Reflecting on Lessons in Community Change: The Myth of Everyone

When I’m working with groups hosting conversations to create thoughtful change, I often reflect back on these Lessons in Community Change from Howard Mason (Metro United Way, Louisville USA):

  • Change always starts within us—in our hearts—then in our organizations and communities.
  • Vision powers and unites everything. We must be able to vision from a quiet place.
  • It takes people with a passionate commitment to a vision to ignite progress. But it does not take a lot of them in the beginning.
  • If we want new results, we have to do new things.
  • Acting on the vision begins with a “What if we…?” question. Discovering one’s personal role in the vision begins with a “What if I…?” question.
  • People support what they create. Local ownership and a meaningful role in decision making are necessary for energy, creativity and commitment.
  • When partnerships are united by common vision and values, the whole becomes greater than the sum of the parts. The effort will look and act more like a social movement than a chain of command.
  • When committed people self-organize to solve common problems, new solutions emerge. But we cannot control or predict what those solutions will be or when they will happen.
  • Prepare to be surprised.
  • Small actions produce enormous results. The most important, global, systematic actions and changes are also the most personal, local and human in scale.
  • Results can come surprisingly quickly once a tipping point is reached.

Each of these pieces of gold glimmer with possibility and a shift away from the mechanized approach to change. One paradigm I often run into is the “we need everyone to get on board” as a way to reach that tipping point. So we talk about how lasting change is hosted, not forced. And to explore the idea that “we need everyone” – can we absolutely know that it’s true that “we need everyone”? Howard’s lessons give us insight into a different way – that it takes people with a passionate commitment to a vision to ignite progress. But it does not take a lot of them in the beginning. 

So then our question might be how many people will it take to achieve a tipping point, or critical mass? There are likely all kinds of ‘it depends’ aspects to this, as in the landscape of social innovation and hosting conversations for change we’re often working in a complex environment. However I found this article on Science Daily that gives some analytics to support the “it does not take a lot of them in the beginning” concept.

Scientists have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. The scientists used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion.

“When the number of committed opinion holders is below 10 percent, there is no visible progress in the spread of ideas. It would literally take the amount of time comparable to the age of the universe for this size group to reach the majority,” said SCNARC Director Boleslaw Szymanski, the Claire and Roland Schmitt Distinguished Professor at Rensselaer. “Once that number grows above 10 percent, the idea spreads like flame.”

So for those of us involved in shifting organizational and community patterns and behaviours, let us move away from the need of ‘everyone’ and think more about how do we find our fellow ten-percenters?

 

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. ~ Margaret Mead