The 1 to 100 Campaign

Written by Frank White.


The 1 to 100 Campaign

By Frank White


            By training, inclination, and years of experience, I am a communicator.  It should come as no surprise, then, that my work with the Overview Effect has focused on communicating its message. In most of my public addresses, I have therefore said that the Overview Effect is a message from the universe to humanity about who we are and our purpose in the universe.

            When people ask those of us at the Overview Institute what we are trying to do, we might say something like,  “We are trying to communicate the Overview Effect message to as many people as we can.”

            When you get right down to it, “as many people as we can” is a bit vague. Fortunately, we have some established communications theory to guide us to a more exact number.

            I discussed the diffusion of innovation theory at some length in my book, The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution and it keeps coming to mind as we pursue the mission of the Overview Institute. The basic idea is simple: innovations, whether they are ideas or products, are adopted by society in stages. Nothing new is taken on right away, and that is because different people approach the world in different ways and have varying attitudes toward anything new.

            For example, Innovators (2.5 percent of the population) will rush forward to use anything that has just emerged on the scene as soon as it is available.  They are followed, over time, by the Early Adopters, (13.5 percent) who take on the innovation and move it toward becoming commonplace. Diffusion of innovation theory suggests that once these two groups (16 percent together) take up a new product or idea, it is well on its way into the mainstream. Of particular interest is the finding that once 20 percent of a population adopts an innovation, it becomes virtually unstoppable.            

            This means that we do not have to transmit the message of the Overview Effect to everyone on the planet if we want to have an impact. Our mission, then, could be stated as eventually having that vital 16-20 percent of the population adopt a philosophical innovation we call “the Overview Effect,” or “overview thinking.” Rather than being a product or service, it is an attitude of mind, or worldview.

            In the near term, our task can be much more specific, which is to reach the 2.5 percent of the population known as the Innovators.

            The question then becomes, “Which population are we considering?” Let’s assume it is the world population of 7 billion. If we are aiming for 2.5 percent, that would be 175 million. If we limit our pool to adults, it might be about 150 million.

            Could we possibly expose 150 million people to this idea, and if so, how?


            Regarding how to reach that many people, we can examine a few common media experiences. For example, more than 111 million people watched the Super Bowl in 2012. That is a huge audience, and close to our goal. By comparison, some 900 million people watched at least a portion of the recent London Olympic Games’ opening ceremony. Closer to the topic at hand, an estimated 500-600 million viewers saw Apollo 11 land on the moon back in 1969.   

            Perhaps even more relevant to our purposes is the fact that a music video called “Gangnam Style” has had more than one billion views on YouTube! That is, in fact, just under 20 percent of the global population.

            The television figures tell us that an event with widespread interest can draw an audience of 100 million to 900 million people. In theory, we could find a way to mount such an event and achieve our awareness targets in one fell swoop.

            However, it seems more likely that we will use the power of the Internet, as did “Gangnam Style,” to reach our goal.

            Diffusion of innovation theory also provides us with an encouraging finding, which is that people are more influenced by what their family members, friends, and neighbors say than by what the mass media says. This means that a one-to-one approach, which is the only one we can afford, will work best for us.

            To see how far we have come and how much farther we need to go, let’s look, first, at the history of the diffusion of this innovation in the pre-Internet phase.


Phase One: 1987-1990

            The Overview Effect: Space Exploration and Human Evolution, the book that first spread the term “Overview Effect” widely, sold about 8,000 copies in hardback and has sold about 1,000 copies in paperback in the English editions. The book was translated into German, but I do not know how many copies were sold. For the purpose of this exercise, let's imagine that it sold 1,000 copies in the German language.

            That gives us a total of 10,000 copies of the book sold. I was also interviewed about 40 times on the radio and television when the book first came out. For the purposes of estimating listeners and viewers, let's assume 10,000 people heard each of these interviews. That adds a total of 400,000 people to the number who heard about the Overview Effect as a result of the publicity surrounding the book. This is probably a conservative estimate, since radio and television stations have audiences in the millions.

            We now have a total of 410,000 people who were exposed to the idea of the Overview Effect in the initial years after the book came out, from 1987 to 1990.

Phase Two: 1991-2005

            During the years after the book was published and initially promoted, it garnered very little attention.  As a conservative estimate, let’s assume that 1,000 people a year heard or read about the Overview Effect from 1991 to 2005. That would be a total of 14,000 people. Adding it to our previous number, we have 424,000. This is not bad, but certainly not enough to make the Overview Effect a mainstream idea.


