By Kevin Meyer
Those of us in the lean world often struggle with enabling a nascent lean transformation to take root in an organization. Now we may have one more concept to help us:
Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute [coincidentally my alma mater] 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, who are members of the Social Cognitive Networks Academic Research Center (SCNARC) at Rensselaer, used computational and analytical methods to discover the tipping point where a minority belief becomes the majority opinion. The finding has implications for the study and influence of societal interactions ranging from the spread of innovations to the movement of political ideals.
"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."
Just 10 percent. Interestingly that number stays roughly the same regardless of the circumstance or propagation method.
An important aspect of the finding is that the percent of committed opinion holders required to shift majority opinion does not change significantly regardless of the type of network in which the opinion holders are working. In other words, the percentage of committed opinion holders required to influence a society remains at approximately 10 percent, regardless of how or where that opinion starts and spreads in the society.
A couple of recent events support the theory.
As an example, the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt appear to exhibit a similar process, according to Szymanski. "In those countries, dictators who were in power for decades were suddenly overthrown in just a few weeks."
Once you hit that tipping point opinion shifts fast. Consider how all of a sudden the Tea Party accelerated and became a major force in U.S. politics, while the rough equivalents on the left, MoveOn.org and Code Pink, simply remained on the wacko fringe. It doesn't take much, but one movement hit that threshold.
Now back to a lean transformation. Coming into a new traditional organization, the lean leader struggles to convince his or her folks that counterintuitive concepts like one piece flow, org charts center around processes instead of functional silos, and the value of brainpower vs the cost of hands, really work. Often the organization believes it is much better than it really is and has no idea of the potential – or how it compares to lean organizations.
In my most recent couple of transformations the 10 percent number really appeared to be the tipping point. By bringing in a few folks already experienced in lean and sending a few folks to conferences and events such as the AME Annual Conference and AME California Lean Tour, hit that level. From that point the passion and evangelism of those 10 percent took root and eventually convinced the others.
Lean is still not easy to sustain and it takes time. And as the Wiremold story tells us, it can easily slip backwards. In that particular case there are now indications that it is now moving forward again.
But look around. Do you have your 10 percent?