Why ideas change minds
As you may know, I’ve been spending a lot of time lately developing the field of what I call ‘Belief Leadership’. It is based on the idea that ideas don’t lead to change, it’s your belief in the idea that leads to actual change. It’s something I feel very passionate about and where all of my thirty years of work has led me. Since I first started studying NLP and hypnosis when I was 14 years old, I have always been fascinated with how beliefs change. Indeed, my master’s thesis ‘The Guru Factor’ was a study of how gurus use storytelling and persuasive language to change people’s beliefs.
I also work with a lot of coaches, consultants, and speakers that are known as ‘thought leaders’. This name is reserved for those experts who tend to get people thinking in a different way. They are listened to by many people and their opinions and insights are recommended and shared. Recently, I went along to see one of my favorite comedians Bill Burr and throughout the evening, he made a lot of brilliant points. As I got listening to him I realized there are a lot of comedians that I’ve listened to, who come up with terrifically insightful ideas. In that instant, however, I also reflected on the fact that comedians are almost never considered thought leaders which got me asking ‘why?’.
I believe the main reason why has to do with what I call the ‘law of relevant authority’. We have a habit of taking in information from other people through the lens of the social context that we are hearing from them. When you’re listening to a comedian, you are listening to them from a frame of laughter. They are entertainers so all of their ideas, no matter how profound are filtered through this mindset. When you’re listening to a preacher, you are listening to them from a frame of spiritual wisdom. The very same ideas could be expressed and we see them as coming from a divine source so we respond accordingly. Then we have politicians. They could say the very same idea but we take that idea in through the filter of politics. We either listen to them or don’t listen to them depending on which party they represent.
We don’t think of comedians, preachers, or politicians as thought leaders. Instead, most thought leaders earn their stripes in the field of business or personal development. They could say the exact same idea as the comedian, the preacher, and the politician, and yet when they say it, it seems profound. We want to consume more of their content because they can empower us to be better. The comedian makes us laugh. The preacher inspires us. The politician gets us to vote or campaign. The thought leader gets us to change how we approach our problems and challenges.
What this tells us is that the way you are perceived plays a large part in determining how effectively your ideas can change minds. You need to position yourself as a well-respected and popular thought leader. We are all, I’m sure, familiar with going on LinkedIn and seeing posts that ‘captain obvious’ would be proud of, getting tens of thousands of likes and comments because of who posted them. We know that people aren’t resonating with these points because of the ideas but rather because of who posted it. They have earned the right to be able to post basic concepts by first getting people to think differently through original and clever insights., Crucially, these insights were provided in the frame of being a thought leader. They were a relevant authority and so they established themselves effectively.