By Kendya Goodman, Intern at Ogilvy Change
“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are”
At first impression a seemingly vacuous phrase - devoid of meaning beyond the obvious and hardly what I expected to be the grand pearl of wisdom dropped from a figure so prestigious as Cialdini. Yet this surface superficiality was perfectly congruous with the man I’d observed an hour previously, hand-signing 150 copies of his own book to be given free to an audience who would not pay a penny. One expects that given his reputation as a grandee of behavioural psychology, he would have some secretary stamping the books with a uniform stamp yet the man Cialdini was without any air of arrogance - rather the self-assuredness of a man who had come to deliver.
And deliver he did. Set to the background of a beautiful sunset over the river Thames, St Paul’s cathedral aglow and the sky painted pink, Dr Cialdini gave an incredibly illuminating talk. He began in the face of classical oratory tradition - with the big conclusion, “tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.” With astounding empirical evidence we were persuaded on the theory of “pre-suasion,” that persuasion begins in the moments before you make your request. A proposition that sounds vaguely pseudo-scientific at first, bringing to mind some clandestine brain-conditioning reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange, yet one that Cialdini had verifiable and reliable science to back. Of particular interest was his discussion of the Lamy et. al. study wherein middle-aged passerby’s were twice as likely to help a young women retrieve her phone from a group of 4 men if 100 yards earlier a women had asked him for directions to Valentine street instead of Martin street. It was these amazingly outlandish studies he referenced that gave the talk its true flair – turning the potentially mundane into the fascinating. As with the book-signings, it was apparent that Cialdini was no one-hit wonder with his 1980s classic “Influence,” as with “Pre-suasion” he develops on his earlier findings and breaks new ground in the world of persuasion and influence once more.
Most interesting about his talk was you could see the audience having moments of profound existential introspection. If we could be so subconsciously influenced by walking past a type of shop or passively viewing certain stimuli, if who we are depends on what we are paying attention to in that moment, then not only do we now yield a great tool of influence in our newfound knowledge but how many decisions are we making day-to-day because of what we pay attention to. I for one felt conscious of the time I spend on social media - if I am what I pay attention to, then who am I for paying so much attention to such vain media? Ultimately I can say for sure that Cialdini’s talk was one that made a room of advertisers and business people think candidly about the role priming had played in their lives.