Another article from the Boston Globe (Sunday) Ideas section has struck my fancy. This time it is How to change a culture from Leon Neyfakh.
The notion of transforming a culture gets tossed around so frequently — by corporate consultants, political candidates, overexcited entrepreneurs — that it’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it can be. Culture, the mix of rituals, values, and traditions that defines a group, is tenacious and sticky. Whether the culture belongs to a sports team, a neighborhood, or a country, it persists because it’s one of the main ingredients in the glue that holds the group together—because it exists in the space between people, rather than residing in any one individual. …
… To really change how a group of people thinks and behaves, it turns out, you don’t need to change what’s inside of them, or appeal to their inner sense of virtue. You just have to convince them that everybody else is doing it.
The article covers a wider range than I'm particularly interested in, but it is familiar to people who read Gladwell, the Heath brothers, and others. The lesson of this particular article focuses on the idea of changing people's behaviors (the evidence of "culture") by changing what individuals perceive is the accepted norm of the group.
This gives rise to campaigns that suggest thing like "90% of high school students didn't smoke in the past week" to make not-smoking the "normal" behavior. The cynic, of course, will suggest that it is the 10% who think of themselves as "cool" who will continue smoking. And the article touches on this as well - rather than blanket campaigns like this, there is research that suggests finding the key thought leaders / opinion makers is an important aspect of initiating a change like this. And how does one do that? The article doesn't say, but I couldn't help think of the various social network analysis techniques that are out there.
[Photo: "A contaminated culture" by Cornell Funghi]