The power of positive tipping points


Have you tried to take in the fact that six out of nine planetary boundaries have already been crossed and that multiple tipping points could be triggered if global temperature rises beyond 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels?

Has this left you feeling energized or disempowered? Or maybe even paralyzed by its overwhelming complexity?

Tipping points, however, don't have to be negative.

There is a growing interest in identifying and enabling ‘positive tipping points’ that can help counter feelings of disempowerment and paralysis and accelerate the change we need to co-create a better future.

What's a tipping point?

A tipping point can be described as the moment at which a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, even more important change—a moment of critical mass, a threshold or a boiling point.

It could also be explained as the exponential growth of a new idea or paradigm, which suddenly spreads quickly and gains real traction (think S-curve).

When Malcolm Gladwell wrote his book The Tipping Point (2000), he compared the emergence of social trends, such as fashion and word-of-mouth, and a vast number of entirely unconnected changes in our society to that of an epidemic, saying that new ideas, products, messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do. It is slow at first, and then, after a certain point, everything can change all at once.

Malcolm Gladwell was not the first to describe the phenomenon.  The theory of critical mass, for instance, argues that when a committed minority reaches a critical group size, the social system crosses a tipping point, triggering changes in behavior that rapidly increase the acceptance of the minority view. These movements can have a rapid and dramatic impact on entire populations.

Studies of social movements have also argued that a small group of activists can change the culture of an entire community. In some studies, activist groups at or above 25 percent of a population were able to change the social norms in their communities. At that point, their popularity and influence can explode, having a remarkable influence on the broader population and triggering a change in the rest of society.

Transforming towards global sustainability will indeed require a dramatic acceleration of social change. Here, all of us can play a part in understanding and supporting interventions that can accelerate systemic change.

What's a positive tipping point?

In line with this thinking, there is growing interest in identifying and triggering ‘positive tipping points’ at which small interventions can accelerate the systemic change that we need for the co-creation of a flourishing future.

A positive tipping point can be described as a pivotal moment in our collective history when small, intentional actions and ideas snowball into significant, transformative and meaningful change. These tipping points are not limited to any specific domain; they can occur in economics, technology, culture, and social movements.

Positive tipping points are already seen in several areas, such as renewable energy, electric vehicles, and plant-based foods. In each of these cases, a small number of early adopters helped create a social norm, which led to a rapid increase in adoption and a shift in the system.

Catalysts for Change

What might then be the catalysts for change? In a brief 'dialogue' with two AI language models (Bard and ChatGPT), they suggested the following, among a flood of ideas:

  1. Grassroots Movements

Many positive tipping points begin with grassroots movements. Take, for example, the environmental movement. What began as a small group of passionate individuals concerned about the environment has grown into a global phenomenon.

  1. Social Media and Information Sharing

In the digital age, information spreads faster than ever before. Social media platforms and online communities provide an unprecedented opportunity to share ideas and mobilize like-minded individuals.

  1. Innovative Technologies

Breakthrough innovations can act as catalysts for positive tipping points. Technologies like renewable energy sources and electric vehicles have the potential to revolutionize the energy and transportation sectors. As these technologies become more accessible and cost-effective, they can drive the transition towards a more sustainable future.

Business as a force for good

Finally, how might business be a force for good in triggering positive tipping points?

Over the past decade, business leaders have increasingly recognized their role in shaping a better future. Some earlier than others. I’ve even written a book about the trailblazers of this movement and what there is to learn from them (Better Business Better Future, 2022).

In a business context, several positive tipping points could have a major impact on business and the future. The most important is a shift of mindset concerning the very purpose of business, from only providing profits to shareholders to being a force for good. A shift to net-zero emissions is key to mitigating climate change and building a sustainable future. Critical is also a shift to a circular economy, in which products are designed to be reused, repaired, and recycled rather than being thrown away. This would reduce waste and pollution and create new business opportunities in parallel. Very promising is also the exploration of regenerative practices, e.g. in the agricultural space.


A final reflection

Positive tipping points, in short, provide hope in the quest to build Better Business and a better future. It reminds us that small actions and ideas, when combined and nurtured, can lead to monumental change.

By recognizing the potential for positive tipping points and actively working to create them, we can accelerate the change the world needs. It's also a reminder that even in the face of extraordinary challenges, the power to transform the world for the better lies within our grasp.

For anyone interested in accelerating this change, why not explore Better Business Better Future (2022). It helps business leaders understand the Sustainability Revolution and decodes the good practices of purpose-led sustainability trailblazers. From Patagonia and Interface, to Ørsted, Unilever, IKEA, Oatly, and more. Also discover the The Better Business Acceleration Program >>


Gladwell, Malcolm, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference (2000)

Lagerstedt, Elisabet, Better Business Better Future: Decode the Good Practices of Sustainability Trailblazers and Transform your Corporate Business (2022)

Lenton TM et al. (2022). Operationalising positive tipping points towards global sustainability. Global Sustainability 5, e1, 1–16.


There are no comments yet. Be the first one to leave a comment!