Monday, October 23, 2006


Tipping Points

Sometimes big changes follow little events. These small changes that can make a big difference are called “tipping points.” For example at 33 degrees we just have cold water. A drop of two degrees, to 31 degrees, gives us ice. A small change on the thermometer, but a huge difference in results.

Consider these quotations from The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, and consider what tipping points exist in our environment(s).

• Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.

• These three characteristics – one, contagiousness; two – the fact that little causes can have big effects; and three, that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment – are the three principles that define how measles move through a grade-school classroom or the flu attacks every winter.

• To appreciate the power of epidemics, we have to abandon the 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.

• In a given process or system some people matter more than others. This is not, on the face of it, a particularly radical notion. Economists often talk about the 80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the “work” will be done by 20 percent of the participants. In most societies, 20 percent of the criminals commit 80 percent of the crimes. Twenty percent of the motorists cause 80 percent of all accidents. Twenty percent of beer drinkers drink 80 percent of all beer. When it comes to epidemics, though, this disproportionality becomes even more extreme: a tiny percentage of people do the majority of the work.

• Social epidemics are driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people…Epidemics tip because of the extraordinary efforts of a few select carriers. But they also sometimes tip when something happens to transform the epidemic agent itself….Stickiness means that a message makes an impact. You can’t get it out of your head.

• There are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.

• The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.

• 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.

• Rod Steiger is the best-connected actor in history because he has managed to move up and down and back and forth among all the different worlds and subcultures and niches and levels that the acting profession has to offer.

• When it comes to finding out about new jobs – or, for that matter, new information, or new ideas – “weak ties” are always more important than strong ties. Your friends, after all, occupy the same world that you do. They might work with you, or live near you, or go to the same churches, schools, or parties. How much, then, would they know that you wouldn’t know? Your acquaintances, on the other hand, by definition occupy a very different world that you.

• Word-of-mouth epidemics are the work of Connectors….If you look closely at social epidemics, however, it becomes clear that just as there are people we rely upon to connect us to other people, there are also people we rely upon to connect us with new information. There are people specialists, and there are information specialists.

• Why are the Zagat restaurant guides so popular? Partly it is because they are a convenient guide to all the restaurants in a given town. But their real power derives from the fact that the reviews are the reports of volunteers – of diners who want to share their opinions with others. Somehow that represents a more compelling recommendation than the opinion of an expert whose job it is to rate restaurants.

• What separates a great salesman from an average one is the number and quality of answers they have to the objections commonly raised by potential clients.

• Sesame Street discovered that by making small but critical adjustments in how they presented ideas to preschoolers, they could overcome television’s weakness as a teaching tool and make what they has to say memorable.

• The specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of “stickiness.” Is the message – or the food, or the movie, or the product – memorable? Is it so memorable, in fact, that it can create change, that it can spur someone to action?

• Sesame Street decided to defy the opinion of their scientific advisors. “We decided to write a letter to all the other developmental psychologists and say, we know what you guys think about mixing fantasy and reality. But we’re going to do it anyway. If we don’t, we’ll be dead in the water.”

• There is something profoundly counterintuitive in the definition of stickiness that emerges from all these examples. Wunderman stayed away from prime-time slots for his commercials and bought fringe time, which goes against every principle of advertising. He eschewed slick “creative” messages for a seemingly cheesy “Gold Box” treasure hunt. Levanthal found that the hard sell – that trying to scare students into getting tetanus shots – didn’t work, and what really worked was giving them a map they didn’t need directing them to a clinic that they already knew existed. Blue’s Clues got rid of the cleverness and originality that made Sesame Street the most beloved television program of its generation, created a plodding, literal show, and repeated each episode five times in a row.

• It could be argued that the success of Paul Revere’s ride – in some way- owed itself to the fact that it was made at night. At night, people are home in bed, which makes them an awful lot easier to reach than if they are off on errands or working in the fields. And if someone wakes us up with something we automatically assume the news is going to be urgent.

• The Power of Context says you don’t have to solve the big problems to solve crime. You can prevent crimes just by scrubbing off graffiti and arresting fare-beaters.

• Wesley realized that if you wanted to bring about fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior, a change that would persist and serve as an example to others, you needed to create a community around them, where those new beliefs could be practiced and expressed and nurtured.

• Over the years military planners have arrived at a rule of thumb which dictates that functional fighting units cannot be substantially larger than 200 men….Below 150, Dunbar argues, it is possible to achieve goals informally. “At this size, orders can be implemented and unruly behavior controlled on the basis of personal loyalties and direct man to man contacts. With larger groups this becomes impossible.”

No comments: