My previous encounter with the work of author Malcolm Gladwell told me that I should pursue his other work; so, as is often the case for me, I looked further back in time and read his first book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. I wasn’t disappointed.
“Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”
The author sites three essential characteristics of epidemics in general, not just the medical sense of the term:
- Contagiousness (unexpected property)
- Little causes can have big effects (geometric progression – abandon expectation of proportionality – effect that is far beyond proportion for its cause)
- Change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment (i.e. epidemic rise or fall – the Tipping Point)
“We are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time. But the world of the Tipping Point is a place where the unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than possibility. It is–contrary to all our expectations–a certainty.”
The author poses two essential questions that arise from observing successful and unsuccessful collaboration–question he then sets out to address in the rest of his work:
- “Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and other don’t?”
- “What can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?”
The author suggests three essential agents of change:
- Law of the Few – i.e. Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen; kinds of people critical to spreading information
- Stickiness Factor – ideas have to memorable and move us to action
- Power of Context – acute environmental sensitivity; behavior is a function of social context
About the Few:
- Mavens – data banks; provide the message
- Connectors – social glue; spread the message
- Salesmen – persuade to accept and act upon the message
“Six degrees of separation doesn’t mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.”
I (correctly) assumed up front that I am not a Salesmen, but I wasn’t sure about being a Connector or being a Maven.
According to the author Connectors possess a combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability and energy. “The closer an idea or a product comes to a Connector, the more power and opportunity is has.” Connectors understand “the strength of weak ties.” I am not a Connector (e.g. scoring only 13 out of 250 on the name test).
I am a Maven on the other hand. “To be a Maven is to be a teacher. But it is also, even more emphatically, to be a student.” A Maven is one who accommodates knowledge and is active in sharing it, too; interest in and curious about everything; wants to help because he likes to help; motivation is to educate and to help, not to persuade.
- Example sticky message: “Innovation in one part of the ecosystem benefits the entire ecosystem.” -> “Innovation for all!”
- Thought: Rich clients have to be more sticky than their counterparts, since the latter (thin clients) have inherently greater reach.
- Sticky => usablity + __ (immersivity?)
- Attention that returns education is sticky.
- Active vs. passive involvement; engagement vs. viewing; on the verge of learning/discovery vs. on the verge of boredom
- Word of mouth can be sticky (e.g. GMail invitations – as much who had the invitations to hand out as the invitation itself).
- “In ways we don’t necessarily appreciate, our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances.”
- Workplace aura: e.g. extra security measures that are “in your face”: badge readers, key pads, security fobs, closed doors, roaming guards
- Broken Window theory – “an epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment”
A few random thoughts during my reading:
- What really matters are little things – a stark counterpoint to the analogy provided by walnuts and popcorn kernels in a glass jar.
- “Character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstance and context. The reason that most of us seem to have consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment.” By promoting/seeking change, how is character development accelerated?
- Groups play a critical role in social epidemics–that of magnifiers–but not all groups are equal in their effect.
- When innovating be sure to solicit the help of “translators” so that the innovation can move beyond the Early Adopter and cross the chasm to reach the Early Majority.
(1) “Starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas.”
(2) “Those who successfully create social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. They deliberately test their intuitions.”