy Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion from Amazon now.