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The Five Percent

Book Review of: The Five Percent

Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts

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Review of The Five Percent, by Author (Hardcover, 2011)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)


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 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).




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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