There has been a great deal of discussion of late regarding influence, most of it centered around who has it, how to measure it and how to leverage it. So when I sat down with my good friend and colleague Alan Berkson (@berkson0) of the Intelligist Group to discuss influence, we decided to push each other in a slightly different direction.
Rather that focus on how influence is quantified, we decided to take a look at what defines influence, and in particular, what are some of the universal characteristics of influence – not just in social media, but in the real world, across any/all markets and not limited to any specific time period.
At the end of our talk, several hours later, we had identified a number of unique characteristics of influence that were not limited to individuals, but also applied to events and trends. Here are five that we found particularly noteworthy – feel free to add your own to our list…
1) Influence can have a transitive reach across multiple industries or market sectors
Being influential in one market can often lead to being influential in another. In fact, the more influential a person or event is in a particular market can often be a good indicator of how far that influence can be extended, but there are limits.
Take for example, Bono, of U2. He has leveraged his influence in the music industry into the realm of humanitarian causes with great success, but I probably wouldn’t be swayed at all if he tried to sell me a Fiat. On the other hand, Lou Gerstner (who turned around IBM despite a non-tech background with RJR Nabisco and American Express) and Jack Welch (who drove General Electric to a dominant position during his tenure from 1981 – 2001) have enough influence, clout and experience to dominate just about any industry they touched (their influence in this case was both within their industry and within their companies, as motivators). But again, while I might be influenced by their actions in other unrelated business sectors, I probably wouldn’t be swayed by their attempt to sell men’s fragrances.
2) Influence can have variable fade curves by time
Influence is not a steady thing, it ebbs and flows like the tide, but ultimately tends to fade over time. In some cases, the influence of a person is felt both in their present (look at how Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized the printing process in his own time) and the long term future (without Gutenberg’s invention, the age of knowledge would never have occurred).
For some, the curve is very steep and fades with extreme prejudice (ala 15 minutes, or even seconds, of fame – the same can be said, by the way, for trends or “fads”), while for others their personal and global influence continues to grow to span their entire life. For example, look at how the influence of Stephen Hawking continues to grow and drive advances in the world of physics (his curve continues to rise and will have a very slow fade, similar to Albert Einstein).
3) Influence can be cyclic and/or recurring
Influence, of both trends and people, can be recurring. Steve Jobs is a great example here. While he was at Apple (the first time), his influence rocketed upward. But when he left, his influence (over both the company and the market) dropped to almost nothing. Interestingly, when he returned to Apple, his influential status picked back up exactly at the place where he left it, and it hasn’t stopped growing since.
In a different way, past figures can see a resurgence of their influence, often in unintended ways. Here are two really interesting examples:
- Yul Brynner, the famous actor who passed in 1985, saw a resurgence in his influence through a series of anti-smoking commercials he recorded prior to his death to be released years after his death. Here, his influence not only was recurring, but transcended the industry in which he was known.
- Charlton Heston, the great actor and long-time champion against gun control laws, while known for his acting is best remembered for his line “from my cold, dead hands” – a phrase uttered well after his fame as an actor had faded that has now, even today, remained a rallying cry for those who believe the 2nd Amendment guarantees their right to bear arms.
The list goes on. Look at how RunDMC jump-started Aerosmith’s fading career with their cover of “Walk This Way”, or how Tony Bennett, the singer famous in the mid-1900’s was able to stage a remarkable comeback with a younger generation, appearing along-side the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Flavor Flav, or Roy Orbison, whose career was revitalized through the collaborative efforts of people like Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, bring his then “old” music to a new generation of younger fans.
4) Influence transcends positive & negative
The saying there is no such thing as bad press is as true as ever. Influence doesn’t respect the boundaries of good or bad, it simply is, and can often work in ways that would seem to be at odds with common sense. Need a good example? Take a look at Rupert Murdoch. Throughout his career, he has had his share of tremendous successes and dreadful controversies. Neither of these has, in the past, diminished or limited his ability to wield tremendous influence through his media empire. Even with his current scandal, involving the News of the World newspaper (and also the name of one of my favorite Queen albums), it is extremely uncertain what the long-term impact will be on his influence or his legacy.
5) Influence transcends medium
Influence often works in subtle ways. For example, trusted and famous actors often lend their voice, not their image, to commercials across various industries. Most people don’t recognize the voice at first (if at all), but they do subconsciously associate the comfort they feel with that “voice” despite the fact that the medium doesn’t show the face of the actor or even mention the actor’s name. Great examples include the actor Sam Elliot, who despite a brilliant screen career, has probably had more true influence through his voice-over line “Beef, it’s what’s for dinner” than he has had in his acting career. Interesting, isn’t it.
Like I said above, these are just five examples that we thought noteworthy. There are many more, and I think the real value of this list is how we leverage these characteristics in our daily personal and business lives – feel free to add your own to our list…