Jonah Berger is a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and is also the bestselling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior. Jonah has been published in numerous of the very top-tier journals, and has also featured in popular publications such as The New York Times, Science, Harvard Business Review, Wired, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and many more. When Jonah Berger is not writer, he is teaching Wharton’s top ranked online course, where he educates students using over 15 years of experience studying how social influence works. The king of influence himself, Robert Cialdini, had this to say about Jonah Berger; “With great insight, Jonah Berger removes the cloak of invisibility from powerful sources of influence and resolves fascinating mysteries of human behavior”. Jonah has also assisted a wide range of organisations, from Fortune 500 companies to small start-ups with understanding social influence, helping them with driving new product adoption and sharpening their marketing strategies. I love an opportunity to speak with such a well respected writer, and knew that Jonah wouldn’t disappoint. Please enjoy my interview with Jonah Berger…
I’m a Marketing Professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and bestselling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On and Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior.
What are you reading at the moment?
At the moment, I am reading Pre-Suasion by Robert Cialdini.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
My earliest memory of reading is reading The Hardy Boys by Franklin W. Dixon. Loved those books, they created an immersive world that you just wanted to be a part of. As a kid, you couldn’t help but get sucked in. You wanted to know what was going to happen next.
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
I’m biased, but my first book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, is a fun read for anyone interested in understanding why they do what they do.
What made you write Contagious?
I’d done a bunch of research on word of mouth and why things catch on and had started teaching a version of the framework in my MBA course. More people than could fit in the course wanted to take it though, so without fail they’d ask if there was some outside reading I could suggest. I’d direct them to the various academic papers myself and others had published in the area but inevitably, some people would email back to say thanks but request something more “accessible.” In other words, something that was rigorous but less dry than the typical jargon-laded articles published in academic journals. A book that provided them with research-based principles for understanding what makes things catch on. After looking around I realized that book didn’t really exist, so I decided to write it
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
You know when parents go to the mall to have pictures taken of their kids on the Easter Bunny’s lap? I was the guy in the Easter Bunny costume.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I often end up reading lots of academic articles for work, so it’s sometimes hard to find the time for books.
Apart from my own, I would recommend Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Diffusion of Innovations by Everett M. Rogers are all great. Diffusion of Innovations was one of the first books to examine the question of why some products succeed while others fail. The author looked at everything from hybrid corn to new computer technologies. Amazing read.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
A Matter of Taste: How Names, Fashions, and Culture Change by Stanley Lieberson uses baby names to explain why things becomes popular and unpopular. Amazing overview of social dynamics and why things become popular. Most parents want a somewhat unique name for their kid, yet when they get to first grade there are often 2 other kids with the same (or similar) names in the class. If everyone is trying to be different, how do they end up being so similar? And what does that tell us about why things catch on more generally.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
Almost anything about behavioral science and human behavior.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
A sad place. Books make everything better.
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
Nope. Many people, including me, still love the feel of turning real pages.
I think 1984 by George Orwell seems appropriate at the moment.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
The book that has had the biggest impact on me is The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Opened my eyes to social epidemics and how they shape behavior.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I have a baby on the way, so lots and lots of baby books.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Make It Tough to Fail. Success is impossible to guarantee, but the more you make it difficult to fail (i.e., by being prepared) the more likely you’ll be to succeed.