Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of Ideas is today’s headline at Science Daily. It’s about a new study where researchers claim they’ve discovered that once ten percent of a population develop a strong belief in something, a majority agreement will follow.
I’m not convinced that these computational models work so well in the real world.
What they’re missing, I think, is that it’s not the initial number that’s most important. What’s key is the “who” and if they are willing to do anything about it.
Saul Alinksy, the father of modern-day community organizing and the person who founded the organization I worked with for nineteen years, believed that two percent would do the trick. Here’s what Nicholas von Hoffman, a longtime colleague, wrote:
“Alinsky sometimes explained to new organizers that if you organized two percent of the population – that energetic minority – you would have enough power to overthrow the government. Not that he had that in mind. But with that two percent a successful and powerful community organization could be established.”
And Alinsky strongly believed that that two percent needed to include many leaders — people with a following, people whose judgment others respected.
In some ways, this focus on the “who” along with their actions might be similar to what Malcolm Gladwell writes about in The Tipping Point.
In the classroom, for example, if I think I need some help in changing a classroom culture or attitude, I focus on winning over a handful of leaders, not just any two or three people. And I talk with them about being active in their help.
Having an arbitrary percentage of people believing something but not willing to do anything about it, or being able to have influence with anyone else, is unlikely to result in any change.
Coincidentally, I was reading a piece by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach today (which I learned about via John Norton) who touches on some related points. It’s titled Thinking Hard While Running On Empty. She discusses Personal Learning Networks, and wonders if they sometimes can result in people just feeling good without leading to action.
Some of the “school reformers,” like Teach For America, seem to have a pretty good grasp on the importance of developing what Alinsky would consider a committed two percent. The Save Our Schools March this weekend and follow-up actions might have the potential of doing the same for effectively promoting a far different, a more fair and more inclusive vision for our schools.