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The theory of tipping points


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Malcolm Gladwell's classic, "The Tipping Point" has always been a major inspiration for me. The book is written in a very chatty, conversational style that masks the underlying logic and structure of Gladwell's "argument". In this presentation I have tried to strip it down to its bare bones ... and added a few thoughts of my own.

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The theory of tipping points

  1. 1. Presentation prepared by Ian Bentley Inspired by the ideas contained in Malcolm Gladwell’s Best Seller “The Tipping Point”
  2. 2. “…there is something in all of us that feels that true answers to problems have to be comprehensive, that there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort … that slow and steady should win the race. The problem is that the indiscriminate application of effort is not always possible. There are times when we need a convenient short cut, a way to make a lot out of a little, and that is what Tipping Points is all about”.
  3. 3. “ … the world of the Tipping Point is a place where the unexpected becomes expected. Where radical change is more than possibility ... contrary to all our expectations – it is a certainty”.
  4. 4. The Tipping Point is defined as “the moment of critical mass”. The term came into being in the 1970s to describe the flight to the suburbs of whites living in the older cities of the American Northwest. When the number of incoming African Americans in a particular neighbourhood reached a certain point (say 20%) … sociologists observed that the community would “tip” and most of the remaining whites would leave almost immediately.
  5. 5. “… we are all at heart, gradualists, our expectation set by the steady passage of time” While conventional logic still considers the golden road to success as a gradual, incremental process … Malcolm Gladwell argues that this is not the case. Gladwell says that only the bravest of us “welcome the possibility of sudden change”. Sudden change, Malcolm Gladwell believes … depends on our ability to trigger “social epidemics”
  6. 6. “A Social Epidemic is a phenomenon that mimics the way an infectious disease spreads through a community”.
  7. 7. “Epidemics are the function of people who otransmit infectious agents; othe agent itself, and othe environment in which the infectious agent is operating. … and when an epidemic tips, when it is jolted out of equilibrium, it is because something has happened … some change has occurred”.
  8. 8. Malcolm Gladwell identifies the ‘contagion factors ‘that fulfil the three “Rules of Epidemics” … o “Law of the Few”, o “Stickiness Factor”, and o “Power of Context”.
  9. 9. The “Law of the Few” says that if a few exceptional people find out about a trend, and through their social connections, energy, enthusiasm and personality spread the word … The message will grow incrementally into a social epidemic.
  10. 10. With regard to the “Law of the Few” … Gladwell says one critical factor is the “Nature of the Messenger”. It takes special people to spread a Social Epidemic. Gladwell calls them the …  Connectors,  Mavens, and  Salesmen
  11. 11. Connectors "link us up with the world” They are people with a special gift of “bringing the world together." The people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A Connector is the social equivalent of a computer network hub. Connectors usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles.
  12. 12. Mavens are "specialists we rely on to connect us with new information." They accumulate knowledge (particularly about the marketplace) and thus become experts in certain areas. Mavens are intense gatherers of information and impressions, and so are often the first to pick up on new or nascent trends. They are unselfish with their knowledge and in fact love to share it with others. A Maven is regarded as someone who has a disproportionate influence on other members of the network. The role of Mavens in propagating knowledge and preferences has been established in various domains, from politics to social trends.
  13. 13. Salesmen are "persuaders" … charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond their obvious eloquence that makes others want to agree with them. They are able to easily establish physical and conversational harmony with others. Although the salesman is obviously dictating the terms of the interaction he is able to generate a high degree of empathy and synchronicity that ensures the other person is interested, enthusiastic and happy.
  14. 14. “The Stickiness Factor” implies there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable: relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information can make a huge difference to its impact.
  15. 15. Conventional marketing does not work. For the average message to STICK it must be seen 27 times . However there are ways to package information that makes it ‘irresistible'. Guerrilla Marketing techniques can be employed to rapidly increase the “Stickiness Factor” … under the right circumstances
  16. 16. “The Power of Context” says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to the condition of their environment than they may seem …
  17. 17. Altering the Environment can subtly power change … “It is possible to be a better person on a clean street or in a clean subway … than in one littered with trash and graffiti” “The streets we walk down, the people we encounter – play a huge role in shaping who we are and how we act”
  18. 18. The Rule of 150 says the size of groups is a subtle contextual factor that makes a BIG difference. People can be easily knit together and infected with the community ethos … below the level of 150 . Once that line is crossed they begin to behave very differently. 150 is our “Social Channel capacity” … determined on the basis of personal loyalties and 1-on-1 contacts. At that 150 Tipping Point … the group dynamics simply become too complex. For the average person there are just too many relationships to manage. The group becomes divided and alienated . The point has come for it to split in two
  19. 19. Tipping Point theory emphasises one other very important point to consider about Epidemics … The “Paradox of the Epidemic” says that … “in order to create ONE contagious movement, you may often have to create MANY small movements first”.