Influence Lessons from Hurricanes: Organization, Pressure and Timing

For reasons I don’t completely understand, I decided to vacation in Key West this weekend – right in the middle of tropical storm Isaac.  Well, actually, I do understand why I came. I wanted to go scuba diving, which has not happened. Of course, I feel bad complaining about how my vacation has been ruined when I see where Isaac is heading. All our thoughts should be going out to the people of the Gulf Coast.

But naturally, as I’ve sat here locked in my hotel room eating well-preserved food, I’ve been thinking to myself “do hurricanes have any lessons to teach us about effective influence?” Based on my hours of watching the Weather Channel the last few days, I can see a few skills that hurricanes and powerful persuaders share, including:

  • Organization:  Tropical storms become hurricanes only after “organizing.” Before that, every storm is just a big old hot mess (literally). While I’m not sure that Isaac has been “trying” to organize (it’s a meteorological phenomenon people: it’s not “trying” to do anything) it is true that a storm with a focused center packs a powerful punch. You need the same focus for your own influence effort.  What is your S.M.A.R.T. goal? Who do you need to approach? Who is influential with that audience? What information do you need to influence them? What messages will resonate? How will you follow-up?
  • Pressure: As air pressure decreases (as measured by a barometer), the likelihood of a tropical storm turning into a hurricane increases. In other words, the lower the pressure, the higher the potential impact.  This might seem counterintuitive to an influence situation, but think about it in your own life. For example, do you tend to prefer the high or low pressure sales approach? As with hurricanes, decreasing the pressure as you get closer to the decision increases potency.
  • Timing: Isaac traveled at a relatively fast 20+ miles per hour over the Caribbean. When entering the Gulf of Mexico it slowed to between 10 and 12 miles per hour. As the storm slows it strengthens. In your own influence situation you should ask yourself “if I slow down, will my argument become more powerful?” Being the right person with the right solution is important. Being the right person with the right solution at the right time is essential.

All this isn’t to say that it’s impossible to be influential in a fast-paced, high pressure and chaotic environment.  That’s certainly an influence game that everyone in Washington, D.C. must play to overcome Congress’ bias toward inertia. But many other “outside the beltway” situations (sales, negotiations, getting a job, persuading a spouse) might benefit from a more nuanced approach.

For now, let me just say to Isaac that everyone hopes you’ll be a little more like Congress and a little less like an entity that can get something done. I know I’m anthropomorphizing just like the meteorologists, but who knows?  It might help.


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