Soap Operas, Guinea Worms and Influencers – Oh My!

I am re-reading a fascinating book titled Influencer: The Power to Change Anything. There Product Detailsare so many wonderful stories in this book I hardly know where to start (and yes, a story is a powerful strategy to influence change).

Did you know that a soap opera can be very deliberately used to create a vicarious experience to influence listeners? What could happen when a soap opera’s characters struggle with low reading and writing skills and decide to visit their country’s adult education center for free adult literacy materials? In Mexico City a quarter of a million people poured into the streets to get their own literacy books. This blew me away–a soap opera, something I would consider a waste of time, changed lives.

Another great story is about the elimination of the Guinea worm in Africa and Asia. Here the strategy of positive deviance was used to a good effect.

“…first dive into the center of the actual community, family or organization you want to change. Second, discover and share settings where the problem should exist but doesn’t. Third identify the unique behavior of the group that succeeds.”

The Guinea worm larvae lives in the water supply of villagers–when they drink the water the larvae begins to live and grow in their bodies. Researchers found a village with very few instances of Guinea worm disease (positive deviance). The difference? The women strained the water through their skirts before drinking the water. The fix was really quite simple, but how to influence the change? In some instances, villagers were influenced through the power of story.

“When they’re transported into a story, people don’t merely sympathize with the characters–having an intellectual appreciation for the others’ plight–they empathize with the characters. . . Stories can create touching moments that help people view the world in new ways. We can tell stories at work, we can share them with our children, and we can use them whenever and wherever we choose.”

Schools are full of stories. The influence to change the public’s perception of education is literally in our grasp every single day. Low test scores or high dropout  issues? Look for the positive deviance schools, districts or classrooms that show success in these areas. Are we providing vicarious experiences for people outside the education system so they can empathize with our challenges and successes? What about our legislative body? What stories or vicarious experiences are we providing them so that the change they influence is the change that will empower our young people?

If you want to learn how “to share the principles and skills routinely employed by a handful of brilliant and powerful change agents so that readers (that’s you!) can expand their set of influence tools and bring about important changes in their personal lives, their families, their companies, and even their communities.” then I highly recommend this readable, challenging and informative book.