Looking for examples of small steps taken that had huge ramifications for society.

Not sure the best way to even ask this. But the best example I can come up with of what I’m thinking of is the decision to add flouride to drinking water. The populace just went about their lives the same way and over time the incidence of cavities plummeted.

I’m trying to describe an idea for a client that would improve education. A shift that would be almost invisible now, but might have huge ramifications 5, 10, or 20 years down the road. Kinda of like rising the water level an inch over time.

Any analogies come to mind?


NM, did not read OP correctly

I don’t know. A 10% savings rate over time? Proper vitamin intake? Cutting soda from a diet? I would say “immunizations”, but that’s not quite right.

Yeah, not quite right. Voting rights legislation for women, and minorities, comes close (the result being getting us closer to true equality in each other’s eyes), but even that’s not quite what I’m looking for.

Maybe my examples are misleading. I’m looking for something that, once done, the conversation changed. Maybe over time, but in profound ways.

I seem to recall that years ago in New York (?) the mayor decided to aggressively clean up graffiti in an effort to reduce crime. It worked. Small, lower budget item, but had huge effects down stream.

Not sure if this is what you’re looking for…

I don’t know if this is the sort of thing you are looking for, but the push to put newborns on to sleep on their backs reduced SIDS deaths by 50% (about 2500 a year) and it really was a rapid, quiet change: I never saw a baby on its back ten years ago, and now you never see one sleeping on its stomach.

I don’t know if 2500 death a year counts as “huge”, but it’s a pretty dramatic change.

Probably not quite what you’re looking for, but how about the federal law that mandated all new cars had to include seat belts? Once done, it was done; I certainly don’t remember any conversations about it being a bad law, or attempts to repeal it. People didn’t gripe about how it unreasonably increased the cost of cars. Lives were saved, years down the road (no pun intended). And new conversations, such as should that law be followed by one that required people to actually wear seat belts, followed.

Now, certainly, the law(s) requiring that people wear seat belts don’t fit your criteria, since I think there’s still griping about them, calls for their repeal, etc.

Those are both more what I am looking for. Thanks. Rudy Guilliani’s ideas of fixing broken streetlights in bad areas and repainting subway cars each night are getting there. But I’m really looking for a change in “attitude”, I guess. A good “bad” example would be how Welfare got stripped of its negative connotations in the '60s. Contrast that with the Home Relief of decades earlier. As my mom told me, most people she knew had done it at some time or other, because they were all so poor (1920s, '30s), but they were embarrassed to do it. As can be seen in Russell Crowe’s character in* Cinderella Kid*.

Yes, that’s a good one. As is our views on Drunk Driving. When I started driving it was kind of laughed at. And the cop would either follow me home or drive me himself. Yes, it was a small town. But there is no such latitude now.

Iodizing salt is an example right in line with your water fluoridation example: Adding iodine to salt greatly reduced the incidence of mental retardation due to iodine deficiency, which was at one time very common in poor, inland areas bereft of natural sources of iodine.

This happened at the same time as the decline in smoking (especially in pregnant women). And that is much more closely associated – in the vast majority of SIDS cases, one (or both) parents smoked.

People talk about the Broken Windows Theory.

Compulsary education probably can’t be defined as a ‘small step’, but it radically changed society over a long timeframe.

The invention of the horse collar revolutionized agriculture, made it possible for an individual farmer to support more people than previously and allowed for greater division of labor. It might have allowed for the development of a middle class.

Televised Debates: Might seem innocuous at first, but you can bet your butt they’ve altered the course of history.

Maybe something about nutritional labels on food? I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a study out there showing it improved people’s health…in some way.


One example I’ve heard given of this is the addition of electric starters to cars. With them, teenagers, old people and women can get in a car and drive as they wish, since the strength of an adult male isn’t needed to crank the engine.

Another famous example would the the birth control pill.

And helped destroy legal slavery. A horse with a horse collar can equal or exceed the amount of work slaves can do for the same food, without requiring guards and without the risk of the horse slitting your throat some night.

Writing. Teeny tiny little marks lined up just so, and it can say anything at all.

Medical hygiene is sometimes cited as the cause of the accelerated population growth in the 20th century.

Barbed Wire fencing has certainly had a disproportionate effect.