Saturday, May 5, 2007

Influencing people

During my trip out to Australia last year, I was thrilled to receive an unexpected gift from my young sister Jill. In an outdoor market, probably in the vicinity of her home town of Woolgoolga, she had come upon a copy of a book that fascinated me when I was a teenager: Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People. I was surprised that Jill, who's much younger than me, would have remembered that her brother had come in contact with Carnegie's famous book. Retrospectively, I imagine that my interest in this book stemmed from the fact that the very idea of trying deliberately to win friends and influence people was most exotic in the backwoods environment in which I had grown up, where quiet timidity, reticence and inhibition were our primary social qualities. My discovery of Carnegie's advice was akin to the parson's daughter opening stealthily a copy of Sex Manual for the Single Girl.

I've already pointed out in this blog [click here to see my Therapy post] that I'm an unconditional fan of the Dilbert comic strip, whose creator, Scott Adams, runs a marvelous blog. From time to time, Scott has alluded with enthusiasm to a book by Robert Cialdini, Influence — The Psychology of Persuasion, whose first edition appeared almost a quarter of a century ago.

Normally, these days, I'm no longer keen on this kind of psychological literature, since I've become more interested in science, computers and dogs than in people. But, based upon my assumption that anything that's good for the creator of Dilbert is good for me too, I ordered the revised edition from Amazon. It arrived yesterday, and my rapid reading confirms that this is indeed Dale Carnegie in overdrive: choice intellectual fodder, in fact a gourmet dinner, for a social critic such as Scott Adams. Cialdini's book is in the same heavyweight category as The Peter Principle. It reveals the ways in which smart individuals have unearthed rules of conduct enabling them to impose their will upon others, thereby achieving power of an economic, political or even religious kind.

If this blog were penned by an out-of-phase literary critic who waits a quarter of a century before deciding that a book deserves to be read, I would say that Cialdini's Influence is a must. In Carnegie's country, the cover says it's a National Bestseller. With a bit of time and perseverance, it could even become an international bestseller.

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