Radical Ideas and the Overton Window
Progress happens in leaps; what was once considered radical and fringe can quickly become mainstream.
One of my meta-learnings from 2020 is how fast things can move from being perceived as impossible to being perceived as inevitable.
We’ve seen it with government bailouts, societal behavior, and public perception of social movements (like Black Lives Matter). Progress happens in leaps; what was once considered radical and fringe can quickly become mainstream.
The ever-shifting spectrum of what’s perceived to be “mainstream” is called the Overton Window, a window of policies perceived to be politically acceptable. Outside the window, there are those policies that are considered increasingly radical and unthinkable. (The Overton Window concerns itself with policies, but the concept is relevant to ideas, technologies, business models, and movements.) 2020 is a lesson is how quickly the Overton Window can expand and shift, and it has me thinking about three questions:
- Are there certain characteristics that radical ideas, policies, and approaches inherently have that increase the chances they will go mainstream?
- What surrounding pre-conditions exist that signal a radical idea is at a tipping point?
- What helps accelerate the transition from radical to mainstream?The word “radical” is fraught with negative connotations, but its definition, I recently learned, is “of, relating to, or proceeding from a root.” For those of us interested in addressing root causes of social problems and for those us dedicated to operating in the uncharted territory outside of the Overton Window, an emerging curiosity for us as an organization is this question: how can we help to mainstream the radical?