How can you persuade a few to change the many?

Growing a culture requires a good storyteller. Changing a culture requires a persuasive editor.
— Ryan Lilly
Meeting around computers compressed.jpg

Have you ever needed to change a large group’s thinking or behaviour? A difficult situation, but recent research can help with this. As always, remember to stay ethical, you can use this for good and bad.

How many people in a group do you need to change the minds of others? Research and long-held beliefs have put this number at between 10% and 40%. It is difficult to accurately measure how outcomes would change if you altered the number of people pushing for change because real-world social dynamics are complicated and so difficult to replicate.

Damon Centola, an associate professor from the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Pennsylvania, designed an experiment to test how large a minority was needed to change the status quo.

The experiment involved 194 people randomly assigned to ten ‘independent online groups’, which varied in size - 20 to 30 people in each. At first, the groups were shown an image of a face and told to name it. They interacted in changing pairs until they agreed on a name. Then Centola introduced ‘activists’ to try and change the agreed-on-name to a new one. The number of ‘activists’ in each group was varied, between 15% and 35%. The agreed-on-name was kept in all groups with up to 24% of ‘activists’, only when there was 25% or more did the ‘activists’ manage to change the name. For the ‘activists’ to be successful they needed to be committed, connected and persistent.

I can be pretty persuasive if I believe in something strongly enough.
— Rashida Jones

Centola believes that certain settings enhance group dynamics, particularly work environments. In businesses, people spend most of their day coordinating with others, so they conform to conventions to show they’re good workers. If there is a very strong minority group in the business committed to changing the culture you would be able to see the effects.

Another environment where this behaviour is easy to see is online. People have large numbers of interactions with other people, often strangers. As these people never meet, is it possible that one or more of them could be bots? Where people can’t distinguish between people and bots - this is possible. The system is open to dishonest behaviour to push a viewpoint through by introducing people or bots into a conversation to sway opinion in their favour by reaching the tipping point of 25%.

This 1.42 minute video explains Centola’s research.

So, when you’re pushing for a culture change or trying to change a group’s opinion, remember that you only need to get a 25% before the change the success is on your side. Next time you are trying to persuade a group’s behaviour - don’t try and persuade them all at once. Concentrate on a few at a time, and when you have build momentum, the group will do the work for you. Don’t give up; the next person may be the tipping point.

What separates the successful from the non-successful is pure perseverance.
— Steve Jobs