The Five Percent, by Author (Hardcover, 2011)|
(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.
This book addresses conflict from a perspective I haven't seen before.
Consequently, its prescribed methodology is also new to me. The perspective
is the intractable conflict. Conflict resolution texts normally have you
view conflicts as solvable if you apply the correct methods. But given the
fact that nations go to war, we know there must be a problem with this view.
The authors say the problem is that 5% of conflicts defy solution by
standard methods. So they've developed a method just for those conflicts.
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
In this book, the authors talk about conflicts between groups. Society has
plenty of groups that oppose each other, usually with great conviction and
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
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
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
After Appendix B is a short piece that has the bios of the principals at
Columbia University's International Center for Cooperation and Conflict