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The “Crack” Strategy

In the previous section you learned that people want to stay consistent with their personas, and that one of the easiest ways to get people to do stuff is to first activate a persona that will effortlessly lead to the action you want them to take.

But we also saw that sometimes people don’t have a persona that fits with what you want them to do. If you try to fight a strong, existing persona you won’t get very far in getting people to do stuff. But it is possible to change a persona.

I’m writing this book in 2013 on an Apple MacBook Pro laptop computer. That may not sound surprising, but it actually is. Here’s the story:

I first started using computers in graduate school in the 1970s. I learned how to program large “mainframe” computers, as well as smaller “mini” computers (that weren’t all that small!). When the personal computer revolution started up in the 1980s, I was right there. I even sold personal computers one year. Eventually I started my consulting career doing interface design and usability work for Fortune 1000 companies.

Fortune 1000 companies in the 1980s and 1990s used primarily Windows-based computers—and, as of this writing, they still do. Very few of my clients used Apple computers. “Serious” computer users were Windows based (or Unix based if you were really serious). Apple computers were for artists. If you were a “techie,” you used a Windows-based PC. I was a techie. I was a PC person. My husband, however, was an Apple person. He was a newspaper editor, and he used Apple computers at work to lay out his newspaper pages.

Both my husband and I would archly defend our technology of choice. Over time, I learned to just ignore his comments about how horrible Windows PCs were, and how wonderful his Mac was. He learned to use a Windows-based PC, since our home computers were the cast-offs from my business. I was in charge of computers in our home, and they were all Windows-based machines. We learned to agree to disagree when it came to “what is the best computer.” My persona was strongly rooted as a “savvy technology user.”

Then Apple introduced the iPod. My children lobbied for us to buy them iPods and we did. Since I was a “savvy technology user,” I bought an MP3 player, but I didn’t buy an iPod. iPod was made by Apple. My persona didn’t fit being an Apple fan. But my MP3 player was hard to use. The iPod was cool. My MP3 player was ugly and unusable.

So, I bought an iPod. I actually did feel a twinge of dissonance when I broke a little bit from my non-Apple, all-PC persona to buy an Apple product. But it was only a type of MP3 player really, right? So it was a small action outside my usual persona, nothing too drastic.

That was the crack.

I had introduced a crack in my PC persona. I was now a PC person who used an Apple product. I loved my iPod. And over time my PC persona began to give way. I was becoming a person who believed in Apple products. My persona began to shift, and a few years later, when my Windows-based laptop was past its prime and it came time to purchase a new computer, I bought a Mac laptop. Within a year or so I was all Apple.

Interestingly, I wasn’t consciously aware of this whole process until my husband walked into my home office and stared. I was talking on my iPhone while typing on my Apple laptop. My iPad was next to me, and the Apple TV was on in the background. I had made an entire shift to Apple. When it comes to technology, I now have an Apple persona.

I don’t know if Apple planned to crack people’s Windows PC personas by introducing a non-computer product, the iPod. But that has certainly been the effect for me, and likely many others.

Once a persona is established and active, it’s easy to get people to take actions and make decisions that are consistent with that persona. If, however, the active persona is not consistent with what you want someone to do, you may need to figure out how to change the persona. If you launch an all-out assault on a person’s persona to try and get them to radically change who they are from the outside (you are the outside), you will not succeed. But if you can introduce a small crack in the existing persona, you have an opportunity to have a new persona enter and take over.

In the sections on commitment, story editing, and story prompting that follow, you’ll learn more about how to encourage personas to change.

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