You can’t make me do it…

In an earlier post, I wrote briefly about incentives in KM initiatives. In what looks like a response to Dave Snowden’s assertion that story-telling can be manipulative (“I think story telling is the weakest, least effective and most dangerous form of narrative work”), Shawn Callahan points to a summary by David Maxfield of the distinction between influencing, persuading and manipulation.

Persuasion-related issues are usually more short-term and focus on getting a person’s honest verbal agreement or commitment. They can often be handled in a single conversation.

Influence issues are more long-term and involve entrenched habits. Getting the person’s honest agreement and commitment to change is usually just a starting point.

Here is my test for whether a skill is manipulative: “Would it lose its power if people knew exactly what you were doing and why?” If the answer is yes, if the technique loses its power in the light of day, then it’s manipulative and I don’t want any part of it.

I am less interested in the manipulation part of this trichotomy, and more in the question of influencing versus persuading. For me, Maxfield’s distinction explains why incentives don’t work. They appeal to people’s baser inclinations, and are persuasive, but they don’t change behaviours. A response to an incentive surely takes the form, “I am doing this because you want me to, and it is currently in my interests to do what you want,” whereas someone whose behaviour has been changed is effectively saying, “I am doing this because I want to.”

In my experience, KM activities that depend on persuasion may change some people’s behaviours, but their success depends on continuous engagement by someone (a PSL, a manager, or the central KM function). If we succeed in influencing (perhaps by demonstrating success through our own behaviours), we are relieved of the obligation to carry on supporting past KM endeavours — they become part of the flow. As a result, we are free to move on to new projects. Isn’t that a better place to be?