I’m in the middle of Nassim Taleb’s “Skin in the game” book. In the chapter devoted to minority rule Taleb gives few fascinating examples of how the minority can impose its rules on the whole community (because of asymmetric situation – read the book if you want to know more, it is worth your time!). Here are my two ideas related to the areas that I’m familiar with.
The city I live in – Cracow, Poland – is constantly trying to improve the traffic conditions in the center of the city. Recently the speed limits were changed on some streets – from 70km/h down to 50km/h. Let me tell you that Poles (drivers included) don’t like restrictions of any kind, and – when it comes to speed limits – are pretty reluctant to obey (which leads to serious death toll, but this is another story). I would even say that for many of my colleagues speeding is nothing to be ashamed of and often even something to boast about (eh, no comments).
Taking our speeding culture into account, will the drivers of Cracow slow down to meet the new speed limits?
Based on what I learned about minority rule the answer is simple: yes, they will (even if they plan to do it). The thing is, that they have no choice really. Imagine that initially there is only 5-10% of people who follow the speed limits (I think it is safe to assume there are so many people obeying the speed rules – some fresh drivers, some driving extremely safely because of the kids on board, elderly people, or people who simply obey the rules etc.). If you think about it you will come to the conclusion that such a minority of 5-10% is enough for the whole drivers population to be forced to go as slow as these “obedient” drivers. Cracow’s streets are narrow and stuffed with car, so if every 10th or 20th driver goes 50km/h then the rest has no choice – they will go 50 as well (as there is usually not enough space to overtake).
And this is how a minority of 5-10% will prevail even if the majority would like to play The Fast & The Furious in the city center.
Another example of minority rule at work is remote work. From my experience in the IT world, I can say it has become a sort of a fetish among developers in the last few years. Everybody wants to work remotely.
The thing is, that if you have one person on the team that works remotely, then it affects the work of the whole team – its culture and organization of work. Some even say, that this one person makes the whole team remote, and I would agree. You need to change a lot in how the team’s work is organized so that you fully embrace this single remote worker. And having one remote worker obviously encourages others to work remotely as well: why go to the office if John is remote anyway and you need to videochat with him? Why not stay at home or move to some nice place and have the same videochat under the palm trees?
So, similarly to the slow driver, the minority of remote workers overrules the majority of “office” workers.
And now, what?
The question now is, how to use the minority rule to proliferate desirable behavior at your organization? (Watch out, there is a gotcha here: minority rule works also for bad behavior).