The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts Hardcover – 26 May 2011
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"This book is an important, original contribution to understanding destructive, intractable conflicts and how to change them. It is well-writen and can be read with much profit by the general reader as well as by conflict specialists."Geoffrey Canada"As the world gets smaller and more complex, we have to improve our ability to live together peaceably - whether it is in our homes, our streets or between nations. This thoughtfully constructed examination of human conflict and how we can resolve it is a welcome antidote to the contentious times in which we live. Peter Coleman delivers hope in this guidebook to untangling our most intractable problems." "Forward.com", July, 2011
"The Arty Semite" "Groundbreaking... Based on the work of an extraordinary multi-disciplinary team that includes specialists in complexity science, astrophysics, mathematics, social psychology, anthropology and conflict resolution, 'The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts' brings to the general reader, for the first time, research that could reshape our understanding of intractable conflicts... Coleman's book should be required reading for peacemakers around the world."
"Huntington News Network", August 13, 2011"In "The Five Percent," Coleman applies proven, practical lessons and analyses drawn from complexity theory to create the first systematic, integrated, evidence-based model for understanding the 5 percent, and offers a coherent set of principles and practices for resolving them. The result is an innovative new strategy for dealing with intractable disputes of all types." "Negotiator Magazine""Both practitioners and students of conflict management are certain to find THE FIVE PERCENT to be a valuable resource. The volume includes an extensive bibliography in its "Notes" section and a well-developed index. Highly recommended."
About the Author
Dr. Peter T. Coleman is associate professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, director of the International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, and on faculty of The Earth Institute at Columbia. In 2003, he received the Early Career Award from the American Psychological Association, Division 48: Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict, and Violence. He lives in New York.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Five Percent has two shortcomings. First, it spends way too much time focusing on a "conflict" at Columbia university, where some largely Arab and Jewish students became polarized into two camps for and against some controversial professors. This case study, though interesting, is hardly worthy of such attention, especially considering that it became a surrogate for the Israel/Palestine conflict (which was only addressed in a cursory section of the afterword). The second flaw is that this book does little to explain the inner workings of the Attractor Landscape Model, which the authors cite often and glowingly. Compared to books like The Evolution of Cooperation by Robert Axelrod, where the author shares his models and code, the authors of The Five Percent merely present a simple user interface and a sparse website without revealing what's behind the curtain. That doesn't cut it for me as a researcher, but an end-user of conflict management practices may find this to be more approachable and useful than I did.
Overall, I am glad that I spent the time to read this book cover to cover. If you want some ideas for how to break out of intractable conflict, then The Five Percent might be very helpful indeed.
Whether intractable conflicts make up 5% or some other portion of the total number of conflicts is open to speculation. The authors seem to be very sure about this number, and it's probably a good reference point to understand the order of magnitude. For an individual or an organization, the percentage may be much higher or much lower.
For example, most of us have had the misfortune to know individuals who seem to be in conflict with everyone, with maybe 1% of their disagreements ever solved. They hold grudges and keep petty conflicts going for no apparent reason. There's not much we can do with those kinds of people. They aren't the focus of this book.
In this book, the authors talk about conflicts between groups. Society has plenty of groups that oppose each other, usually with great conviction and rancor.
An example they give is the anti-life people vs. the medically-assisted abortion people. Those are my labels, not the authors' labels. Notice how I don't use the label "pro life" for those who wish to mandate abortions without medical care (something that isn't very pro-life for the women forced into those methods). Nor are the "pro choice" people giving the baby a choice, so their label is also inaccurate. Value-laden labels close minds and hearts, and are typically 180 degrees out of rotation with reality.
Therein lies a major point about groups who stay in conflict. They take on seemingly noble names, wrap themselves in the cloak of some lofty principle, and proceed to entrench themselves against the wicked "them." You can have these kinds of delusions, or you can have conflict solutions. It's a choice.
How do you get past this emotion-based, heels-dug in standoff between "them and us?" As the authors point out, the traditional conflict resolution methods, which normally work very well, fall flat in such an environment.
Their approach is to modify the environment by introducing new viewpoints or other changes to it. I alluded to this in my mention of the delusions vs. solutions. The authors have a methodology for finding ways to crack the delusions and move toward solutions.
Toward this end, they have developed a tool called "Attractor Landscape Model." It sounds logical, but I had some trouble understanding it. Much of the explanation got sidetracked. As a climber myself, I didn't see the connection the authors were trying to make by using climbing as an example when illustrating a particular point. Some other examples similarly left me scratching my head.
Examples aren't their strong suit, apparently. The conflict examples they used weren't particularly interesting to me. I would have preferred examples that someone other than a politician in the State Department can relate to.
I finished the book with the impression that the case histories indicated the target readers are those people who are involved in Israeli-based conflicts in universities and the Middle East. But the book's cover gave no indication of that. I thought the target reader would be people who need to resolve intractable conflicts in the workplace, in the non-profit organizations they serve as volunteers, in their neighborhoods, and in their families.
The book focused disproportionately on a specific genre of conflict. Sure, go ahead and use the Middle East as a smaller example, but also give us examples that might have something in common with our own challenges in conflict resolution.
The authors also spent, in my opinion, far too much time dwelling on a particular conflict at Columbia University. After reading about it again and again, I just skimmed past it when it came up in the text.
But even with this flaw, the book is insightful and helpful. The astute reader can still apply the Attractor Landscape Model and still glean the principles from the examples given. So if you are having problems getting opposing sides to kiss and make up, this book could be a game-changing resource for you.
The authors have prepared a Website with software they've dubbed the Attractor Software. I took a look at it and noticed they have a "Toturial" (misspelled twice, so at least it's consistent). I didn't download or run anything, but it looks like you can run their program in Flash rather than install something on your machine.
The Notes section in the book is impressive. The authors did extensive research, tapping a huge number of primary sources. Many authors will tap a few secondary sources and rely mostly on tertiary sources, maybe tossing in a primary source or two. The degree of rigor in this book is exemplary.
This book's text runs 224 pages, divided into six chapters.
Appendix A describes the Attractor Software.
Appendix B is titled Analytical Contents. There's probably a name for this feature in a book, but I haven't seen it before and don't know what it's called. I do like it, though! It strikes me as a cross between an outline and a table of contents. You can track down an idea hierarchically, rather than trying to recall specifically the name of something as you must with an index.
After Appendix B is a short piece that has the bios of the principals at Columbia University's International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution (ICCCR).
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