• News
  • Columns
  • Interviews
  • BW Communities
  • Events
  • BW TV
  • Subscribe to Print
BW Businessworld

Credibility: An Ace up the CXO Storyteller's Sleeve

Why do we believe some ideas over others? The reasons could be many, allof us are swirling masses of opinions, beliefs and convictions

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


Why do we believe some ideas over others? The reasons could be many, all of us are swirling masses of opinions, beliefs and convictions. We have been influenced by a series of institutions right from our formational years. Education, Govt, Religious Authorities, Media etc. apart from relationships - Parents, friends, colleagues etc. In a similar manner, one can exert significant influence on the same set of people using proximity and access.

What happens when we don't have a personal relationship, what are tools at our disposal:

Look stunning or be famous and while you are at it, doesn't hurt to be both! if you have hit the genetic jackpot, the world is truly your oyster. So generally, it's acknowledged that good looking people have an advantage in social interactions. Recent findings indicate that we might have sorely underestimated the size and reach of that advantage. Scientists call this effect a halo effect. A halo effect occurs when one positive characteristic of a person dominates the way that person is viewed by others, and evidence is now clear that physical attractiveness is often such a characteristic. Research has shown that we automatically assign to good looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty and intelligence. And we make these judgments without being aware that physical attractiveness has played a role in this feature. But as most people possess average looks, yours truly included, how can we level the playing field? Read on for some interesting hacks..

Likeability: One way to beat the Halo effect and to mimic the same kind of success, we need to be more likeable- All things being the same, we would buy from people we like, It's a fundamental fact. Now how do we get people to like us? one of the most influential things in making people like us is boost similarity. We like people who are like us. This holds true whether the similarity is in opinions, personality traits, background or lifestyle or even wardrobe choices.

Using figures of Authority:

There was an experiment conducted on how pain affects learning and memory, the scientist who was conducting the experiment was called Stanley Milgram.

According to the 2-hour long experiment, A set of volunteers were selected,one participant was assigned the task of learning pairs of words in a long list until each pair could be recalled perfectly, he was titled "Learner" the volunteers were titled "Teachers". In the presence of the researcher, the "teacher" would administer shocks to the "learner', who by the way was strapped in chairs. For every wrong answer, the voltage would go on increasing by 15 volts!

The test started and the learner started making mistakes, and the voltage started increasing for every successive answer, till the learner was screaming saying the shocks were unbearable and was begging for the experiment to be stopped. So, before this experiment happened, psychologists were asked to predict how many people would be likely to go all the way in terms of administering punishment.

They predicted a range of 5 to 10%. A whopping 60% of the people who were playing the role of the teacher went all the way into administering about 350 volts of shock, the maximum voltage that was prescribed in the manual. It came to be known as the Milgram experiment. But instead of being administered the shock the person who was playing the role of the learner was an actor and the electric shock machine was a dummy. This experiment was not about memory or learning as you would have gathered, this was about understanding the levels individuals would go to inflict pain on an entirely innocent person and why.

The answer to this behavior could lie in our deference to authority. There is a deep sense of duty the volunteer owes to the researcher as an authority figure. The willingness of adults to go to almost any lengths on the command of an authority constitutes the chief finding of the study. Now if you were to compare this with prisoners of war or what happened during the inhuman gassing of Jews at Auschwitz and various other camps by the Nazis, You'll begin to understand at some level, the need to obey authority was a far greater trigger than the pain they were inflicting upon their human beings.

Using testimonials from celebrities, influencers and authority figures in any domain will enable you to replicate the halo effect and break through the clutter.

Details and the Devil

When I was heading ad sales for an International TV network - a key part of my story was that as a medium, we were changing lives for the better and that was the raison d'etre of our existence, this was communicated across all stakeholders. For some reason - this didn't exactly catch fire, lot of eye rolling ensued till I began to embellish this story with detailed data.

As per an NBER (National bureau of Economic Research) titled The Power of TV: Cable Television and Women's status in India- The study's coauthors Robert Jensen and Emily Oster found that the Villages that added cable were associated with improvements in measures of Women's autonomy, data showed a decrease in the acceptability of Wife beating and reduced preferences for sons over daughters. In addition, there were also increased female school enrollment and decrease in fertility due to Cable TV. A rich survey of 2700 households were surveyed - In the first survey, 65 of the 180 villages had cable TV and since Cable TV penetration happened in a phased manner, they could clearly study and assign these positive affects considering causality and co relation errors. This case study was quoted in the Book "Super Freakanomics" as well. Now, I had a much better story as it was much more credible and this time around the story really hit home.

The Ultimate test in credibility messaging was about drinking Poop Water and Bill Gates did just that. In solving big challenges and alleviating poverty in Africa and other developing nations, The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation was exploring various alternatives and this promises to be the most radical one yet. Lack of proper sanitation has led to numerous deaths due to disease, treatment of this faecal sludge by a device called the omni processor made faecal matter drinkable. Bill wanted to showcase how this machine could make drinking water out of faecal waste. For this ultimate "taste test" - He came on the Jimmy Fallon show and drank the poop water and this poop water test is a legend in creating credibility.

You might not want to drink poop water, but ensuring credibility and crafting creative ways to communicate the same will go a long way in making your ideas stick!

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
cxos corporate storytelling bill gates

Jay Kumar Hariharan

The author is an Executive Coach, Speaker and Deep Sea Diver. He is a graduate from International Coach Academy, Sydney. He provides coaching interventions to create transformational Leadership practices. For more read about the author visit

More From The Author >>