The small BIG: A book review by Bob Morris

Small B!GThe small BIG: small changes that spark BIG influence
Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein, and Robert B. Cialdini
Grand Central Publishing (2014)

Why “it is often the smallest changes in approach that make the biggest difference” when it comes to influencing others

Why did Martin, Goldstein, and Cialdini write this book? As they explain, their goal “has been to provide a collection of small BIGs that you could add to your persuasion toolkit. Small changes, informed by recent persuasion science that anyone…can employ to make a big difference when persuading and communicating with others.” One key point is that small BIGs that must be used strategically. My way of describing is that a sniper’s mindset is needed rather than a carpet bomber’s approach. Another key point is that skillful use of one or two (not a cluster) of small BIGs will increase the clarity of a message, its intended meaning.

The core thesis of The small BIG is as this review’s title suggests: “When it comes to influencing the behaviors of others, it is often the smallest changes in approach that make the biggest differences.” In a book written by one of the co-authors, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini identifies and discusses six universal principles:

1. Reciprocity: As humans, we generally aim to return favors, pay back debts, and treat others as they treat us.

2. Commitment (and Consistency): Cialdini says that we have a deep desire to be consistent. For this reason, once we’ve committed to something, we’re then more inclined to go through with it.

3. Social Proof: This principle relies on people’s sense of “safety in numbers.”

4. Liking: Cialdini says that we’re more likely to be influenced by people we like. Likability comes in many forms – people might be similar or familiar to us, they might give us compliments, or we may just simply trust them.

5. Authority: We feel a sense of duty or obligation to people in positions of authority.

6. Scarcity: This principle says that things are more attractive when their availability is limited, or when we stand to lose the opportunity to acquire them on favorable terms.

Cialdini’s words of caution are quite specific: “Be careful how you use the six principles – it is very easy to use them to mislead or deceive people – for instance, to sell products at unfair prices, or to exert undue influence. When you’re using approaches like this, make sure that you use them honestly – by being completely truthful, and by persuading people to do things that are good for them.”

These six principles provide a context, a frame of reference, for the information, insights, and counsel that Martin, Goldstein, and Cialdini provide in this book in support of their thesis. They develop in much greater depth material previously introduced in Yes!: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye:

o Following or going against the crowd (Pages 2-13)
o Framing the given context (14-17)
o Commitment Principles (Pages 25-26 and 36-39)
o Backfire Effect (45-49)
o small BIGs to avoid (54-58)
o Behavior Change management (65-79)
o Reciprocity: Principle and initiatives (129-141)
o Customer loyalty and retention programs (84-87 and 186-190)
o Endings of interactions (219-222)
o small BIGs: multiple or combining strategies (223-229)

This is one of the most reader-friendly books I have read in recent years. Martin, Goldstein, and Cialdini are to be commended on the direct and rapport they immediately establish with their reader. Presumably many others will feel as I did that this book was written specifically for me. Also, they provide annotated notes for each of the 52 chapters, citing and commenting on various sources they recommend. The last chapter is a BIG bonus of supplementary insights and suggestions, accompanied by an offer: The reader can keep up with the latest insights from persuasion science and receive a free “Inside Influence Report” each month by visiting the website they identify on Page 229.

This book was written for those who wish to understand the science of persuasion and then master the skills needed to apply that understanding effectively (i.e. strategically) in an ethical manner. “When it comes to influencing the way others think feel, and act, small changes can make a big difference for one fundamental reason. They are small. They fly under the radar. They rarely raise suspicion or attention. Instead they quietly go about their business shaping our decisions and influencing our behaviors in largely automatic and unconscious ways…small is most certainly the new BIG.”

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