This summer I’ve been working with Hyper Island as part of the program team running the AMP NYC accelerator for media & entertainment entrepreneurs in the city.

It’s been a fun ride, designing and delivering a unique curriculum for a diverse group of 22 founders growing businesses ranging from music PR agencies to documentary filmmaking, 3D data visualisation to pop-up improv events.

In our most recent class we got into marketing and sales, with a core focus on influence, trust and (micro) networks.

We framed the first part of the day around Robert Cialdini’s CLASSR model before jumping into an exercise I called ‘Jiu Jitsu’ – thinking about the persuasive jiu jitsu moves the group have already performed to acquire, retain and grow the clients and customers they work with.

The CLASSR model goes back to Cialdini’s classic book ‘Persuasion’, but we added a contemporary spin on each element which I’m sharing here.

In business, particularly in B2B situations (but far from exclusively), we usually want the customer to acknowledge we’re the expert.

We can get to this point purely through a display of expertise alone, but more effectively  when that expertise is combined with a feeling of alignment and trust.

Influence (1)

How do we get there?

As Dale Carnegie famously suggested;

Influence (2)

Or if we’re thinking in terms of funnels, we should build;


Robert Cialdini’s ‘CLASSR’ model covers 6 areas of persuasion that lead to influence and trust. It’s worth noting we approach these areas in a positive and mindful way; there’s certainly opportunity for more Machiavellian tactics but that’s for someone else to think about 🙂

4These 6 elements are everywhere – we’re affected and impacted by them almost every single day. It’s worth taking some time to consider where these appear in our daily lives – subway adverts, interactions in a retail store, hiring a new member of our team, going for dinner with friends; they really are everywhere we look.

First up:


People feel a strong urge to be consistent with things they’ve done or said in the past. That urge can be triggered by seeking commitments – usually small ones at first.

Cialdini cites the example of a doctor’s surgery reducing their patients’ missed appointments by asking patients to write down the next appointment details on an appointment card rather than the surgery staff doing it.

Writing is often a very powerful way of getting commitment and thus triggering the urge to be consistent, but there are other methods that can be used too.

One of the reasons companies give out stickers is to gain a small commitment. Putting a Supreme sticker on your laptop or bag triggers the urge to be consistent. If Supreme later suggest a larger commitment you’ll be far more likely to comply if you’re already sporting a sticker on one of your possessions.

It’s worth remembering that to get the consistency you desire you need to get the other person to make a commitment in that direction, even if very small to begin with.


In June 2018, 28 year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the congressional primary in New York’s 14th district, coming seemingly from nowhere to beat one of Washington’s powerful political figures.

How did she do it?

It would be reductionist to suggest there was only one reason, but a significant contribution was probably that simply she is well-liked.

We prefer saying yes to people we like. That’s pretty obvious. The 3 factors that lead us to liking someone are having an affinity with them, a feeling they are co-operating with us to mutual goals and that they pay us compliments.

While it’s harder to speculate on the third factor in Ocasio-Cortez’s case, the first two look to be strong indicators towards why she was so successful.

And this photo of her worn out (and affordable) campaign shoes probably added to it.

We may not find it easy to feel similar to everyone we come into contact with, or immediately pay them compliments without feeling insincere, but there are likely common goals we can get behind, as well as just being a decent human being of course.

Third, Authority.


These gentlemen work at Compass, a rapidly growing real estate company.

When I moved to NYC one of the biggest tasks was to find somewhere to live. I tried a bunch of realtors – some were focused and attuned to my needs, others less so.

On phoning Compass I was starting to feel a little jaded and also mindful of getting done over by net effective rent, brokers’ fees, guarantor fees and the various other hidden costs that are seemingly part and parcel of New York real estate.

The assistant in the Compass team I spoke to made me very aware of the specific experience of her team members – years on the clock, their interest in working with people with circumstances like mine, and examples of some transactions of a similar nature.

I felt more comfortable immediately. Why them? Because they made me feel they were an authority on this specific area of real estate.

Cialdini notes that we react strongly to people in positions of authority or expertise – whether policemen, doctors or established real estate brokers. Again, when combined with other CLASSR elements through jiu jitsu the effect is even more powerful. For example, the lawyer with 15 years experience doesn’t usually have any problem with displaying her certificates proudly in the office for all to see.

Footnote: On meeting one of the team, he showed up in some very natty sneakers, with a big smile and a bunch of Dad jokes. I had an affinity for him – I liked him.


