The Matthew Effect

Not too long ago I reread The Art of WOO by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa. The book focuses on ways to use strategic persuasion to sell your ideas. I particularly like how the authors use real people and situations of success and failure when analyzing the use of persuasion to sell ideas. The Art of WOO is one of the few books other than Robert Cialdini’s Influence Science and Practice and Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive that I recommend when people ask about good books on influence and persuasion.In the chapter on “Closing the Sale: Commitments and Politics” the authors describe something known as the Matthew Effect. Having read through the Bible many times this reference caught my eye. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus, while teaching on the kingdom of heaven, was asked by his disciples why He taught in parables. His reply, “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.” (Mt 13:12 NASV) Social scientists don’t exactly use the Matthew Effect as Jesus did but rather they use it to describe the phenomenon that sometimes people get more credit based on what they’ve done in the past. In other words, reputation matters because it builds momentum. All of this ties into the principle of influence known as authority.The principle of authority describes the reality that people value the advice of experts more than they do an Average Joe. Average Joe and Johnny Expert might both say the exact same thing and be 100% correct but more people will believe Johnny Expert. Fair? Maybe not, but the reason we believe Johnny Expert over Average Joe is because typically experts are right more often than non-experts. If you had to lay your money down whose advice will you take – doctor or nurse; general or foot soldier; Harvard professor or high school teacher? I’d place my money on the advice of the doctor, the general and the Harvard professor and I bet most of you would too. Those people may not be right all the time but they attained their positions because of years of training and being right more often than not. That’s why they’ve come to be viewed as experts. I described this in more detail last March when I wrote a post titled “Is Expert Advice Always Worth the Price?” Actually, in that article I encouraged people to pay close attention because sometimes the advice may not be worth the asking price.What I want to explore just a bit is what you can do to take advantage of the Matthew Effect. Reputation matters because it can help or hinder you. That’s not news to anyone reading this but it’s gotten more attention in recent years. In the business world, you don’t hear as much about reputation as you do personal branding these days. In the same way companies seek to create a brand, positive impressions and feelings towards their company, people are encouraged to brand themselves. I wrote a piece on Personal Branding in July 2009. Just like a great product isn’t enough to translate into great sales, sometime good, hard work doesn’t get the recognition it deserves either. Personal branding can help overcome that.At work every email I send has “When it needs to be done well!” as part of my auto-signature. I also start my voicemail saying, “Do you need something done well? Then you’ve come to the right place!” Those are both ways to get people to associate me with getting things done well. Of course just putting out a slogan isn’t enough – you have to back it up or else your brand will be worse off.Something else you can do is work to achieve expert status. I work in insurance and in my industry continuing education is important. As you pass certain exams you can earn designations. For example, a CPCU (Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter) conveys a lot about a person because it usually takes about five years of study to earn the designation.Sometimes people don’t know what a designation means and that can be good! When someone asks me what CMCT (Cialdini Method Certified Trainer) stands for it allows me to explain and let them know there are only about two dozen people in the world who currently have that designation. Stating how few people have the designation incorporates scarcity and adds even more to the brand. Finally, being able to tell people that readers from about 140 countries have visited my blog adds even more credibility.So my question for you this week is simply this; what can you do to start leveraging the Matthew Effect? What are things about you that, if people knew, could add to your credibility so your ideas are given more credence? Brainstorm this, talk to co-workers and those who know you and start making a list. Then begin to narrow the list and think of creative ways to utilize your personal selling points. Doing so might make the difference between being heard or not, between being promoted or being passed over. Life may happen to us but how we choose to deal with it is totally within our control. All but one of Jesus’ disciples made the choice to stick it out with Him. They were exposed to truths others were not and now they live on for eternity. The Matthew Effect may not be so dramatic for you but if you leverage it properly it could help your career.Brian
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

4 replies
  1. Brian
    Brian says:

    Great question. Something simple like a business card or autosignature won't be viewed as bragging. When you have other accomplishments a great wat to let people know about them is to have someone else say them for you. For example, speakers have prepared bios for hosts to introduce them. Likewise, managers can use letters or emails to introduce their people and hightlight their accomplishments.

    PS If you do save the world, no one will think you're bragging, we'll all just be happy. : )

  2. stella collins
    stella collins says:

    Interesting post – on this occasion I'll have to disagree slightly with one specific example you give.

    I may choose to take the advice of the nurse or the foot soldier over the doctor or the general because they may be the people I deem to be expert in a particular situation.

    To me, this makes it even more important that we are able to share our specific expertise in certain areas and be clear about our areas of strength and weakness – for instance I consider myself to have a certain knowledge and skill in designing and delivering training courses that hit the mark but I know my skills do not lie in the world of general HR or business consultancy – even though I sometimes get asked to be involved in those areas.

    Have a great week
    Stella COllins BSc, MSc, FITOL (is that enough initials for you?) 🙂

  3. Brian
    Brian says:

    Only my wife is supposed to disagree with me. ; )

    Good observation. No principle gets a "Yes" response all the time. They're shortcuts the usually guide us the right way. However, depending on the situation the foot soldier in the midst of the battle might have the better solution than the general.

    By the same token, there are times I'll trust the mechanic over the engineer who designed the car because the mechanic might see the problem more often and know exactly what to do.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to share.



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