A glitch in the system made the publication of part 2 of this out of sync and was sent last week. Apologies. This how all starts…
I am going a bit technical today. But I hope I can click with your practitioner’s mind. Which is like mine. Bear with me. Don’t read this in a hurry. It has implications for how we shape an organizational culture.
A tiny bit of context first. The traditional top-down systems of communications and culture change inside organizations, work on the maths of addition. If you need to reach 1000 people, you may start with 20, then add another 100, then 500 more etc. Read: workshops, activities, communication packages. This is what I have called World I (push) in my Homo Imitans book in 2011
The progressively held view is that you need a better way, a bottom up, or multicentric system that actually scales up, not just adds up. I call that World II (pull). Same source. This world works on multiplication mode, like an infection. Literally. Not a metaphor. Behaviours are to ‘infection’ and multiplication (good or bad) what information is to cascade down adding ‘receivers’ all the way. This is the ABC of Viral Change™
Question: in an infection model (infection of new ideas, new behavioiurs, new ways of working), is there a magic threshold for that ’drop that makes the glass overflow’? The trigger of massive spread? Tipping point in Sociology (Malcolm Gladwell popularised and almost franchised it). Phase transition in Physics (the zero degrees that transforms water into ice)? Translation: so, how many bodies do we need?
Not surprisingly you may shop from a variety of sources providing explanations. Here are some.
- For researches in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, their 2011 answer is 10% . These are elegant, experimental, mathematical studies, with pretty multicolour graphs.
- For people at Annenberg School of Communications, at the University of Pennsylvania, with researcher Damon Centola, the answer is 25% . Scientific American magazine elevated those findings to not less than this title: ‘The 25% revolution – how big does a minority have to be to reshape society?’. Centola run elegant experiments with small samples of people.
- My view: neither of those positions seem to count for real-life situations with many variables and human dynamics playing for and against each other at the same time. They don’t help us much, you or me, in organizational life. Or societal change for that matter. The magic threshold (for social change at scale) to flip a culture… is not universal (law) as in zero degrees from water to ice, whether in Liverpool or Cape Town, Paris or Santiago.
Our own research in Viral Change™ shows that the number of highly connected people that we need to call to arms to have a special influential role in the shaping of a new culture varies from 5 % to 20% roughly. It largely depends on the position of these people in the network, their ‘social GPS’ as I call it in Homo Imitans. If all employees are in one, or two, or three buildings, the numbers may be smaller than if everybody is scattered in 20 sites. The total number of employees in the system is less relevant than where they are clustered. In our Viral Change™ model, the colleagues called to help, once identified by anonymous Social Network Analysis, and once they have opted in, have a particular profile with strong bias towards connectivity and influence, not correlating well with managerial ranks or ‘talent management pools’. So, 5% t0 20%, say, triggers the fast multiplication (vs slow addition). When the whole thing flips depends on many other variables, as I will explain tomorrow.
Tomorrow: Why it’s all more complex than simple thresholds. Bear with me if you are minimally interested. It’s not ‘theory’, it’s real life knowledge for managers and leaders in 2018. Come back.