Here are Supreme again. This is their store (or rather than line to get into it) on Lafayette Street in Manhattan.

Supreme excel at managing scarcity, and getting people to want more of what they (nearly) can’t have.

They control supply of product via ‘drops’, with product lines, sizes, colors, times and locations all planned meticulously.

They also control demand – the line outside the store looks like it stretches around 2 blocks even when it doesn’t. The line is split up into pieces so whether you’re coming from Broadway, Prince, Crosby or Lafayette it looks like something’s happening.

One of the challenges with scarcity is making the proposition unique. Some people are put off by scarcity tactics so make sure to extol the unique value proposition and also the downside for them if they pass up on what you’re offering.

Onto number 5, social proof.


Social proof is probably the most omnipresent of all the six areas of influence.

Simply, to decide what we should do we look at what other people do .

Examples are everywhere – from joining the line at Supreme, to avoiding the empty the empty subway car, and ordering the same drink as your new acquaintance when you visit a bar together.

The shaving company Harry’s launched their product with an ingenious scheme closely tied to social proof. Before the actual product was even available, prospects could sign up and share a referral code with their friends. The more friends signed up, the more products the original referrer could access. On top of this, the friends could see the original referrer has suggested they join. If it was good enough for their friend, why wouldn’t they sign up?

Again, the effect is particularly powerful when combined with other elements – scarcity and reciprocity in particular.

Other forms of social proof we see in business include client testimonials, influencer endorsements, accreditations and client logos.

The last of the six is Reciprocity.


My pal Brian is a respected creative director in the media industry in NYC. He also knows a thing or two about hospitality and reciprocity, having run a successful bar.

Brian told me the story of the napkin.

When you visit a drinking establishment, the bartender may put a napkin on the bar by way of greeting. This says ‘I see you’.

The next time you visit, a good bartender will say something along the lines of ‘good to see you again’. This isn’t just moving towards Reciprocity, it’s also building up the Like element of persuasion. This says ‘I know you’.

If you start going to the bar more regularly, the bartender will have your favorite drink ready to go almost as soon as you take a seat. This says ‘You’re home’.

At this point, the power balance tips – this gesture makes us want to reciprocate in some way.

Finally, when the little mint is placed on top of the check, the bartender’s influence over you is complete. The mint says ‘Now you owe me’. And you watch yourself tip generously.

The thing here is not the mint itself, it’s the way it was delivered – with care, over time.

Another type of gift adds the Like element. A consultant I met told me how he discovered a prospective client was a lover of Gil Scott Heron’s music. The consultant, completely unprompted, sought out some rare Gil Scott Heron records and sent them to the prospect’s office.

Feeling a need to reciprocate, a lunch meeting and a project followed soon after.


Lastly, the concept of presuasion.


It’s not just about the message you deliver, it’s about the timing. `As Cialdini says;

This “privileged moment for change” prepares people to be receptive to a message before they experience it. Optimal persuasion is achieved only through optimal pre-suasion. In other words, to change “minds” a pre-suader must also change “states of mind.”

The rather brilliant Rory Sutherland uses the example of the airport bus to explain this concept.

Imagine you’re on a plane that’s just landed. The pilot says there’s no air bridge and everyone will need to take the bus to the terminal. Cue everyone signing in frustration.

However, if the pilot informs the passengers that rather than the air bridge there’s a bus that will take everyone directly to the terminal, right next to the arrivals halls with no walking needed, suddenly everyone feels…well, pretty good.

We’ve been presuaded.

Following this session on CLASSR we jumped into thinking about our own jiu jitsu of influence – where we’d succeeded but also considering occasions where someone else may have leveraged the weight of their CLASSR against us.

And just like real jiu jitsu, combinations can be powerful. We may have used Authority, Like and Scarcity all together, or led with a Commitment before leveraging Scarcity.

Looking backwards and tracking the history of how we got our clients and customers allowed us to see certain tipping points, trends and also a few missed opportunities.

Taking those trends and insights we then looked into the power of networks, how to extend those we had, what marketing to them really meant, and make decisions on who we prospect and when.

This is just a small taste of the AMP NYC class and broader program; we’ve created dozens of ideas, provocations, exercises, reflections and workshop sessions.

if you’re interested in learning more about the program then drop me a line or head over to the landing page here.

Jiu Jitsu, Influence, and Persuasion for creative businesses

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