The Death of Influence?

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We live in a world today where everybody has a voice—and that very much includes people who should definitely not have a voice. The point of such a seemingly judgmental statement is not to intentionally throw shade onto those who make TikTok videos with a lot of Ping-Pong balls, pots, pans, and apparently no in-person friends. But if you’re willing to use a green screen to fake amazing ricochets from your cookware into a plastic cup, surely you have the skills and ingenuity to make a more significant contribution to life.

To my point, if everybody has the opportunity to connect with the masses, doesn’t this signal the end of influence as we’ve known it? These days, you can be the world’s smartest person with a Nobel Prize and a best-selling book but have only 19 Facebook friends and 0 likes on your post, or you can be a dumb guy who enjoys getting bitten by snakes and who has 7 million loyal followers as a result. If you doubt this, ask yourself why you’re Googling the snake-bite guy right now.

Yet through this crowded space of unnecessary oversharing, we may have relearned some important lessons that allow us to become more personally influential in the long term and can help us manage customer and employee expectations and emotions much more effectively:

People have a great desire to be heard—so much so that they’re willing to make themselves look ridiculous in the effort. It’s one thing to see a big, burly man caught squealing on camera because he saw a bug. It’s quite another to actually be that man and post the really embarrassing video yourself.

Being real gets the deal. Even the best fakers are still obviously phony to a large percentage of people. Let’s face it: Only so many people out there drive Lamborghinis and can insult cops without being arrested. Being genuine works in a sea of fakeness.

We love watching people watch. Human beings really like to watch other people react to things they have some interest in. After all, who doesn’t like to come home from work and watch a video of someone at work...right? While that seems pretty weird, experts say that mirror neurons in our brain cause us to enjoy the emotions of others doing what we do.

It’s true that all these voices will likely cause us to value people’s opinions less than we once did. Even so, we are learning much more about how to deal with people than we ever would have in the absence of all the voices. It turns out almost all research agrees that if you make people feel heard, present your genuine self in genuine situations, and always take people’s emotions into consideration, your personal influence is very powerful, even if your cat can’t do pull-ups.

It’s hard to say what the future holds for social media (although I’ll bet some futurist podcasters think they’ve figured it out and are more than eager to tell you). We now have artificial intelligence platforms that can turn a sentence into a book in about five seconds flat. This technology creates the potential to flood the literary market precisely at a time when people report reading fewer books than they have in the past—a trend most notable among recent college grads. We’re now equipped to produce a glut of content for a generation of people who don’t like reading. Even as technological advances speed up or expand upon the ways we’ve traditionally consumed our information, we’re drifting away from those traditional modes of consumption. In this respect, particularly as it concerns influencers, the future may not resemble the past very much at all.

However, the human race has always gone back and forth from having great confidence in what comes next to not having any idea of what the future holds. That means we are often disappointedly right and luckily wrong. It’s not necessarily courage but rather taking action regardless of our level of courage or confidence that’s key. So the death of the old version of influence could be the birth of something that better prepares us for the road ahead. It seems the key to this not-so-brave new world is to avoid making the same mistakes and embrace the joy of letting someone else make them for you. 

Garrison Wynn is a best-selling author and personal influence advocate who for the past 27 years has helped organizations create a culture of leadership, safety, service, and change. He has spoken on five continents to almost all the Fortune 500 and their industry associations.

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