The One-Nine-Ninety Principle

This morning, as I was sifting through my Twitter timeline, I happened to chance upon a tweet that referenced Derek Sivers’ post, “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” which has Derek’s using a funny video of a dancing guy to demonstrate the finer nuances of leadership. Trawling through the comments led me to another YouTube video titled Bodhisattva in Metro.

Both excellent, must-see videos, IMHO.

Derek’s final statement in the post was:

When you find a lone nut doing something great, have the guts to be the first person to stand up and join in.

Believing in something is not enough; you also need to have someone who believes in you – the first follower. In fact, I would so far as to say that while a person becomes a leader-by-idea, the first follower is a leader-by-example.

The 1-9-90 Principle

Years back, I had a theory. It went something like this:

“Any statistical population can be divided in three groups. One percent of the entire population is the Radical Thinkers, people who dare to challenge existing belief systems. Ninety percent of the population usually ends up either following or denouncing the one percent – amusingly referred to as the Sheeple. The nine percent watches from a safe distance and forms their opinion. They are the Influencers, for their opinion determines which way the ninety percent swings.”

Although the term radical thinker is largely from a socio-historical perspective, equivalent terms are widely seen other areas, too. In geek-ology, the one percent are often referred to as the “early adopters“. They are also called the game-changers, the geniuses, the explorers, the dare-devils, the alphas, the outliers on the tails of a normal distribution curve and yet, in many ways, they are they are the leaders.

We find ourselves in each of these three groups at various stages in our lives. Sometimes we lead, sometimes we follow. In fact, you can be one of the one percent AND the ninety percent in different aspects of life – at the same point in time.

Coming back to Derek’s post, the first decile, that is the one percent “radical thinker” population plus the nine percent “influencer” population (a total of ten percent) is the “tipping point” that Derek mentions in his post – something that is quite important to viral marketing strategies.

Think about it for a minute.

When did you buy your first computer? When did you start surfing the internet? When did you get your first email address? When did you join a social network? Did you switch from one network to another?

And now, answer the question: Why?

What it means

The 1-9-90 Principle does not exalt the one percent radical thinkers, nor does it look down upon the ninety percent. Without the ninety percent, the ten percent would go nowhere. Similarly, without the one percent the ninety-nine percent would have nowhere to go. Without the one-and-ninety percent, the nine percent would be twiddling their thumbs.

Maybe the tipping point may not always be at 10 percent – it doesn’t really matter.

What does matter is, if and when you are in the nine percent, will you stand by your beliefs? When you are in the ninety percent, will you be gracious to let someone else lead you? Finally, when you find yourself in the one percent, how will you treat the other ninety-nine percent?

It doesn’t matter how passionate we can be as leaders. What matters is how passionate we can be as followers.

[PS: I just realized, the 1-9-90 principle could be a benchmark of sorts for Viral Marketers? I claim dibs! :D]