Getting to the Tipping Point With Malcolm Gladwell

While I had listened to Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell a bunch of times, this was my first read through it. If you're interested in what it takes to make an idea spread, without all the deep science and chart that we found in Connected, then Tipping Point is a good start. Gladwell does a great job at taking complex topics and making them accessible to everyone.

Gladwell says it takes three things to tip into an epidemic or movement.

The Law of the Few

First is The Law of the Few. This says that you only need to find the few right people to influence. These few Gladwell classifies as Salesmen, Mavens and Connectors.

Connectors have big networks, so if you impress them they can tell lots of people.

Mavens are those people on the cutting edge. They watch for and send trends. Gladwell brings up an often talked about Path of Spread for new ideas which I'll reproduce below.

  1. Innovators
  2. Early Adopters
  3. Early Majority
  4. Late Majority
  5. Laggards

This is the path of adoption for new things. Innovators are often doing something weird, and it's the Early Adopters that take the same odd thing on and tweak it a bit to be more acceptable to Early Majority. According to Gladwell, Mavens are these people that bridge from Innovators to the Early Majority.

Salesmen are the people that convince us whe we are skeptical. When I sold boats for Western Canoeing and Kayaking I had a couple about my age come in looking at a pair of kayaks. After talking to them for a while about where they were at in life, I ended up recommending a canoe. To me it fit better with the stage of life they were at, and the decisions around kids and family they'd have to make in the next few years.

They started being interested in kayaks but I sold them on the reason a canoe may be better for their long-term first boat. I was trusted in part because we were at about the same point in life and had some of the same future concerns since I was also starting to think about kids and such with my wife.

Stickiness Factor

The second rule is Stickiness Factor. This explored how we make things stick in the mind of people. In short, little things matter and we must test -- Blue's Clues is one of the most sticky shows and they test the order of clues and everything to make sure it leads kids properly to the end point.

For a business owner, you need to test your message. Think of the Traction method of marketing. In this you define your one marketing metric that matters and then test all the methods of marketing to hone in on the one that moves the needle most. Then you focus on that one.

The question left unanswered was how to find that one small sticky thing. You're on your own or in the hands of other marketing books here.

The Power of Context

The third rule is the Power of Context. Here Gladwell brought up Dunbar's number of 150 as an ideal group context. With 150 people you know everyone and can deal with things together. This community self-inforces change in behaviour because it's close knit.

Gladwell also used the Broken Window Theory to show context. Think of the graffiti clean up improving crime stats. Because people are surrounded by a clean environment they behave better.

This idea backs up Medicine Hat's housing first approach to homelessness. It also makes me think about living in different income areas of Chilliwack. As we've lived in lower income areas has that adjusted my business desire and thus income? I do suddenly make more now that we live in a nicer complex.

The book finishes with a few case studies that show Gladwell's ideas at work.

The conclusion brings up two main lessons. First, concentrate your effort on the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Identify them and market to them. They will bring you up the path of change from Innovators to Early Majority.

Second, test all your ideas and measure the results. This means you have to have a meaningful metric to test against so you can't fudge on stuff like "more traffic". Change what doesn't work and keep getting closer to your goal.

Should You Read Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

The read was decent, but I think Connected was more information dense. Gladwell does a good job popularizing the ideas, but Connected is a more complete look at how our connections affect us.

More than once as I was reading Tipping Point I'd get a hint of what Connected had, and then refer back to it for a more complete picture of the same idea. I'd recommend Connected before Tipping Point.