Click: The Magic of Instant Connections is a slim little volume that resists easy classification. I suppose you could call it a book on psychology, as it explores a particular phenomenon that isn’t well-researched: how people connect with each other. From Chapter 1:
This book is about those mysterious moment — when we click in life. Those moments when we are fully engaged and feel a certain natural chemistry or connection with a person, place, or activity
Except it’s about far more than those “mysterious moments”. And as it turns out, I think Click has a good deal of applicability to the modern practice of real estate in a bunch of ways.
The Book In General
As a general matter, Click is an easy read. The authors — two brothers Ori Brafman, an organizational business consultant, and Rom Brafman, a psychologist — write in a breezy, anecdotal style weaving stories of individuals like police hostage negotiator Greg Sancier into and out of discussions of academic literature, psychological experiments, and observations about human behavior. I read the book in one sitting in an afternoon, and it was an overall pleasure to read.
The general topic of the book is why people connect with each other, these “magical moments” of full engagement, the impact of those bonds over time, and what sorts of factors “accelerate” such meaningful connections.
It is in the discussion of these accelerators where the book gets interesting. There are, for all intents and purposes, three major accelerants of connection: Vulnerability, Proximity, and Similarity. (The authors posit two additional accelerants, Resonance and a Safe Place, but I find those to be either extensions of the other three, or wholly unconvincing.)
Vulnerability, the authors conclude, is a major accelerant of connecting with people:
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps the other person to trust you, precisely because you are putting yourself at emotional, psychological, or physical risk. Other people tend to react by being more open and vulnerable themselves. The fact that both of you are letting down your guard helps to lay the groundwork for a faster, closer personal connection. When you both make yourselves vulnerable from the outset and are candid in revealing who you are and how you think and feel, you create an environment that fosters the kind of openness that can lead to an instant connection — a click.
And the authors pile on evidence from psychological research and anecdotes to prove their case; the most amusing of which is a study which showed that “vulnerability” on the part of a computer elicited more openness from human participants, even though the people knew very well that a computer doesn’t have feelings.
Proximity is the next major accelerant. Basically, the insight is that people connect with people who are nearby. That alone doesn’t sound like much, but the authors go further:
In other words, the single most important factor in determining whether or not you connect with another person is neither personality nor mutual interests — it is simple proximity.
Furthermore, the authors claim that “the last few feet” make an enormous difference in how people connect:
The likelihood of clicking, or forming a meaningful connection, with someone increases exponentially the closer we are to that person. We call this phenomenon exponential attraction.
So the students in the middle of a dorm hall were more popular than those at the end of the hall, simply because they were a few feet closer to other students. Police academy cadets become friends with each other simply because they happened to sit next to each other, when seating was assigned in alphabetical order by last name; Adams became friends with Aldrich, Smith became friends with Samuelson, etc.
Even more interesting, the authors showcase one study in which mere exposure led to more positive impressions about a person: familiarity doesn’t breed contempt, it breeds connection. There were measurable differences in how people viewed four different women (none of whom ever spoke or interacted with anyone else in a large lecture hall) simply because one attended more of the lectures than the others.
And finally, Similarity is the next accelerant of clicking, which seems obvious: that we connect easier with people who are like us seems common sense. Where the book shines is in providing some interesting evidence that shows just how deep the urge goes.
For example, the authors discuss studies in which merely the similarity in names between the test subject and the experimenter resulted in nearly doubling of charitable contributions, even though the similarity was never raised by the experimenter. Subconsciously, people responded to requests for donations from total strangers whose only “similarity” was a shared first name by doubling their donation. And, it doesn’t much matter what the similarity is:
The point is that similarity, no matter what form it takes, leads to greater likability. When we discover a shared similarity with someone we’ve just met — and as we’ve seen, it doesn’t matter in which areas the similarity occurs — we’re more likely to perceive the person as part of what psychologists call an in-group. An in-group is a collection of people who share common traits that differentiate them from others.
We tend to perceive in-group members in a more favorable light (we think of them as being more attractive and better people). This drive is so strong, so deeply ingrained in us, that casual conversations that reveal similarities naturally trigger the in-group response.
And finally, it appears that for similarity, quantity matters over quality. It isn’t how deeply you share something, or how closely you agree, but on how many different topics you agree, and how many different areas of similarity you share with another person that leads to stronger connections.
Perhaps that would explain how a Republican strategist like Mary Matalin could be married to a Democrat politico like James Carville. Despite their significant, and apparently real, differences, maybe they’re really similar in tastes in music, movies, food, and so on. Quantity outweighs quality.
Application to Real Estate
I’m still thinking through all the different applications to the practice of real estate. I can draw some conclusions, while wondering about many more possible applications.
One conclusion is that the success of social media might lie in the seductive power of similarity. Despite the hype, fact is that heavy usage of social media tools — especially the fringe tools like Yelp, Foursquare, and Twitter — remains something for a small minority of the population. True, adoption is rising, but the majority of Americans are not yet checking into Foursquare on their iPhones everywhere they go.
As a result, when someone who is on social media runs across a realtor who is also on social media, that similarity might lead to in-group treatment, making connection more likely. Click tells us that such in-group status leads to more favorable perception. When it comes to buy or sell a house, then, it appears reasonable to think that those people would reach out to their in-group realtors over the out-group realtors.
At the same time, because similarity works via quantity rather than quality, and breadth of similarity rather than the subjects of similarity, it isn’t clear to me that the ultimate path to success is to be a real estate agents in an area where one is most similar to the neighborhood in as many topics as possible. In a suburban commuter town like mine, for example, it might help to have a spouse who commutes to NYC, a couple of kids in the school system, shop at the local deli, go to the local parks, eat at the same restaurants, etc. etc. A childless, single agent might have a harder time in a town like mine no matter how brilliant her marketing is, and how competent she is, simply because of the power of Similarity.
Proximity raises an interesting question as well. Without question, if the authors of Click are right, then the single best use of a realtor’s time might be to just go to a lot of local events. You don’t even have to say anything or interact with anyone; just show up and be seen. That alone, according to Click, raises your favorability with people who see you.
The question is whether social media tools — such as a hyperlocal blog or a Facebook profile — can substitute for “proximity”. I think it could. In other words, simply being “seen” on Facebook — through status messages, commenting on people’s walls, etc. — might be enough to trigger the Proximity accelerant for connections. I know how familiar some people seem to me when I finally meet them in person because I’ve interacted with them online; why that wouldn’t work for average consumers is not clear to me. I think it would.
This idea then dictates that the most effective form of Facebook marketing might be simply to go comment constantly on the walls of people who live in your locale. It doesn’t matter what you comment on; it just matters that you are “present” to trigger Proximity.
Finally, maybe there is something to this whole “photos on business cards” thing that many real estate agents are so fond of. If familiarity alone breeds regard, rather than contempt, simply seeing the picture of a real estate agent everywhere does work at a subconscious level.
I haven’t yet figured out how Vulnerability might work in real estate context. But I’m thinking about it.
So… if you have a few hours, and like $25, it might be worth buying Click and checking it out. It is certainly thought-provoking (at least for marketing geeks like me), and who knows, you might find something valuable out of it.
For working real estate agents… do these ideas strike you as being right? Similarity, Proximity, even Vulnerability? Do those help you make the connections you need?