In the book, ‘Power: Why Some People Have It – And Other Don’t‘, author Jeffrey Pfeffer explains how one author used flattery to get celebrity endorsements…
“Ishan Gupta is a young man on the move. He confounded Appin Knowledge Solutions, a technology training institution in India. I met him when he was in business school, which he attended after he lost a power struggle at Appin. He was still in his twenties and about to graduate into the difficult labor market in the recession of 2009 with multiple offers. Gupta had done a great job building networks and branding himself as an up-and-coming talent, particularly in India, and he did it by writing a book on entrepreneurship….
“Of all the people Gupta approached to write a piece for the book only for or five turned him down, even though he knew none of them personally when he first approached them…”
Gupta’s book is interesting not so much for its content as for who it includes as chapter authors and endorsers. The foreword is by Sabeer Bhatia, the founder of Hotmail. On the back cover is a picture of Gupta and his coauthor on either side of Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who also wrote an endorsement that appears on the front cover – Kalam was the president of India at the time of the book’s publication. Inside are 18 very, very short chapters by leading Indian entrepreneurs, all of who now known Ishan Gupta and are at least committed enough to him to have written something for his book. He told me that of all the people he approached to write a piece for the book, only four or five turned him down, even though he knew none of them personally when he first approached them.
Gupta’s strategy for getting these people’s help was simple: determine who he wanted to be involved in the project and then ask them in a way that enhanced their feelings of self-esteem. Of course, once some prominent people agreed, those who were approached later were flattered to be asked to join such a distinguished group. Gupta focused his pitch on how important the subject of entrepreneurship was to India’s economic development, how successful the people he approached had been in building businesses, how much wisdom and advice they could share, and how much help they could provide to others.
“Gupta’s strategy for getting these people’s help was simple: ask them in a way that enhanced their feelings of self-esteem…”
He told them that he was a fellow entrepreneur and a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology like many of them, that he appreciated how they had risked striking out on their own, and how unusual and courageous it was to start a business at that time in Indian society. Gupta then paid them the ultimate compliment, noting that no one would take a book by someone like him seriously and he might miss important insights, but with their help, it would be a better and more widely read book. Gupta also lowered the cost of agreeing to his request by asking the prominent and busy people he approached to write just a page or two, a few hundred words, with some key advice. People love to give advice as it signals how wise they are, and Gupta packaged the request brilliantly.
Gupta had cleverly noted that he was a fellow entrepreneur and an IT engineer – albeit one with much less success than the people he was approaching. This strategy works because research shows that people are more likely to accede to requests from others with whom they share even the most casual of connections. Participants in an experiment who believed that they shared a birthday with another person were almost twice as likely to agree to a request to read an eight-page English essay by that person and provide a one-page critique the following day. In a second study, people who believed they shared the same first name as the requester donated twice as much money when asked to give to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
“Asking for help is inherently flattering, and can be made even more so if we do it correctly, emphasizing the importance and accomplishments of those we ask and also reminding them of what we share in common…”
If you are approaching someone to ask for something – help finding a job, a chapter for a book like Gupta’s, advice on some matter of consequence – presumably you have selected the person you are asking because of their qualifications and experience. Show that you understand their importance and how wise they are in how you frame the request. Research summarized by social psychologist Robert Cialdini in his best-selling book, ‘Influence,’ illustrates how effective flattery can be in getting others on our side. Asking for help is inherently flattering, and can be made even more so if we do it correctly, emphasizing the importance and accomplishments of those we ask and also reminding them of what we share in common.
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