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Monday, 11 January 2016 13:41

Rethinking our peace building practice.

Have you ever wondered why you are engaged in peace building?

Many peace builders (especially the self-employed folk) reach that cross road of ‘what next?’ Which road should we take?’ If you’re like me you’ll be searching for a route that will provide the most fulfilling (and hopefully successful) journey.
This blog might be what you need to give you a new direction. Remember to enjoy the journey (not just aim for the destination) and pick a route that intersects with other practitioners. This blog will help you redefine who you should look to for that quintessential collaboration.

Welcome to the tipping point.

“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behaviour crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed bestseller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people throughout the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.”

Malcolm Gladwell.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Having read the book some years hence, I sought out the audio version of this valuable gem. This following information is my review of the book for your enjoyment. I hope it whets your appetite sufficiently to seek your own copy and enjoy Gladwell’s writing as much as I have.
You can find the iTunes version of the book here: Audio book The Tipping Point at iTunes

So, why should conflict management practitioners take on Gladwell’s glad-tidings?

I’m a service provider. My unique skill and ability is for sale. Regrettably the craft of practitioners like me is undervalued by a market sector that believe when they get into conflict, the dispute belongs to the other party and seldom accept much personal responsibility in the cause nor the resolution of their dispute. “I’m not in dispute. I’m right and they are wrong”. I find many of my clientele have become so immersed in their dispute they can no longer see a way through. In their exhaustion, they simply transfer responsibility of resolution to a lawyer or worse still, rollover allowing the other party to exert more power than should normally be afforded to them.

I’ve been searching for an edge toward success in my peace building and conflict management practice. Something that I could use as a guide in the market place frequented by fickle and grumpy consumers who don’t yet know what they need, nor want. How can I help people overcome this conflict blindness? What ideas will create a change in the way consumers deal with dispute?

Biography of an idea – 4 principles.

The Tipping Point described by Gladwell is the biography of an idea. For the communication of a message (an idea) to create change: the messenger must be a connector; the message must be in context and the message needs to stick, that is, personal, memorable, and practical. Simply, the change must be the easiest option.

As practitioners we can harness Gladwell’s vision to help guide a personal business approach to transform our practice and strengthen our industry with strategies designed to build capability across our client sector, communities, organisations etc.
Important ideas that provoke change demonstrate 4 principles:

  1. Associated with contagious behaviour
  2. Little change = big effect
  3. Significant change will occur in one dramatic moment
  4. 'Principle 4' -  making sense of 1 and 2 above in these four parts:
  • Demonstrates geometric progression like that of a viral epidemic
  • The unexpected must be expected – where radical change is more than a possibility
  • Word of mouth epidemics become extraordinary news.
  • There are three agents of change.

Agents of change

The three agents of change are essential elements of ideas that provoke social change are:

1. The law of the few – key people who demonstrate: exceptional skills; energy; sociable nature and knowledge. Gladwell calls them:

  • Connectors
  • Mavens
  • Salesmen (although I prefer to describe these folk as persuaders)

2. The stickiness factor – ideas that make an impact (change behaviour) and stay top of mind (popular across the culture)

3. The power of context – where the tipping point is reached owing to tinkering with even the smallest detail.

The law of the few – who are they and what do they offer?

The success of any social epidemic is heavily dependent on people with a particular set of skills. Change will occur more readily when these three specialist come together. Gladwell makes clear that these few do not exist in every team, community or organisation. With this in mind we must remember that teams, communities and organisations must ensure these exceptional skills are present. For us as sole practitioners who beat a solitary drum and attempt to develop the entire skill set an important lesson is to instead, collaborate with key people to ensure the tipping point is reached and change assured.

Gladwell defines Connector; Mavens and Persuaders as follows:

Connectors AKA people specialists.
These folk have great contacts. They prove, it’s not what you know but who you know. They give the rest of us access to opportunities and worlds that we ordinarily don’t belong. Effective people specialists rank highly in a six degrees of separation where not all the degrees are equal. Gladwell describes the circle of friends is actually a pyramid where key individuals simply know lots of people of all different ilk and whom move between cultures with ease. He says that weak ties can net more worth than strong ties. This means that our acquaintances are stronger allies than our friends and relatives.

