The Mountaintop Insights, Inspiration and Perspective for Enlightened Marketers

March 3, 2011

The Twisted Reality of Influence Scoring

What compels us to believe in something even when we know deep down it is inherently flawed? What emotional need does it fulfill in us that we are willing to set aside our reason and embrace a vision of who we are that is not true or, at the very least, is a murky reflection of real life.

The current drive to measure influence reminds me very much of Plato’s Theory of Forms from The Republic in which he uses the “Allegory of The Cave”. Through “The Cave”  Plato theorizes the world we believe to be real is in fact illusion. Rather than subjecting you to Plato’s actual works (although I thoroughly encourage it on your own time), I will draw from that information wonder Wikipedia to help provide an understanding of the Allegory of the Cave

From Wikipedia:

“…imagine a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been chained and held immobile since childhood: not only are their arms and legs held in place, but their heads are also fixed, compelled to gaze at a wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is an enormous fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway, along which people walk carrying things on their heads “including figures of men and animals made of wood, stone and other materials”. The prisoners watch the shadows cast by the men, not knowing they are shadows. There are also echoes off the wall from the noise produced from the walkway.

Socrates suggests the prisoners would take the shadows to be real things and the echoes to be real sounds, not just reflections of reality, since they are all they had ever seen or heard. They would praise as clever whoever could best guess which shadow would come next, as someone who understood the nature of the world, and the whole of their society would depend on the shadows on the wall.

Socrates next introduces something new to this scenario. Suppose that a prisoner is freed and permitted to stand up. If someone were to show him the things that had cast the shadows, he would not recognize them for what they were and could not name them; he would believe the shadows on the wall to be more real than what he sees.

“Suppose further,” Socrates says, “that the man was compelled to look at the fire: wouldn’t he be struck blind and try to turn his gaze back toward the shadows, as toward what he can see clearly and hold to be real? What if someone forcibly dragged such a man upward, out of the cave: wouldn’t the man be angry at the one doing this to him? And if dragged all the way out into the sunlight, wouldn’t he be distressed and unable to see “even one of the things now said to be true?”

So I ask you now, is what you see in front of reality or illusion? Do you really believe that your influence score is a realistic representation of your true influence or simply a distorted reflection on a cave wall?

Am I Chained to the Cave Wall?

I think what we struggle with most is how inconsequential we really are in the grand scheme of things. We all want to matter of course, but do we really?

What I have come to recognize is that influence is far more complex than we realize. That its forms, dozens to be precise, all represented by adaptive layers around us (within us really but that’s another post) all fight to control our perception based on our emotional and rational needs at that specific time and for a specific situation. These layers of influence drive how we interpret the world and define our own role within it. I refer to this as an “influence persona”.

An influence persona does two things:

  • It interprets outside influential factors and forms for me to reinforce my beliefs, values and perception of the world.
  • It projects my influence on others around me.


Add to this the next layer of complexity where we interact with others we begin to see a deeper, more complex form of dynamic influence where our influence persona conflicts, succumbs or consumes other people’s influence personas within a given situation.

What adds further complexity is our level of self-honesty. Is what influences us building or destroying our image of who we are or want to be perceived as by others? Is that self-image honest? I would put forward that if honesty is a filter through which all influence flows and is interpreted; then our ability to be honest with ourselves determines whether we are chained to the wall of the cave or whether we see the world as it really is.

So how does influence scoring affect our self-image and our ability to be  honest with ourselves?

My Score is My Worth

We have been trained since childhood to accept scoring as a reflection of how well we are doing in the world. From school grades, to finishing first in the race, we are given scores.  Indeed the root of all competition, is about the score. The team with the highest score wins. Now, as we all know, when we have a low score… our parents reprimand us “why didn’t you get that A?” and our coaches berate us “train harder and maybe next time you can be 1st”. So at every turn, we strive to improve our scores in life and business. I mean, who wants the shame of having a low score right?

Now, enter the influence scoring companies and their desire to have us compete for influence ratings. So what happens when we apply a score to something as complex and misunderstood as influence?

