Change - How to make big things happen

A book about Complex contagion‘s implication in social changes.



Google+ vs. Instagram, Black Lives Matter.

The myth of the influencer: the (un)popularity paradox

“if only Armstrong was carrying a Coke” joke. The idea of “influencer”.

“The Oprah Fallacy”: Oprah was not the reason behind Twitter’s success, but the result of it.

Bakshy2009social studied the gesture adoption in the Second Life, showing that hubs are less likely to adopt the gesture and that the adoption rate increases as the number of adopted people around the person increases. The hubs are also less likely to be an influencer (the measure negatively correlates with the degree).

“Countervailing influence”: hubs tend to have more people who haven’t adopted the thing. Therefore, they are hard to influence.

Paul Lazarsfeld coined the term “opinion leaders” and popularized the idea of targeted, influencer marketing. Malcolm Gladwell‘s “the law of the few”.

When it comes to social change, the myth of the influencer obscures the real pathways …

The Berlin wall study by Karl Dieter Opp found that German citizens joined the protest because they had social connections who joined. Doug McAdam found similar behaviors during the American civil rights movement. See Granovetter’s threshold model.

Zachary Steinert Threlkeld‘s study on Arab spring shows that “the greatest predictor of activism was coordinated online activity in the network periphery.”

The myth of virality: the unexpected weakness of weak ties

Twitter grew locally.

the myth of stickiness: why great innovations fail


While there was complete agreement on which contraceptive method everyone used within each village, there was no consistency across villages.

Successful villages -> strong clusters and strong ties connecting the clusters.

Here’s the problem with that strategy: if you create massive awareness for your product but people don’t use it, all that awareness can backfire. …
But Google’s massively successful awareness campaign exposed so many users to Google+ that everyone knew that everyone else knew about Google+ – and that they weren’t using it. Google had inadvertently manufactured worldwide social proof against its own technology.

how change happens: the discovery of complex contagions

So how can you determine whether an innovative idea or produce will be simple or complex? .... The answer lies in the idea of resistance: the more resistance a new idea must overcome, the more likely it is to be a complex contagion.

Four barriers: coordination, credibility, legitimacy, excitement.

The takeaway here looks like a paradox: innovations that encounter the greatest resistance – because people are sensitive to issues of legitimacy, coordination, or social proof – are often the ones people are most committed to once they finally adopt them. This is what sociologists call entrenchment. Entrenchment often appears to be an obstacle to social change, but it is actually the key to achieving it.

Complex contagion in action: memes, bots, and political change

Contagion infrastructure: the importance of wide bridges

The principle of relevance: the power of people like us and unlike us

“Fit like me”. The information from those with similar fitness profile is more relevant and more likely to change behaviors. -> representation matters.

Doug Heckathorn and Robert Broadhead let the drug users recruit other drug users for safer injection and HIV testing.

Camp study by Muzafer Sherif and Carolyn Sherif. Us vs. them. Aharon Levy twisted this by creating a bridging group. - overlapping communities.

The final principle is legitimacy through diversity. Ugander facebook study. Donor example -> maybe related to the virality study. The sign of a simple contagion. The causality can go both ways. It’s diverse because it acts like a simple contagion; or it’s spreading better because of the diversity.

In search of a new normal

Wittegenstein’s second treatise. Between the first and the second treatise he became a kindergarten teacher. Language is social. It’s a coordination game.

Wittgenstein, #MeToo, and the secret of cultural change

Rosabeth Moss Kanter‘s theory about the critical mass of women vs. token position.

Tipping point experiment with the naming game. ask what would be the name of the person. Subjects quickly coordinate. Then introduce the committed minority. Around 25%, they can flip. -> the percentage would change with community structure? Centola2018experimental

China’s social media control: dilute the message by flooding with unrelated messages. Fifty cent party.

the blind spot in the mind’s “I”: unexpected triggers for tipping points

People underestimate peer influence and overestimate rational arguments. Energy consumption experiment showed that the peer influence was the only effective strategy although everyone believes that other strategies would be more effective.

How to trigger cascade? Shotgun strategy: spread widely. Silver bullet strategy: concentrate the resource to the influencers. Snowball strategy.

Malawi experiment by Lori Beaman.

Can Contact tracing misinformation be combined with social contagion and redundancy?

optimizing innovation: social networks for discovery

Devon Brackbill. Data science competition with different network configuration. Connected too well can hinder best solutions to be found.

bias, belief, and the willingness to change

Forssman’s procedure took a long time to be accepted.

Nancy Keating’s 2020 study on cancer drug adoption.

Bias in cardiac catheterization NEJM. The bias may be mitigated by creating an egalitarian network where doctors can share notes.

the seven fundamental strategies for change

  1. Don’t rely on contagiousness.
  2. Protect the innovators.
  3. Use the network periphery.
  4. Establish wide bridges.
  5. Create relevance.
  6. Use the snowball strategy.
  7. Design team network to improve discovery and reduce bias.