Nassim Taleb’s piece in Medium some time ago entitled The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority is one of incredible intellectual acrobatics, typical of him.
If you don’t know Taleb (Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, Antifragile), you must. But here is a piece of advice. Read him instead of hear him. They seem like two different Talebs. If you hear him speak first, chances are you won’t be inclined to read him. Start with Antifragile. And, don’t bother to follow his twitter feed; you’ll see a permanent angry man annoyed with everybody, especially fools and people of mediocre intelligence. Trouble is those categories include almost all professions. But he is without doubt one of the most interesting living intellectuals.
Back to the topic of the minorities. He explains how a vocal, intolerant and energetic minority tends to impose its views. So far plausible. But what I found interesting when I read it first, was that in doing so they manage to make everybody believe that it is actually the majority view.
In his accounts, that applies to politics and religions, two of his favourite topics, once he has assassinated all academics.
In my view, this also applies well inside our organizations. I have written about it several times and certainly found in many Viral Change™, Design or Leadership programmes that I have led over the years. Somewhere in the system, at some magic point, a disaster declaration takes place: X is not working, leaders are terribly bad models, project Y is failing. There is always some small number of people saying that, often vociferous, certainly visible.
It does not take much for a semi-apocalyptic flavour to dominate, unless one makes a concerted effort to unpack it, often to discover that the massive failure of leadership and project was the opinion of three guys in a pub following a boring off-site. I am not kidding.
More serious and worrying is when a true minority, for example, a particular layer of management, declares a view of the world that is soon perceived as the universal reality. Count them and it turns out they don’t even represent 10% of the company.
The learning for me is that our conventional wisdom says that a sensible majority would always win in the end, whilst it is often exactly the opposite: Taleb-like, many majorities lose the plot. In the macro-social world and in our micro cosmos of the business organization. The capacity of the minority to hijack the conversation and make it feel as a majority view is masterful. Good or bad.