In sociology, a tipping point is “a point in time when a group—or a large number of group members—rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice.” In some circles, it represents the percentage required to change the direction or behavior of a crowd.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a New York Times bestseller on this entire premise, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.
According to Gladwell, the percentage required to change the direction of a crowd is usually much smaller than most of us assume and the notion of tipping points can be used to explain why change often happens quickly and unexpectedly.
In the same way as a virus can spread rapidly through a population, so too can behavioural change, particularly within a group. For instance, a small action by one individual within a crowd can influence the actions of other individuals within the crowd, and so on, until the behaviour becomes widespread. Thus, small, initial changes have the potential to make significant differences overall.
One of the best examples of how a small action can influence the behavior of an entire crowd is this famous YouTube video of one person who single-handedly sparked an entire dance party among strangers. It’s short and pretty good.
Tipping points can often be much smaller than we realize. Some have even made the claim that it takes only 6% to change the entire direction of a crowd (though that statistic appears unsubstantitated by any legitimate research).
In reality, the actual percentage required to change the direction of a crowd is based on any number of significant factors: the change agents involved (how persuasive and reputable are those attempting to change the direction), the focus/intent of the crowd (a meandering protest is easier to persuade than a focused crowd heading to a specific location) and the substance of the change (drawing attention to the need for a hasty evacuation, for example).
But the point is, a small action by one individual within a crowd can often influence the actions of others within the crowd—which holds the potential to influence even more, potentially to the level of reaching a tipping point for the entire crowd. And I think that is important to realize.
I often wonder to myself if minimalism could ever reach the size of critical mass in society. Could the number of people intentionally owning less ever grow to the level of tipping point that causes others to rapidly and dramatically change their behavior even though it is a previously rare practice?
My hope is yes.
Even so, despite the growth, there is significant work to be done. Last month, over 1 million readers visited Becoming Minimalist and the Facebook group has grown to 2,500,000 people with a weekly reach over 15 million. Those are impressive numbers. But still, to reach even a 6% threshold, in America alone we would need 20 million readers… and that’s still a bit off (plus, there is no assurance that percentage would even have the desired impact).
Which got me wondering… maybe I’m focusing on the wrong crowd.
Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “How can we change an entire society?”
Maybe the question should be, “How can I first change my family or my friendship group?” Because, in these cases, the tipping point is more attainable and entirely possible.
Think of it this way, based on the principle of the tipping point, no matter what positive influence you are hoping to have, you don’t need to convince everyone, you begin by convincing one other person.
If your desire is to get your family to eat healthier, you don’t need to convince every member of your family to make the change. You just need to convince one family member. If you have a family of four, and two of them are asking for more vegetables and less processed food around the dinner table, your family is going to begin serving healthier meals.
If you want to see your friends engage in a healthier lifestyle, you don’t need to convince all of them to start going to the gym with you. Instead, just convince one person. When you two begin spending time at the gym in the evenings, there is a good chance one other will choose to join you. And when they do, the others might choose to come along as well. A tipping point has been reached.
If your desire is minimalist (or even clutterfree) living, but you cannot get your partner to align with your desire. Rather than forcing him/her to come along, gently encourage other family members to embrace the lifestyle. Sell your son or daughter on the benefits. Because when two people in the family desire a clutterfree environment, there is a good chance the environment will begin to change.
If you want to inspire people to change, you don’t need a microphone. You only need a conversation. (tweet that)
Allow your example and your story to change the habits of one person. In so doing, your small action within a crowd can influence the actions of other individuals within the crowd. Their action can influence others. And a tipping point within your circle of influence can be reached.
And maybe then, as more and more circles of people embrace minimalist living, a tipping point in our society can be attained.