Mavens AKA information specialists.
These folk are accumulators of knowledge. We rely on mavens as information brokers. They are the experts in their field and we pay them tremendous respect as our go-to people on specifics topics. Gladwell says that mavens’ are socially motivated and seldom demonstrate strength in persuasion.

Persuaders AKA communication specialists.
Tuned in to cultural micro-rhythms, persuaders demonstrate mastery of a specialised human trait where listening and intervention is as synchronous as a conductor of an orchestra. With perfect timing, they listen, interrupt and become interactional as if in tune with most everyone they meet.

When the Mavens and Connectors amongst us get together.

Importantly, mavens demonstrate success when they collaborate with connectors who are innovators. Connector-innovators are trend setters. They often feel they are isolated – even outcasts. They are also pioneers who see a bigger picture. They are passionate and readily become engaged in various forms of activism.

When mavens and connector-innovators get together a more coherent picture comes clear. The fresh broadened view ensures a more complete analysis is not influenced by those with an insular and biased outlook.

Maybe this is why peace building innovators (or any professional group or social enterprise) are more often engaged in change process across their sector. They create change by incremental steps that might otherwise not seem connected. The resulting tipping point comes with radical and rapid change to the surprise of those around them whilst these pioneers go unrecognised.

If this is you, (pat on back) then you will already be broadening the scope of your craft to provide consumers with flexibility, strengthening the action of your profession and changing culture. You will be making change the easy choice, as Gladwell suggests, redefining innovation as mainstream.

Afterword by Malcolm Gladwell.

“A book is a living and breathing document that grows richer with each new reading”.

Malcolm Gladwell.

An added strength of the audio version is Gladwell’s personal afterword where he shares fresh insight into his vision. He says that:

Difficult and challenging change is best tackled by a close knit group. An increasing significance of the social media culture means we must rely more on the power of word-of –mouth of our mavens, connectors and persuaders. He also says that since writing The Tipping Point he can add fresh insight.

  1. Understanding the rise of isolation.
  2. Beware the rise of immunity.
  3. Finding the mavens.

Understanding the rise of isolation.

Individuals these days seem to follow an internal cultural script where they are infected by the example of how others experience and react to conflict and dispute. The resulting contagious behaviour in the population requires a counter response toward the tipping point to conflict competence.  Only then will we overcome our underlying anxieties that fuel unhealthy hysterical social behaviour.

Beware the rise of immunity.

The power of word-of-mouth becomes more valuable as the message epidemic is prolonged. This is counter-intuitive to normal economics where scarcity drives an increase in value and wealth.  Gladwell opines that increasing network size is self-limiting as we become immune to the share volume of messages directed at us about more things we have little interest in. The key to reducing immunity is to reach people face-to-face.  This relies on us valuing those in our teams, communities and organisations we respect  admire and trust. The cure for immunity is engaging with our mavens, connectors and persuaders.

Finding the mavens.

Gladwell calls it, “creating the maven trap”.

People look up to mavens, connectors and persuaders (The law of the few) because they naturally value respect and standing amongst friends and colleagues. They are less impressed with status and wealth. In particular the mavens we value are able to break through the rising tide of isolation and immunity because:

  • Mavens prefer direct communication, face-to-face.
  • Word-of-mouth messages will be carefully constructed to attract the maven group in each sector, community and organisation.

Gladwell suggests that finding and collaborating with a widened maven group will hasten the process toward the tipping point of change.

I've embraced a new challenge.

My mission from now is to consider my peace building colleagues and peers in terms of Gladwell’s classification.
Whilst these folk are for-all-intents and purposes competitors for a fairly limited pie of referrals, by embracing Gladwell’s concepts we can work together to grow the size of the pie. By working together our client base can encompass a broadened foundation of communities, sectors and organisations that will benefit from embracing their own mavens, connectors and persuaders. They simply need our leadership and guidance to show them.

Will you embrace a new challenge?

What ideas and great works are you considering? Can you identify the mavens are around you? When will you formalise a strategy to bring together your connectors, mavens and persuaders?

For more information, please read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point and reach out to me here.


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