Inception is a blockbuster science fiction movie starring Leonardo Dicaprio. It is about implanting an idea in someone’s subconscious mind via dreams. It does seem like a novel idea that can never be replicated in the real world. After all if inception is possible, then the person who can perform it will be either revered or reviled, depending on what kind of idea that this person implant to others. But before you dismiss ‘Inception’ as just another interesting science fiction movie, I would like you to think whether the following radical ideas can be implanted to some people:
- Be a suicide bomber
- Be gracious to someone who raped and killed your relatives
- Prostitute yourself for your belief
- Rob a bank with a person who kidnapped and tortured you
- Iron your daughter’s breasts
Other than the first example – which is clearly a profile of a terrorist, you may think ‘who could do such things?’ and there is no way anyone could influence others to do such drastic actions. It turns out that there are people who can implant such sub-human ideas to others: (2) Marcus Wesson; (3) David Berg, who advocated the practice of Flirty Fishing; (4) Donald DeFreeze of Symbionese Liberation Army; (5) Mothers of 26% of all teenage girl in Cameroon. Okay, these people can’t enter other people’s dreams, but the fact remains that they are capable of implanting (seemingly ridiculous) ideas to others, i.e. changing other people’s mindset.
Here is the scary part: the people mentioned in the above paragraph, are not the exception – there are many people who are capable of such act. And we may know some of them. In fact, depending on whether you are a Christian or not, your pastor can be one of them. Let’s see, is your pastor getting people to believe that a virgin woman gave birth to a baby boy? It seems hard to believe, doesn’t it? especially to the non-Christians. And yet millions of people – the Christians – believe in it wholeheartedly (And yes, I’m a Christian and one of those people who believe in the virgin birth of Jesus Christ). My point here is: getting people to accept, adopt, and embrace (radical) ideas is not impossible. On the contrary, it can be done (the thought of this gives you chill, doesn’t it?), though it is not easy.
Robert Cialdini, the author of ‘Influence‘, offered six guidelines on how one can influence others: (1) Rule of reciprocity; (2) Commitment and Consistency; (3) Social proof; (4) Authority; (5) Liking; (6) Scarcity. Though the six rules offered some insights on how one can influence others, there are various conditions - which are usually context-specific situations and thus can’t be explicitly list down – that amplify its effect. One of those conditions is partiality of information. If I proclaim that the world is flat, and the people who listened can’t verify my statement, then by applying some or all Cialdini’s six rules, I have a better chance of implanting ‘the world is flat’ idea to others.
Of course not all ideas are ‘born equal’, some ideas have characteristics that made them more ‘implantable’ than others. Dan and Chip Heath, the authors of ‘Made to Stick’, suggest six principles (SUCCESs) that make an idea ‘sticky’: (1) Simple; (2) Unexpected; (3) Concrete; (4) Credible; (5) Emotional; and (6) Stories. So now you know on how to influence others, and how to make an idea more ‘sticky’ / ‘implantable’. By combining these two ‘how-tos’ and applying appropriate principles at the right context, you are set to perform an ‘inception’.
Clearly this ‘inception’ skill can be dangerous if the bad guys like Osama Bin Laden master it. But for Knowledge Management (KM) professionals, mastering this skill means we can get pass ‘no, I don’t have time’ statement and knowledge-hoarding behaviours, and inculcate knowledge sharing behaviours. Indeed, KM initiatives can’t be implemented successfully without changing people’s behaviors and this means we (the KM professionals) have to influence our colleagues to create, share, and reuse collective knowledge.