Finding the best way to bring about change has been a very time consuming search. We are great at composing a vision of the near future, great at shaping ideas of where we should sail to and we can create a fantastic, energizing kick-off.

But it’s one thing to get the ball moving, to keep everybody on board and contributing towards the change goals is an entirely different thing all together.

Why do we not use the research available?

There are countless studies with animals (and humans) that show the importance of influence. Once you don’t have influence, or even the perception of infuence, on your surroundings or your choices you turn miserable really fast.

One of the most powerful examples I read in this groundbreaking book:

The Art of Choosing from Sheena Iyengar.

She quotes a study from 1976 (!) which was conducted in a nursing house in Connecticut, USA and it involved 2 floors with residents between 65 and 90 years old.

The coordinator of the nursing home called a separate meeting for each of the two floors.

He gave each person of the first floor a plant and told them that the nurses would take care of it. He told them when and which activities to attend in the upcoming week. His overall message was that the residents were allowed to do some things, but that the responsibility of their well-being lay in the hands of the staff.

On the second floor he let the residents choose a plant and told them to take good care of it. The people on this floor could choose which activity they wanted to attend to and the focus of his message was that residents themselves were responsible for making their home a happier place.

It’s your life, he said. You can make of it whatever you want.

The staff treated the residents on both floors similarly, with the same amount of attention and care.

Tree in lightbulb

Choice and ‘Choiceless’; the difference after 3 weeks

The residents of the 2nd floor, the ones that were ‘in charge’ of their own well- being, were happier and more alert, and they interacted more with other residents and staff than the residents of the 1st floor. The physical health of 70 % of the ‘choiseless group’ deteriorated, while 90% of the group with choice improved their health in this period.

I just can’t get over the fact that the researchers found that after 6 months residents who were given greater choice were less likely to have died.

What does this mean?

For me as a change consultant this means at least three things:

  1. With even small amounts of choice you can change the well-being of people in a very positive way.
  2. You do not have to loose (your perception of) control if you permit choice
  3. If you do want change, you need to be aware of the power of influence as a great strategy to move into the right direction.

And the direction can be (partly) shaped by the people you’re working with.

I’m very interested in exploring more and further. The question is: ‘ How we can use the power of influence in our work?’

Please let me know your thoughts and insights. If you like the article, please share. Thank you very much.

Jennifer Lem is managing director and consultant @ Influate | Directing the Dynamics and she creates and designs digital intervisions @