Also by this author: Contagious
Published by Simon & Schuster on June 14, 2016
Genres/Lists: Non-Fiction, Science/Technology/Psychology
Length: 6 hrs, 28 mins
Read synopsis on Goodreads
Buy the book: Amazon/Audible (this post includes affiliate links)
What if, in striving for individuality, we emulated those around us? What if our decisions aren’t actually ours? What if science backed this up? It turns out, science does back this up and we may not be as unique as we think, which is what Jonah Berger argues in Invisible Influence. Using science, studies, surveys, and anecdotes, Berger shows us how our neighbors, peers, and society at large wield a powerful influence over our personal choices, whether we realize it or not.
It’s no secret that we are susceptible to the views of those around us. Democrats tend to agree with democrats, teenagers tend to dress the way their peers dress, and neighbors are more likely to tend to their lawns if everyone else is. Even brands come with their own core users. In Colorado, for example, Boulder residents are associated with driving Subarus while L.A. is associated with shiny sports cars. There are, perhaps, some geographical reasons for this – Subarus are safe and great for mountain driving while sports cars are smaller and easier to navigate the city streets, but I’m willing to bet a lot of it also has to do with status and accidental conformity. If you were to ask each owner why they bought a certain car, the response would likely not include a discussion about doing what everyone else is doing, but rather about safety, comfort, and mileage. But beneath the surface, there’s likely more to it.
The funny thing is, even those who buck the trends oftentimes do so in response to the trend itself, which makes rebellion a bit less rebellious. Rejecting conformity for conformity’s sake just places us in a camp with others who did the same thing – the group may be smaller, but its roots are still in what the masses are doing. Berger does a great job of expanding on this by discussing bands: as soon as they go mainstream, “original” fans distance themselves from newer music, claiming to only like the old stuff. This has to do with rejecting the band’s popularity – they are no longer a hidden gem and liking them requires assimilating into the mainstream.
What I wonder, however, is how we can know whether we are making a decision for ourselves or in response to those around us. If each decision we make is a reaction to an outside force, then where does the original force occur? Is striving to be original just a rebellious reaction to what already exists? This is, perhaps, a bit philosophical for a book review, but the idea that our decisions are not our own is fairly depressing. While I recognize that society plays a huge role in shaping behavior, I also think that there are those who buck the trend without trying to conform with the rebels – it just happens. Of course, one could argue that striving for original ideas is a way to overcome current conditions, which is likely reinforced by hanging out with other inventors, but that’s another book (check out The Originals by Adam M. Grant).
Either way, Invisible Influence was an interesting book that draws on research and behavior to explain how society influences our individual choices. I listened to it on audiobook and, I have to admit, trailed off at times but overall, it’s a decent listen. Many of the concepts were not new to me but his way of presenting the information and the stories contained within are interesting.
Recommended for: Those interested in behavior and its influences.