“Action does not happen on the surface of context; action and context are mutually and intricately embedded in one another.”

Mark Granovetter


“The illusion of anarchism is its constant belief that a revolution is just around the corner.”

Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, 1967


“There can be an awareness of world changes without an awareness of that awareness.”

S.E. Emery and E.L. Trist


The greatest compliment a technology, or idea, can receive is to be replicated by humans, spreading from one person to the next. What it suggests is that the things that are most useful, functionally and psychologically, should grow in frequency in the overall population as the population becomes aware. And, yes, this is also how useless fads spread.

And, yes, that means a real revolution is a compliment to an idea.

And, yes, I am using revolution in a fairly broad sense today.

There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of books written about social contagion and how ideas spread. Most likely the two most famous are Tipping Point and Made to Stick. My main issue with them is that they create the impression you can make a revolution or actually create one which inspired an entire industry of social contagion trickery which made a joke of things. The truth is revolutions, in any shape and size, revolve around ideas that people give a shit about (even if they don’t know they give a shit immediately). In fact, no matter how hasty and impatient most of us are, the best ideas and the most meaningful revolutions involve a shitload of waiting. Revolutions don’t happen; until they do.

Maybe think of this. In normal times maybe only one in a thousand people are actively engaged in politics. In a revolutionary period, or a period of heightened awareness, maybe 50 times as many people get involved. The larger involvement is enough to create an impression, particularly in the minds of those already engaged, of society on the move. The impression is misleading, because 50 out of a thousand is still only one in 20. This means 95% of a society is still busy doing things they thought more important like eating, sleeping, family and doing their job. I imagine the trick is recognizing if that 50 times is the traction for 500 times or simply a moment in time when some people feel like they are missing something and are paying a bit of attention. Weirdly, I think most startups understand this despite the fact they are, well, as said earlier “hasty and impatient as most of us are.”

Anyway. Revolutionary ideas always develop on the ground and, if favored by success, little by little they increase their harassment of the status quo. If there truly is something like a ‘tipping point’ it would be that for the idea to reach full success they must gain a degree of cooperation from the larger population if they are to succeed in undermining the status quo, i.e., creating doubt and questioning from most of the population, and ultimately overcoming what exists. I would suggest this cooperation is always contingent upon the degree people lose confidence in the existing ideas (and things).

Which leads me to say I purposefully used revolution because ultimately any new idea needs to deconstruct the hierarchy of existing attachments – community, clique, nation, bias, etc. – a fairly integrated, interconnected, consciousness. I am not suggesting deconstructing the entire consciousness, but rather find the meaningful pockets which tap into the imagination of possibilities. For it is within possibilities in which renaissance can occur and revolution becomes the engine of change. That said. Revolutionary ideas contend with powerful opponents – people in power, people’s minds, inertia.

Please note I didn’t say technology. I believe the only thing that stops an idea from thriving in the world is not lack of necessary technology, but a lack of collective human will. It will not be technology that will create the revolutionary step forward, it will be created only by social consciousness reshaped.

What we have going for us is many studies of global values offer a broadly optimistic story of how values are changing towards valuing self-expression and a desire to live free of external constraints. They show a slow, but steady movement away from traditional values which offers new avenues for ideas, i.e., revolutions of progress.

Which leads me back to waiting and revolutions.

The more unstructured a revolution is, the less control it has over the directions in which it develops and the power structures it runs into. This is true even of ideas. This does not mean that an idea cannot spread in an unstructured environment and with some structure, and interest by media, social media and appropriate social conditions, the ideas can spread. But in either case, structured or unstructured, an idea isn’t a revolution until the revolution decides the idea is worthy of one. Hence, once again, a revolution is a compliment to an idea. the trouble is, in our hasty impatient world, you cannot hurry a compliment. It is only with patience, and a lot of waiting, before any revolution occurs. Try and tip it, try and make it stick, try whatever voodoo you do, but you will end up investing gobs of resources when it is quite possible waiting may have been your best investment. Ponder.

Written by Bruce