Quarter Of A Group Can Change Everyone's Behaviour

Three out of twelve angry men can’t be wrong! (Screenshot: Orion-Nova Productions)

In a very simple version of the “tipping point” theory, a new paper says that in groups of anywhere from 100 to 100,000, just 25 to 31 per cent of the group can set a new behavioural norm for the whole group. This finding is drawn from just one study using online participants, so its results shouldn’t be exaggerated, but it at least shows a consistent pattern in how a minority of group members can change the mind of a majority.

In the study, participants were asked to assign a name to a person in a photo, and rewarded for agreeing. The researchers thus encouraged groups to reach a consensus on a name. They then told a subset of the participants to convince the rest of the group to switch to a new name. That is, a minority of the participants had to get the majority to change its mind.

The researchers tested this process with varying sizes of minority. Sometimes 10 per cent of the participants tried to convince the other 90 per cent to switch names; sometimes 30 per cent convinced the other 70 per cent, and so on.

The researchers found that the minority’s success rate shot up at around 25 per cent of the total group. That is, if just 20 per cent of the group had to change everyone’s mind, they would probably fail, but if 30 per cent had to change everyone’s mind, they would almost certainly succeed.

Different decisions will take different percentages of committed behaviour-changers. And most decisions matter a lot more than assigning a fake name to a photo.

But here’s the takeaway: When you want to change a group’s behaviour, don’t start by appealing to the whole group. First get part of the group on your side, and just as committed as you are to changing everyone else’s mind. Once you’ve quietly built momentum, you can spring your change on the whole group.

The 25% Rule | Coglode


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