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May 07, 2006

Teaching Early Adopters to Communicate to the Early Majority

Kid Oakland, one of the best thinkers in the blogosphere, has a great post up at DailyKos today that applies Malcolm Gladwell's "tipping point" understanding to our quest to tip this country over to the Democrats. 

The Kid describes Gladwell's "tipping point" as "the moment at which a trend breaks out of the confines of its "early adopters" and into mainstream prevalence".  He says, quite convincingly, that we who write and read political blogs are all "early adopters".  We have been paying attention but we are all talking to ourselves and think we're in the mainstream when we're far from it. The presumption that we are currently in the middle of a political "tipping point" is a fallacy. It is premature and we haven't made the jump.  He says,

Malcolm Gladwell describes what he calls a "chasm" between the enthusiasm of "early Adopters" and the wants and needs of the next phase of the public to accept a trend, the "early Majority"

...the attitude of the Early Adopters  and the attitude of the Early Majority are fundamentally incompatible.  Innovations don't just slide effortlessly from one group to the next.  There's a chasm between them.  All kinds of high-tech products fail, never making it beyond the Early Adopters, because the companies that make them can't find a way to transform an idea that makes perfect sense to an Early Adopter into one that makes sense to a member of the Early Majority.

Kid Oakland is talking to those of us who are fighting to reform the Democratic Party, rebuild democracy and take back this country and he says we will have to change our tactics if we are going to win, even in this favorable climate.  He says,

"Early Adopters" in the grassroots will embrace the rhetoric of the "fighting Democrat." To win a majority of the broader public, however, that "revolutionary" spirit needs to be translated into a language and a framework that appeals to the majority.   What appeals to early adopter Democratic activists by its very nature will not, in its unadulterated form, appeal to the "Early Majority" much less the "Late Majority." We have to translate our message to cross the chasm.

We need to learn to communicate, to translate our passion into something that can be understood from the viewpoint of the majority of folks in this country.  It will take building bridges to the "early majority", holding conversations with voters who "agree with us but don't necessarily share our style or all our convictions". 

We get stuck because we like messages that play to our base. 

We create a vibe, whether intentional or not, that we aren't interested in translating our message for the middle (and by that I mean talking in no nonsense terms about ALL our positions including liberal ones) or putting ourselves in someone else's shoes.  We act, in effect, like "Early Adopters" who insist that the "Early Majority" become "Early Adopters" too.  We don't seem to mind if we are offputting to someone who doesn't share our anger and concerns.  And amongst ourselves, we often go to the wall to insist that any adaptation or moderation of our message is a betrayal when, in fact, adaptation of our message may be the best hope for the broader success of our ideas. 

In effect, instead of following the arc of Gladwell's "tipping point" ie. transforming our message so it can cross the chasm to the majority, we've insisted that the majority "come to us" and see things from our point of view.   We fail to understand why they don't do this.  With this failure we have allowed the very real impression to stand that in order to vote for a Democratic candidate, you have to, on some level, become a "liberal Democrat." 

<snip>

As a result, we've "given many voters the impression that we just don't and won't see things from their point of view".

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We cannot change this dynamic with business as usual no matter how many scandals fly through Congress, and no matter how outrageous the conduct of this president.  We need to create our tipping point, not fall into one.  You cannot fall into a majority, you have to build it.

We build it by making connections, understanding and tapping into the values that voters have, and using language that connects our policies to those values.  We need to find leaders who have this ability to build a "tipping point".  Gladwell calls them "connectors"; Kid Oakland points to Mark Warner and Brian Schweitzer as good connectors.

I say the more of us learn to do this the better.

I got a taste of this new way of communicating at a training that the Progressive Majority folks sponsored on Saturday.  It was an entire day of hearing about and practicing techniques of connecting to the "early majority".  The folks who did the training, the Center for Policy Alternatives out of Washington D.C. didn't call it that and I didn't understand that that was what we were doing at the time.  Now, having read the Kid's essay, I do.  I just knew that learning to communicate in this way was a blast and it was hard to do and it will take practice.

Progressive Majority is in the business of teaching candidates, campaign staff and activists to learn to make these connections.  Even though this is the end of a lengthy post, it is still a good time to encourage people to attend their next training, June 16-18, put on by Camp Wellstone, which uses many similar techniques, is also a blast and is also designed to help us learn to communicate our message better, among many other things.  Sign up here.  Or go read Goldy's description here and then sign up.

Posted by Lynn Allen on May 7, 2006 at 11:15 PM in Strategery | Permalink

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