The Rising of the 10-25%: Weaving Critical and Love-Bound Connections for Change

January 7, 2019 Leave a comment

“That which counts, can rarely be counted.”

-Albert Einstein

Image by garlandcannon, used under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

In a couple of articles that have been re-cycling in different social circles, the reminder is offered that tipping points for social change do not need anywhere close to a majority of actors.

A few years ago, scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute explored what it takes for an idea to spread from few to many, for a minority opinion to become the majority belief. According to their study, the RPI researchers said that the answer is 10%. When one in ten people adopt a stance, eventually it will become the dominant opinion of the entire group, they say. What is required is commitment.

More recently, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of London conducted an experiment that suggests that for activists to achieve a tipping point around change, 25% of a given population is required. They published their study in the journal Science.

Of course there are complicating factors, including the fact that there are often competing factions each vying for their own 10-25% and with social media and disinformation campaigns, confusion can rein and commitment may require an additional degree of diligence. Nonetheless, we might take more heart in the power of the few.

And this is clearly not just about numbers and counting.

Marry this research with John Paul Lederach’s notion of “critical yeast,” taken from his many years of peacebuilding work in some of the most violence-ravaged parts of the world. Rather than focus on “critical mass,” Lederach’s work has taught him that it is more important to look at the crucial few who “within a given setting, if brought together, would have the capacity to make things grow toward the desired end.” It is not so much about quantity, but the quality and qualities of those who come together.

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.”

Grace Lee Boggs

Image by avrene, used under provisions of Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

The “yeasty” few are catalytic in their courageousness (taking risks to reach out and break with the status quo), curiosity (about what is and what might be) and creativity (actively imagining something else). And to riff on Grace Lee Boggs’ language, these catalysts are critically connected. They have ties within and across a variety of groups/sectors and a diversity of key actors. They engage in the important work of both bonding and bridging in order to diffuse ideas, initiative and innovations. In other words, they bring a network weaver‘s mindset to the work, tending and feeding key relationships; generously animating them with flows of resources of all kinds (tangible and intangible); and drawing out the gifts of others.

These notions of critical yeast along with intricate and diverse network weaving bring important nuance and qualitative texture to the discovery that it only takes a few to make change.

“Love, as it turns out, nourishes your body the way the right balance of sunlight, nutrient-rich soil, and water nourishes plants and allows them to flourish. The more you experience it, the more you open up and grow, becoming wiser and more attuned, more resilient and effective, happier and healthier. You grow spiritually as well, better able to see, feel, and appreciate the deep interconnections that inexplicably tie you to others, that embed you within the grand fabric of life.”

– Barbara Fredrickson, from Love 2.0

And then, to riff on a question asked by the poet Elizabeth Alexander, what if the mightiest ingredient in all of this is love? As previous social movements have shown, the yeast can also generate its catalytic power through embracing a “love ethic” (in the words of bell hooks), a grounding in an ability to see ourselves in others; a willingness to embrace complexity (including our own); and an ability to look deep into the shadows and trust that there is deeper ground that will hold.

Who are the 10-25% to be reached  in the system on which you are focused?

How are you modeling courage, curiosity and creativity?

How might the mindset of a weaver support your change efforts?

What is the place of love in your social change work?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *