The Intransigent Minority

Despite Taleb’s penchant for black turtle necks, I mean is there anything that screams, “I’M AN INTELLECTUAL!” more? His ideas are the best kind, they make you think. Thus when I can actually digest his rambling encyclopedias… ahem, I mean books, I emerge just a tad smarter.

One idea of his that has been living rent-free in my mind of late is:

The Intransigent Minority.

Have you heard of this? It means a small segment of any population who is intractable (won’t move, or have their minds changed) on a subject, and thus enforces their will on the majority.

For most observed complex systems (populations, companies, communities etc), the minority contin­gent required to flip a popula­tion to comply with their inflexible view may surprise you.

It is in the 3 – 5% range.

That’s right, 3-5% of a population can control 95% of a population.

I think of this like ‘the asymmetry of tolerance’, where some systems end up geared to suit those who care the most, against those who care the least. Still confused?

Here’s the Formula:

The majority prefers X but will tolerate Y, while a minority will only accept Y.

Said another way, 41% 4 of food created in the US is Kosher, and yet the Jewish population in the US is only about 2.6%. 5

Why is almost half of the food in the US made to Kosher standard when only 3% care? Well, wile most Americans don’t care if their food is Kosher, almost 3% of the population will not eat it if it is not Kosher. So the food industry says – ok, we’ll make it all Kosher. I believe the same thing would hold true if 3-5% of the population was Muslim in the US (right now 1.1%), then we’d be largely eating Halal food and perhaps not realizing it.

So what matters is not the weight of numbers, it is the strength of preference that matters. Btw – I’m cool with Kosher & Halal, I’m not however cool with gefilte fish – yuck.

Ponder this for a second, in the U.S., with a popula­tion of 325 million, 3% is needed for a very strongly focused community to guide the decision-making of the many. This is what they mean when they say “The Tyranny of the Minority.” You need about 10 million people (3%), who care strongly about something, to reshape this area for the rest of the populace.