The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is about why ideas spread. Why teen smoking continues to rise, despite vigorous anti-smoking campaigns. Why cracking down on graffiti and fare jumping in New York City lead to a steep decline in violent crime. Why Airwalks were everywhere for a few years in the mid-90s, and why their popularity died off.

It’s about understanding the driving forces behind ideas that spread. It’s about understanding the people who exert the right amount of influence at just the right time. Many of the studies cited in the Tipping Point were also used as background material in Influence. More than once I found myself thinking “Oh, yeah, I remember that one.”

Marketing books are also psychology books.

The Tipping Point covered a ton of disconnected ideas, from Paul Revere’s midnight ride (and the other rider that night, a man who wasn’t as successful at spreading the same information) to Broken Windows theory, to how people behave differently, in different circumstances, and armed with different information.

Want to turn a seminary student about to give a lecture on the Good Samiritan into an asshole? Tell him he’s late. It works. You can effect dramatic changes, and it doesn’t take much. Just a little push.

To appreciate the power of epidemics, we have to abandon this expectation about proportionality. We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly.

This is the tipping point. It’s the point just before something makes an impact. It’s when adoption rates skyrocket, and new behaviors or changes in attitudes move from early adopters to the early majority. It’s the moment of critical mass.

I read Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore a couple years ago, and I couldn’t help drawing comparisons to The Tipping Point. If a tipping point happens at all when you’re trying to cross a chasm, it happens here. On one side, or the other, of the chasm.

Crossing the Chasm

Once an emerging trend moves from the early adopters to the early majority, it’s more likely to spread. And continue to spread.

When a virus spreads through a population, it doubles and doubles again, until it has (figuratively) grown from a single sheet of paper all the way to the sun in fifty steps.

Exactly. Like a virus. Absolutely love this example, by the way. It’s a fantastic way to illustrate the power of exponential growth.

But how do ideas spread?

We want our ideas to spread. We want our users to fall in love with our products. We want readers to read our blogs. We want to convince absolute strangers to take the steps we want them to take.

The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.

This is the Law of the Few. The people with the particular and rare set of social gifts are Mavens, Salesmen, and Connectors. These are the people who have the information, the personality, and know the right people required to push something forward. The people who can push hard enough, or at just the right time that a ripple becomes a wave. Or an idea becomes a virus.

I like the image of ideas spreading like a virus. While reading, I thought about the people who spread new ideas as Carriers. The people who collect and share knowledge (Mavens) and the people with the personality and temperament to sell (Salesmen) and the people who spread ideas by bringing people together (Connectors).

All willing carriers. Maybe it’s an unflattering way to think of people, but saying something has “gone viral,” is a compliment. It means it’s made an impact. It means the idea has reached the Tipping Point.

“Influencers” is a more flattering way to think about these people, perhaps. I started thinking about the influencers in my own life. The people who spread ideas that have enriched my own life.

Gladwell mentions an interesting thought exercise. He mapped a large number of his friendships to a single friend. A single Connector, who was responsible for many valuable, rewarding relationships.

Perhaps half of my social circle is thanks to a single friend. I wonder if most people are the same way? Do we all have that friend?

I'm Tyler, and I blog about marketing, programming, writing, and things I'm working on.


Recent Posts