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How a new idea diffuses into a society

The Process of Social Change

        Governments derive their direction and permission from the visions and concrete examples of the people. As more and more of us decide to expand our identification to include our neighbors (and the whole Earth), not to preoccupy ourselves with enemies, and to reject violence, then we can and will release our unprecedented creativity to lead our peoples beyond war, toward our common future.
        There are steps toward change. Step One is with people connecting -- engagement, with a new quality of listening with intent to learn. Dedication is to excellent communication and to each other. "Skipping steps" often is not succesful.
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        How many of us is "enough"? Five people in a hundred is all it takes! Stanford University studies tell us that when just 5% of a society accepts a new idea, it becomes "embedded." When 20% adopt the idea, it is "unstoppable." The study also shows that it normally requires 50% of the population to be "aware" of the idea in order to reach the 5% who will adopt it.
        In the first phase, proponents of the new idea must work incessantly just to keep the idea alive. Work during this phase is often frustrating and seems not to add up. But that is only an illusion. Like laying the foundation for a great temple, mosque, or cathedral, this work is the necessary first step even though most people cannot yet see the beauty to come. This stage involves Innovators, people open to new ideas and courageous enough to espouse them. Because the idea is still seen as radically new, the recognized leaders of society rarely are among this group
        As Innovators communicate and live the idea, it begins to gain social acceptability. The process begins to include a much larger segment of society -- Early Adopters, including recognized leaders -- embracing the idea.
        At 20%, the idea is "unstoppable." Much work is still required, but it involves implementation rather than trying to convince people that the idea is worthy of consideration. In building the new sanctuary, this would be the point at which the structure is beginning to take shape and many people can envision its beauty, even though the project is far from finished.
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        The Early Majority then Late Majority come to adopt the idea. There will then be Late Adopters -- people who resist new ideas and cling tenaciously to the old.
        Understanding this process of social change is important for two reasons. First, it explains how the impossible becomes possible. As more and more people adopt the new idea, the environment changes. What was radical becomes avant-garde; what was avant-garde becomes common knowledge.
        This process also suggests how we might best spend our time. It is natural for us to want to convince everyone of the idea's value. It is natural, but inefficient. And, because time is limited, we must be as efficient as possible. We cannot afford to spend inordinate time vainly trying to convince Late Adopters when we need to be locating Innovators and Early Adopters -- the "cultural creatives" of our times.

Based on The process of social change and the S-curve: Rogers, Everett, Diffusion of Innovations, Third Edition, New York, Macmillan Free Press, Chapters 1 and 2, 1983.

Another way to say this:

In time
after adequate National Dialogue
listening to everyone
with differing narratives and worldviews
in a safe place

while traditional broadcast and print media focus on sensation and extremes
Change Emerges in the Moderate Middle

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Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group
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Voice: (650) 574-8303 -- Fax: (650) 573-1217

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