Tom Peters, the Chihuahua Story, and the Effect of Your Influence


Tom Peters, Influence Quote and the Retweet

Recently on Twitter, author, speaker, professional agitator, and my personal hero, Tom Peters (@Tom_Peters) quoted John Knox with this tweet:


I retweeted it.

Three Wise Men Respond

Three gentleman responded with interesting comments as you can see.




That got me thinking about influence again and how the experts define it.

Wikipedia and What Is Influence?

I spent a few hours reviewing what I knew and researching more about influence, its definitions, and its synonyms to arrive at the most basic idea that connects them.

Influence is the power to change behavior or beliefs.

Wikipedia shares a wealth of information across domains on what influence is …

Sphere of influence (astrodynamics), the region around a celestial body in which it is the primary gravitational influence on orbiting objects
Sphere of influence (astronomy), a region around a black hole in which the gravity of the black hole dominates that of the host bulge
Social influence, in social psychology, influence in interpersonal relationships

In terms of social influence, they point to compliance, identification, and internalization. From what I see, the science of influence limits the change to be that which evokes a positive result.

Social influence occurs when an individual’s thoughts, feelings or actions are affected by other people. Social influence takes many forms and can be seen in conformity, socialization, peer pressure, obedience, leadership, persuasion, sales, and marketing.

Like the three who commented on my retweet, I agree, our words and acts have influence beyond what’s described here. Antagozing can influence beliefs or behaviors. Sometimes we influence without knowing it. Sometime our influence can bring about unexpected responses.

The Chihuahua and the Effect of Your Influence

We can set out to have influence or gain influence. We can see how our actions influence behaviors and belief systems. We can mislead ourselves into believing we have influenced in one direction, when in fact we have done no such thing. The intent of our influence does not guarantee the outcome.

Which leads me to the story of the chihuahua.

The Story of the Chihuahua


A man renovated his house, tearing out the entire kitchen. Every fixture, appliance, and bit of the original room was removed. He started over with four walls, one window, and the door to the backyard. During the winter rebuilding the kitchen floor was down to the concrete foundation.

The man and his wife had a chihuahua and the one thing the man hated was taking the dog out to the backyard to pay its call to nature, especially in the winter. So the man covered a huge corner of the torn-up kitchen with a rubber mat and some newspaper; put a dog bowl there; and he allowed the nervous little pet to do his “duty” there.

When the spring came, the kitchen was finished complete with very expensive new hardwood flooring. It was no longer acceptable for the tiny dog to stay in the kitchen when nature was calling. The man made a plan to change the dog’s behavior.

Every time the dog messed the kitchen floor, the man would stick the chihuahua’s nose in the mess and then toss the dog out the back door or out the open kitchen window.

The chihuahua did change its behavior. After it “went” on the floor, it jumped out the window.

Sometimes we mistake, misinterpret, and totally miss on seeing our influence. The man changed the dog’s behavior, but it wasn’t the change the man had been going for. All of the predictable outcomes of our influence aren’t always obvious.

Silence doesn’t always mean agreement. Changed behavior doesn’t always mean a change in thinking. Sometimes we influence a change in behavior that goes in a direction other than we’re thinking.

No one is really without influence. we all have the power to move another person to change a belief or behavior. The most influential watch what how influence works in their own lives and learn from that. As my friend, Chris Brogan demonstrates exactly how he does that when he discusses ways we can improve our influence. It’s the quality of our thinking, the concern for the listener, and care in our delivery, that makes our influence move a thought or action in the direction we hope.

What examples of “chihuahua story influence” have you seen in business?

–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!

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  1. says


    Likewise, Tom Peters is a huge hero of mine even though as a Brit I sometimes struggle with his directness. We tend to be a bit more subtle over here which is sometimes a euphemism for spin.

    I think Mr Knox is conflating, wrongly, two principles. It may be conjecture on my part but he seems to be suggesting that one negates or is the opposite of the other. But without wishing to appear condescending, I think that misses the point. It is to my mind clear that someone who sets out whether by omission or commission to antagonise may, whether that is their raison d’être, end up influencing (me) and others. Of course, it all depends on your or his definition of antagonise. It may well that it doesn’t so much influence but just in a rather whimsical way stirs up a dust cloud and not much else. But as someone who has read most of Tom Peters’ works he is not someone who would promulgate an argument or posit a point of view for the simplicity of the reaction. Rather, in my view, he is questioning our accepted wisdom and very often, if not always, he has influenced me in this simple sense: even if I push back, I am influenced to think differently. Sorry if this seems a bit long-winded but I felt compelled to write.


    PS. I think someone like Gary Hamel is similarly influential.

    • says

      Hi Julian,
      Yes, the danger of semantics changing this discussion is huge and I appreciate that you have gone out of your way to avoid that.

      From the most basic definition “to change behavior or belief,” I think that someone who antagonizes me might change my behavior at the moment. He or she might get me to respond, thereby influencing me, if only to show my belief or perhaps only to think a corresponding negative thought. Still it’s something that would not have happened without the influence of that antagonism.

      More tomorrow.

  2. says

    Hi Liz!
    Chihuahua case was very claryfying, but I hope that it’s just a story. Right before Xmas we have a lot of cases when people give kids puppies as an Xmas gift. And sorry to say, that’s no anegdote. What happens to then 6 months later too.

    I wish you and your readers Marry Christmas! :)


    • says

      Hi Andzrej,
      Yes, it’s just a story to make the point that we don’t always know what we’re teaching or how we’re influencing.
      Thank you for reminding us that we need to care about all living creatures.

  3. says

    When I was younger, I’d challenge everything I disagreed with and sometimes it worked for me – and sometimes it worked against me. In time I learned to (1) pick the battles and (2) guide the conversation to a point where my point became self-evident to others.

    Humor works rather well, I’ve found. Silence works better. The second you have to raise your voice or antagonize, you may have already lost – when people start shouting, no one listens. And the figurative chihuahua – the minds you’re trying to affect – piss on the floor and jump out the window… if you’re lucky. :-)

  4. says

    Sometimes antagonism leads to change. I wish I had saved a screen capture of a Twitter exchange I once had. One of my followers objected to my tweeting about the Occupy Movement which he first saw as “being political” and not related to business or marketing.

    Before I could explain adequately why economic conditions affect our ability to market small businesses, he tweeted two additional thoughts and went silent – apparently having thought it through himself and realizing those tweets from me definitely WERE relevant to him.

    Out of that came a massive post with extensive research on the reasons Why Small Business and Bloggers Can NOT Ignore Economic Decline and Occupy Wall Street.

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