The habits of societies – how movements happen

Chapter 8 of the Duhigg book, focusing on the Montgomery bus boycotts and the founding and growth of Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church, is the beginning of the third portion of the book – the habits of societies.

Early in the chapter, Duhigg introduces the concept of weak ties – the people who are not close friends but instead casual acquaintances or friends-of-friends. As I’ve heard before, weak ties can be more important than close ties in finding a job. But it also turns out that they are crucial to building a movement. In discussing Rosa Parks, Duhigg says:

A movement starts because of social habits of friendship and the strong ties between close acquaintances. It grows because of the habits of a community, and the weak ties that hold neighborhoods and clans together. And it endures because the movement’s leaders give participants new habits that create a fresh sense of identity and a feeling of ownership

.

Duhigg talks about how Parks was an extraordinary individual, with ties that crossed many social boundaries and was admired throughout the community. But that is just a catalyst. It is when “the strong ties of friendship and the weak ties of peer pressure merge” that momentum is gained.

As always, Duhigg takes what seems like a simple 1+1 recipe and then says there its a secret ingredient – in this case it is this:

For an idea to grow betting a community, it must become self-propelling. And the surest way to achieve that is to give people new habits that help then figure out where to go on their own.

This was the secret to the growth of both the bus boycotts and then the larger civil rights movement as well as Saddleback church, posits Duhigg.

Movements don’t emerge because everyone  suddenly decides  to face the same direction at once. They rely on social patterns that begin as the habits of friendship, grow through the habits of communities, and are sustained by new habits that change participants’ sense of self.

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