The 3 Types of Inspiration: Personal, Collective, Environmental

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Influencer" by Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the three main types of inspiration? How do these types of inspiration affect your life?

According to the authors of Influencer, there are three areas of impact that affect people’s desire to make a change: individual inspiration, collective inspiration, and environmental inspiration. These areas inspire you and others to adopt critical practices to change behaviors.

Continue reading to learn more about the three types of inspiration.

1. Individual Inspiration

The first type of inspiration is personal inspiration. In this section, we’ll answer the question: How do you persuade people to adopt a critical practice?

There are several reasons why motivating individuals to adopt critical practices is hard, according to the authors. First, the importance of a critical practice may not be objectively clear to the people you’re trying to influence. Why change a behavior if you don’t see a reason to? Second, the critical practice required to reach a goal may not be immediately rewarding. For example, if the goal is to decrease cholesterol levels, one critical practice is reducing the consumption of fatty foods. Unfortunately, for many of us, fatty foods are immediately satisfying, even if there are long-term consequences. Long-term benefit is harder to sell than immediate satisfaction.

When someone seems unmotivated to change their behavior, the authors caution against judging their lack of inspiration as laziness, selfishness, or apathy. Lack of motivation is rarely an innate flaw. More often it’s the result of a lack of focus on what’s important or lack of awareness about the impact of their behavior. Instead of judgment, the authors advocate for empathy and curiosity. 

The authors offer several strategies that influencers use to address these challenges and help people see the purpose and value in adopting a critical practice:

First, they recommend avoiding coercion. As an influencer, you must first honor personal agency by not mandating behavior, which could decrease motivation and increase resistance. Instead of dictating behavior, the authors recommend providing the opportunity to opt into the critical practice. Offer the new practice as an invitation rather than a directive. People will more willingly come aboard if they feel they have a choice. 

Next, ground the behavior in reality. Help people see the importance of putting critical practices into action by providing experiences and stories, , so that behaviors that might seem unappealing at first glance begin to resonate. 

People are also more likely to want to adopt critical practices if you make it fun. The authors suggest making the behavior a part of a game or competition, ensuring there are ongoing opportunities for improvement and recognition to sustain motivation. For example, when people compete to get the highest number of steps in a day, they’re more likely to increase their step count

2. Collective Inspiration

The second type of inspiration is collective inspiration. In this section, we’ll answer the question: How can you use the power of community connection to inspire people to adopt a critical practice?

Humans are social creatures, and therefore our social relationships are a powerful resource to exert influence. The authors offer the following strategies as tools for capitalizing on social connection as a tool of inspiration: (Shortform note: Humans’ innate desire to connect and build relationships isn’t only emotionally beneficial, but is also a crucial variable in our evolutionary success. Our empathy has allowed us to build collaborative and mutually beneficial relationships that have contributed to our survival.)

Start by being a leader. If you’re respected and trusted in your community, people are more likely to listen to your opinion and advice. The opposite is also true: If you lack the admiration and trust of the people you’re trying to influence, there’s very little you can do to persuade them to act. The authors suggest that selfless acts, like giving up time and money or apologizing when you make a mistake, are effective ways to build trust in your leadership. 

Once you’ve established yourself as a leader, recruit other leaders. There are often a few people in any community others look to for guidance. The authors refer to these figures as “opinion leaders.” These community leaders often have a wealth of knowledge and a higher level of work or education experience than the general populace. Getting the unspoken leaders on board with your plans will have a disproportionately large impact on the larger community. 

However, even with leaders on board, you’ll still likely have to transform the culture. One tool for changing culture is establishing widespread accountability. Each person should be responsible for themselves and for their team members to ensure that new cultural norms are followed. For example, the “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign that was implemented after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York was an effort to shift the culture of public safety so that it became the responsibility of everyone instead of only the transit authority personnel. 

3. Environmental Inspiration

The third type of inspiration is environmental inspiration. In this section, we’ll answer the question: How can you use environmental structures and policies to inspire the adoption of a critical practice?

Environmental inspiration encompasses the use of rewards and punishments to inspire certain behaviors. The authors offer the following strategies for using these systems to reinforce internal and collective inspiration:

The first step is to remove roadblocks. Before implementing incentives, look closely to see if there are any structures in place that might be disincentivizing the desired critical practice. For example, if a floor manager wants assembly line workers to slow down to improve product quality, but she pays them based on the number of products produced per hour, she is incentivizing speed and disincentivizing slow, methodical work. This practice is a roadblock to the critical behavior she is trying to implement. 

(Shortform note: In Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests using environmental design as a tool to remove roadblocks. He argues that visual cues are an especially strong trigger for habit formation, therefore removing visual cues that trigger negative behaviors will help facilitate behavior change. For example, removing alcohol from your direct sight line can help minimize consumption.)

The authors recommend that you use rewards sparingly because incentives can harm intrinsic motivation. Also, rewards don’t have to be big. Intentional symbolic rewards, like a companywide shout-out or thoughtfully written card can be just as powerful as monetary incentives. 

Then use punishment as a last resort. There are times when punishment is necessary, but it’s the least effective of your influencer strategies. Sometimes a warning or the threat of punishment can be as effective as the punishment itself. However, when necessary, don’t be afraid to enact punishments. A strategic and timely punishment can have ripple effects throughout a community. For example, if a treatment program states that any kind of substance abuse will result in dismissal from the program and then follows through when a program participant is found under the influence, the message will be clear to the other members of the community that the behavior expectations of the program are taken seriously.

The 3 Types of Inspiration: Personal, Collective, Environmental

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Joseph Grenny, Kerry Patterson, et al.'s "Influencer" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Influencer summary:

  • A three-step guide on how to influence human behavior
  • How to change the minds of those who are unmotivated to change
  • How you can use the power of community connection to inspire people

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

One thought on “The 3 Types of Inspiration: Personal, Collective, Environmental

  • February 26, 2024 at 10:31 pm

    Very educational….thank you so much🙏


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