Influence and creativity. (Episode 41)

Interview with Paul Collins, Country Manager, Middle East & Africa for ACER and Director of The Influence Academy (Africa).


The word “influence” is an interesting word. It comes with a lot of power associated with it, but also comes with a lot of negativity. If I told you that I had just been influenced by someone to make something happen, would you read that as a positive statement or a negative statement? I think most people would read it as something negative. But this bad rap that the word influence has is unfortunate. To influence is a beautiful thing, and crucial for creative people.

I talked about the connection between creativity and influence with Paul Collins, Country Manager, Middle East & Africa for ACER and Director of The Influence Academy (Africa).

The origin of the word influence can tell us a bit about its power, but also about its beauty. Influence is originally an astrological term. The etymology comes from “to flow into” and the original meaning was: “streaming ethereal power from the stars when in certain positions” (I guess the truest meaning of the word is “The moon influences the tide.”). But it was also described as “acting upon character or destiny of men”.

Influence is about the stars guiding us to where we should go. 

Influence is about something acting upon our destiny.

If we look at influence from that perspective we see that it is a word about someone helping someone else to go where they should be going.

As the director of The Influence Academy, Paul Collins has studied the power and potential of influence for years and in our conversation, he said: “We influence others all the time. From the baby crying to get milk, to a sales rep getting her client to buy a new IT system for a few million dollars.”

When it comes to creativity, influence is crucial. It is not the best idea that wins. It is the person who is able to convince others that his or her idea is the best that wins. And that is done by influencing others.

Influence most likely is getting its bad reputation from people miss-using its power, and it is true that in a time where mass-influence has never been easier we should watch for it being used in the wrong way. As Paul cautioned: “We are living in a time when the right algorithm can influence billions.“ So it’s good to remember the mantra of Spiderman: With great power comes great responsibility. But just because something is powerful it does not make it bad.

Used wrongly influence can wreak havoc with both ideas and people. But used correctly it will make the world a better place by making sure that great ideas actually get the attention they deserve.

Used correctly influence is noble.

It leads people in the right direction.

Or in the spirit of the original meaning of the word: “It is acting upon the character or destiny of men.” 

So, how can we become better at influencing others in order to help our best idea win? Books have been written on the subject and Paul Collins has been studying the topic for years, so a comprehensive answer will not be possible in this limited space. Instead, I asked Paul to give one insight, and he said:

“Two things needed to influence another person is to have ‘the power of authority’, but at the same time you also have an affinity factor – people like people who are like them.”

The trick, it seems, is to be seen both as an expert, and at the same time be seen as a peer.

The sweet-spot of influence is to be seen as an expert talking to an audience of peers who respect that expert.

Think about a few people who had almost magical powers to influence: Mahatma Gandhi, Princess Diana, Nelson Mandela.

They all had this ability to be seen as leaders that the people looked up to, while at the same time being somehow one of us.

If you want to increase your ability to influence others you can ask yourself which of the two parameters do you need to increase? Be seen more as an authority or more as a peer? Someone like Steve Jobs scored very high as an authority with his brilliant mind and quest for perfection, but his habit of dressing in jeans and a t-shirt made him one of us. Imagine if he would have dressed in a three-piece suit. An eccentric mind with an eccentric style might have alienated him from many.

Paul Collins actually recalled a sales meeting he had in his early career when he was selling towards a construction company. He would come dressed in a suit and tie to do this sales pitch, and even though the product was superior he did not get the sale. When asked why not, the construction workers pointed out that by dressing as a salesperson, and not a construction worker, they did not trust him. He was an expert looking like an expert, but not looking like them. That distanced him from his buyers. What he should have done was to have an industry expert with him, dressed appropriately and with the prerequisite knowledge to indicate an understanding of their industry whilst he showed authority and expertise in his.

Who do you need to influence to get your idea to become a reality? What can you do to land in the sweet-spot of being seen as both an authority and a peer to the person you are trying to influence? If we want to make our best idea happen we can not just spend time working on our ideas, we should also spend time learning how to influence the people who can help us make the idea a reality.




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