Phase Two: 2006-2012

            From 2006 to 2013, much more effort and energy was put into promoting the Overview Effect. This took place largely because I came to know David Beaver, who was working hard on his own to promote the importance of the view of the Earth from space. When we first talked on the phone, he had not read The Overview Effect, but once he did, he felt that using this term was a good description of what all of us were advocating. He and I joined forces, and David put together a series of conferences, using his own money, that culminated in the first conference on the Overview Effect, held in Washington, DC, in 2007.

            Some 100 people came to the event, which

took place the day before the annual Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) conference, and was supported by key SFF leaders, including Rick Tumlinson, Jeff Krukin, and Bob Werb. The event was streamed live on the Web and got some notice among bloggers as well. Let’s add another 5,000 people to our total as a result of that event. We are now at 429,000.

            The following year, in May 2008, we went to the International Space Development Conference in Washington, DC, and announced the establishing of the Overview Institute, functioning as an independent nonprofit within the Space Frontier Foundation. During the next four years, we began building up the Overview Institute on an incremental basis, first determining which projects we would support, and then launching a new website in 2011.

            As in the case with the previous period, we do not have a good estimate of how many people became aware of the Overview Effect from 2006 to 2012, but let’s estimate a doubling per year over the earlier phase to 2,000 annually, which would give us an additional 14,000 people. Added to the earlier numbers, we now have 443,000 people who theoretically know about the Effect.


Phase Three: 2012-2013

            In late 2012 and early 2013, something totally new happened.

            A group of young filmmakers from England, Steve Kennedy, Guy Reid, and Christoph Ferstad, contacted me and said they wanted to make a documentary about the Overview Effect. I helped them as much as I could, and the film, “Overview,” by Planetary Collective, premiered at Harvard University under the sponsorship of the Harvard Extension School, on December 7, 2012.

            A number of the members of the Overview Institute are featured in “Overview” (David Beaver, Edgar Mitchell, and me) as well as several astronauts who were either featured in the first edition of the book or will be featured in future editions (Jeff Hoffman, Nicole Stott, and Ron Garan).  “Overview” has now been played on Vimeo 1.6 million times. If we add that to the number generated in the earlier phases, our total stands at 1,643,000 people, which is very good, although still far less than what is needed to reach all of the Innovators.

            When we look at the dramatic leap in awareness that the film has generated, it is not difficult to see that now is the time to take action and generate even more momentum.

            We are now beginning to look at ways to do just that, first by raising money to support a further “viralization” of the film. David Beaver suggested, well over a year ago, that viralization of the Overview Effect should be a high priority. Our Group agreed, and that is now a project of the Institute.

            The value of this exercise is that it quantifies, within the structure of an existing project, what is largely a qualitative mission. When we speak of a global “cognitive shift” that is similar to the individual shifts felt by the astronauts, that is truly what we are seeking. However, without numbers, it is still a subjective goal.

Putting numbers to the task makes it more real.

Crossing the Chasm

            My colleague, David Beaver, adds another piece to this puzzle by citing the work of Geoffrey Moore, who has documented how new technologies are taken up first by “visionaries” and later by the general public. According to David:

Specifically, Moore says that rather than being a smooth curve from initial enthusiasts to the tail end of techno-change…there are gaps between different market segments. The greatest gap, The Chasm, is between the relatively small visionary/early adopter group and the pragmatic Majority, which makes up fully two-thirds of the total market…


            This suggests that even if we reach the 2.5 percent of the population called Innovators, we will still face a chasm that we will need to cross eventually. I believe we will cross it by showing that just about every cause on Earth ought to support our efforts. Why? Because whether you are trying to diminish the threat of war, feed the poor, or reduce the impact of climate change, the image of Spaceship Earth, and the constant refrain of “We’re all in this together” will support your work and make it easier.

            As I have pointed out in The New Camelot, the view of the Earth from orbit and the moon is one of unity, a context that holds the incredible diversity of ideas, political systems, lifeforms, and passions together and makes one of the many.

     Making It Happen

            How will we make this happen? How will we go from 1.6 million people being aware of the Overview Effect to 150 million? The answer is simple to describe, though it might be challenging to accomplish. According to the numbers, if everyone who has watched the film to date recommended it to 100 people and those 100 watched it, we would be there, and a bit more. I suggest we launch a “1 to 100” campaign, making every effort to reach out to existing “Overviewers” and ask them to pass the link on to 100 friends, family members, and neighbors (remember that diffusion theory suggests this is the best approach.)

            The advent of social media with its amazing power to reach millions at a time makes this rapid diffusion more plausible than ever before.

            From one to 100, from 1.5 million to 150 million.

            We can do it!