  • It changes how we perceive ourselves in relation to others because suddenly a score defines value within our social network.
  • We change our behaviours to improve our score.
  • Our honesty filter adapts to accept this score as a true reflection of us and our influence in the world.

In essence, we begin to lie to ourselves because a score is telling us we are something we are not thus artificially inflating the ego. I mean, who doesn’t want to be more important… So what’s the result?

We chain ourselves to the wall of the cave and believe the shadows and echoes to be our reality – that a score dictates how influential we are.

Is an Influence Score Emotional Crack or Feeding a God Complex?

So why do we do it? Why do we choose to believe that a score defines our value to others (and to ourselves)? I would put forward that it stems from unfulfilled emotional need and falsely inflated self-worth from having “followers”; a term I have serious issues with. There was a time when followers was a term used in history in reference to those who worshiped gods, deities or powerful men. Does having followers then warp how we see ourselves? Is it giving us a God complex? Are influence scoring companies the new deities?

Perhaps its simpler than that. Maybe its more like an addiction to crack-cocaine. In this case, the more we look to “escape” the reality that we are inconsequential, the more we need a score to validate and feed our ego until it becomes an obsession – a method we actively use to define our “false self” to others. I guess this would make the influence scoring companies crack dealers who are constantly finding ways to feed the addiction and create clever ways for you to lure your friends into buying. Much like dealers, they are promising escape – to take you from not mattering, to mattering.

Do We Continue to Avoid the Truth or Free Ourselves?

The question really boils down to this… Are we ready to accept that having a score is a shadow on a cave wall? That it is not a reflection of influence, but more a reflection of our relevance within our social network. The more we believe that our influence score is reality, the more we secure ourselves to that cave wall.

Me, I choose to leave the cave and look upon myself in the world as it really is. For the most part, I am someone of little consequence. In certain situations with certain people, I can influence thinking; sometimes actions. This is my reality. Can I change this? Of course. But a score has absolutely no bearing on this reality and will never be a measure of my impact nor of others impact on me.

We all make decisions to chain ourselves to that cave wall or not. Really it boils down to how we want to honestly measure ourselves.

In closing let me be clear, while we don’t matter to almost everyone in the world, there is a small group around us in business and life who we do matter to. And they’re not keep scoring.


  1. […] Is an Influence Score Emotional Crack or Feeding a God Complex? […]

    Pingback by links for 2011-03-05 – - Rick's Daily Link CollectionRick's Daily Link Collection — March 5, 2011 @ 7:01 am

  2. Jeff,
    Deep and wonderful as always. For your passage on “why we do this,” I think there’s one more layer to your “Emotional Crack or God Complex?” options: perception of others.

    In the stock market, it’s clear algorithmically-driven, high-volume, short-term trading has little to do with company worth and everything to do with perceptions of others’ behavior. When restaurants give tables and airlines give upgrades to those with higher social media scores, we get a third option beyond Emotional Crack and a God Complex: Gaming the system. A person may know a ritzy college degree and Phi Beta Kappa pin means nothing to whether they can perform. But they notice others don’t. They notice others see those trappings as a proxy for performance and treat the person accordingly. We can’t ask individuals to leave the cave if they continue to get the best piece of meat by knowing which shadow will come next. Group behavior can define the game and the game can influence individual behavior…even if you and Socrates successfully convince them that game performance is indicative of nothing particularly important.


    Ken Rosen, Performance Works

    Comment by Ken Rosen — March 11, 2011 @ 3:51 pm

  3. Hi Ken,

    Great insight and agreed. It is much like when a child misbehaves and gets the attention they seek from the parents. The parents don’t know that the bad behavior is in fact an act and if the parents instead ignored bad behavior and rewarded good, the child would be good.

    Perception is everything for us. In fact i believe that brand is perception 100%. It is the most important and subjective way for processing the information we take in from the world around us. Like the child, if we reward misguided perceptions of value, we eventually reinforce them so much that the person believes it to be reality.

    Fascinating stuff and I’m sure we could go on for ages 🙂

    Thanks Ken!

    Jeff – Sensei

    Comment by Jeff — March 11, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Powered by WordPress