Bell Curves and Tipping Points
Those of you who know me reasonably well are likely confused that I would consider writing a piece about statistics and standard deviation. Let me put your mind at ease; I won't try to explain the math. I am, however, going to use the concept to demonstrate a social phenomenon, a task that is much better suited for this self-described anthropology geek.
Below is an image of a Normal Distribution Bell Curve - also used to show Innovation Adoption within a population. A concept that I find utterly fascinating, despite being steeped in abstract thinking - not my strong suit.
I first learned about this theory in the spring of 2013 at a self-directed education (SDE) conference on Long Island (not coincidentally where I also met Ken Danford, co-founder of North Star) when I attended a workshop led by developmental psychologist Dr. Peter Gray, who wrote Free to Learn, my personal bible for SDE. (I have a signed copy!) He and a few colleagues spoke about the process of starting a 501(c)3 organization that would be a combination "think tank," advocacy group, and a depository for all things SDE. That organization exists today as the Alliance for Self-Directed Education (ASDE).
During this workshop, Dr. Gray and his collaborators used this curve to explain something called the tipping point. They used the example of gay culture to explain the phenomenon. In the '60s and '70s, when I was growing up, it was not safe to "come out." Therefore, few of us knew anyone who was out as gay, while we were in school, and the word was used as a slur. Now, and within the past twenty years, LBGTQ+ culture is part of our everyday lives.
In any given population, there will always be about 2.5 percent who are the innovators - the creators, the designers, the revolutionaries, the movers, and shakers; the next, 13.5 percent will enthusiastically adopt those ideas as soon as they hear about them. Once it feels pretty safe, the first 34 percent of peeps in the center will come aboard, and when it is a sure thing, the folks in the other half of the bell will hop on. And, then, when there is no other choice, the last 16 percent will reluctantly join the party.
As per a 2011 study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the tipping point on this curve is only 10 percent of the population - a number that seems infinitesimal. Most researchers, however, place the tipping point between 10-25 percent depending upon the innovation. This means, on the Curve of Innovation Adoption, that you need between 7 percent of the early adopters and 9 percent of the early majority to accept an idea before it spreads to the entire population. The chasm between the early adopters and the early majority is so critical to the success of any innovation or movement that a whole industry of motivational speakers dedicated to teaching influencers how to bridge that gap has cropped up.
Now you are probably wondering why I find this all so compelling. Beyond the anthropological research indications, the very essence of this speaks to me on an intriguingly human and personal level. If you had known me back in the day (surprisingly not that long ago), you would categorize me as one of the last of the laggards on this curve. The only way I would consider a new idea was if someone pulled me kicking and screaming to it. I was closed, defensive, and shut down.
I now place myself firmly on the cusp of innovator and early adopter (except for super scary shit, like sky diving, bungee jumping, or other things that, because of my klutziness, have the likely potential of killing me - for those, I am most definitely still a lagger).
I understand the concept of Innovation Adoption - in a clinically academic sense. However, as a relatively new innovator/early adopter, I am easily frustrated by hesitation and refusal of any progressive idea - from the proven advantages of SDE, empathetic responses to societal problems, to life-changing scientific developments, when, in my mind (and experience), the benefits are clearly visible.
As with most things, I can not pinpoint when, exactly, the transformation from laggard to creator/influencer/revolutionary occurred. I do know that for anyone watching with a vested interest, it was a discouragingly slow process in the beginning and then mind-blowing - lightning speed.
The point being, it is possible to change - if you allow your mind to open just a bit. Once there is the slightest crack, the light will infiltrate to illuminate those things that felt scary, unsafe, and impossible in the darkness. I am living proof.
I am so excited to see all of my Peeps this coming week. DRC - Canton will be in person every M & F, and DRC - East every W & Th.
Membership is always open at DRC. Check us out.
This video by Liam Crossem Films explains the DRC culture.
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