Psychology: The invasion stopper
One of the most interesting people in Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s WWII cabinet was William Maxwell "Max" Aitken (1879-1964), a former Canadian whose success as a British press mogul earned him the title of Lord Beaverbrook. It is unknown if "Max" Aitken ever read Dale Carnegie’s 1936 best-seller: How to Win Friends and Influence People. For sure, he was a master at influencing people. But also a master at creating enemies among those who resisted his demands.
In 1940, Prime Minister Winston Churchill knew the fate of the British Empire rested on the ability of the Royal Air Force (RAF) to prevent Hitler’s planned invasion of the British Isles. To survive, Britain had to gain and maintain air superiority over the English Channel. But, to do that, Britain must produce fighter aircraft faster than Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe could shoot them down.
Unfortunately, the British aircraft industry was being managed by the usual lot of laid-back middle- and upper-class executives, more interested in Cricket scores than 24/7 fighter aircraft production. Although Lord Beaverbrook was a newspaper expert, he knew almost nothing about aircraft production. But Churchill knew that Lord Beaverbrook would send a rocket up the backsides of the business-as-usual executives. Within four months of Beaverbrook’s fiery, red-tape cutting, fighter aircraft production doubled. But then, it started to lag.
When civilian bureaucrats from the Air Ministry gave the workers pep talks, the workers mostly yawned. But then, Beaverbrook hit upon some methods that would have made Robert Cialdini, the author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, very proud.
The mostly middle- and lower-class workers knew little about the mostly upper-class pilots who were flying the Spitfires and Hawker Hurricanes over the English Channel. So, instead of civilian bureaucrats, Beaverbrook brought battle-experienced RAF pilots to the factory floors to visit with the workers. The workers and the pilots found they liked each other. Aircraft production zoomed for a while before lagging again.
Realizing that England was littered with dozens of Nazi aircraft shot down by the RAF, Beaverbrook loaded some wrecked Nazi aircraft on flat-bed trucks and took the bullet-riddled hulks to the factories for the workers to examine. That gave the workers hard evidence that the aircraft they were producing were actually destroying Nazi aircraft. Production zoomed again.
But wait. There’s more. Lord Beaverbrook received a letter from the People of Jamaica, saying they collected enough money to pay for an entire Spitfire fighter. The Beaverbrook newspapers praised the Jamaicans to the skies, prompting a number of British cities to raise money for their "own" Spitfire or Hawker Hurricane, with the name of their city emblazoned on the fuselage. Soon, almost every fighter coming off the assembly lines had a city sponsor. In all, the equivalent of one million U.S. dollars poured in.
Of course, Dr. Cialdini’s classic work was not published until 1984. Lord Beaverbrook had unknowingly used all six of Cialdini’s principles: Commitment and Consistency, Consensus, Social Proof, Authority, Liking, Scarcity, and Reciprocity to produce the aircraft needed to prevent the invasion that could have forced the Brits to click their heels and say: Heil Hitler!. Moreover, you might be reading this newspaper column in German.
Nota bene: In 1917, Aitken was made 1st Baron Beaverbrook, the name taken from a place near his boyhood home.
Suggested reading: The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, 2020. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, 1936. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, 1984.
©2022. William Hamilton.