Book Review: Contagious – Why Things Catch On

One of my new favorite things to do is to wander around the Amazon Books store in our neighborhood. To the chagrin of my wife, anytime we go for a walk, I enjoy going into the store, always heading straight for the business/management section, just to see what they have in stock that day.

The store is small and is designed in such a way to encourage its customers to get-in, spend money, and get-out. Unlike most bookstores, there are no places to sit, no quiet nooks to hang out and read, and no coffee bar. This conscious decision for such a set-up has made me even more interested to try to figure out how they determine what books to keep in inventory.

I was doing my usual walk through a couple of weeks ago and stumbled upon an orange book called, Contagious by Jonah Berger. The book said “New York Times Bestseller” on the cover, but I didn’t recall ever seeing it on the list, which I check weekly. I thought to myself that I had already read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, which covers the same topic. Still, the psychology about why certain things “go viral,” has always interested me, and it applies to my everyday work of trying to spread a concept and story through the culture of a large organization. I added it to my audible wish list and downloaded it the next time I had a credit. I am so happy that I did.

contagious

When I started listening to it, I found out in the book’s introduction that Jonah Berger teaches at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He focused his research after reading The Tipping Point and wanted to learn more. After years of further study, Berger identified 6 principles to what makes something “go viral”. They are:

  1. Social Currency
  2. Triggers
  3. Emotion
  4. Public
  5. Practical Value
  6. Stories

Berger uses a variety of examples (the $100 cheesesteak and a hidden speakeasy called “Please Don’t Tell”) as well as anecdotes to explain how each principle works and how they fit together.

In addition to being an entertaining and easy read, Contagious holds valuable lessons on an extremely important subject. Knowing how ideas spread is one of the most important competencies of a leader. Setting a vision and a strategy to achieve that vision are insufficient if they are not communicated effectively to members of the organization. A vision and strategy will only ever be a thought exercise if the entire organization doesn’t know what the vision and strategy are or how to connect their work to the overall direction of the organization. Ideas, stories, and messages that are important to the future of the organization must be packaged in such a way that makes them contagious.

Some leaders assume that once a strategy is set, it will automatically cascade to the rest of the organization. But, a message going “viral” in an organization does not happen automatically. Leaders must use psychological principles, like the ones described in Contagious, to make change happen in an organization. Marketing a strategy to employees is equally as important as marketing the product to the customers. Contagious helps to uncover how to do both.

KEY TAKEAWAY: Leadership is about communicating vision and strategy so that it spreads to the entire organization. The six principles in Contagious can help leaders effectively package messages to proactively engage both organizational stakeholders and customers.


Contagious is available for purchase on Amazon for $17.00 (does not include Prime discount).