What gives rise to the trends that stick? The small things. What makes an obscure idea a sudden hit? The changes that are barely noticed.
If you haven’t already gotten it by now, an epidemic is not made through the big and flashy. According to writer Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book, The Tipping Point, it’s the little things that make a big difference.
Three principles define how an idea goes from being just an idea to a success. Contagion is one thing. The second involves changes in the little things which yields large effects . The third principle is what the book is all about, the name given to that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once, the tipping point.
Developing his analogy, Gladwell shows how a factor ‘tips’ – when a critical mass ‘catches’ the infection and passes it on. This is how Hush Puppies, a once obscure shoe line, becomes a ‘fashion craze’, social smoking becomes an ‘addiction’, and Sesame Street becomes the most popular children’s show of all time.
These social epidemics each share a tipping point. There are distinct ingredients that lead to the creation of a tipping point. The combination of these ingredients lead to a phenomena that infects the population like an attacking virus.
A number of real-world examples proves Gladwell’s theory. One is the Law of the Few. Epidemics do not need a large group of people to transmit their infection. A successful epidemic is transmitted by the few who speak the most (and speak the best). These decisive people are categorized as connectors, mavens and salespeople.
Connectors know vast networks of people from a variety of fields. Through their connections, they have the ability to bring people together, using their social skills to make connections and spread the word to a large number of people about great ideas. They are masters of what Gladwell calls the ‘weak tie’ (a friendly, superficial connection), allowing them to spread ideas to more people in a variety of groups. Another group of people, mavens, information specialists – focus on gathering information and actively share that useful information with others. Gladwell likens them to your coupon collectors, people like this krazy coupon lady. The third type of person is a salesperson. Salespeople sell the message, concentrating on the relationship and non-verbal communication to gain trust.
Without connectors, mavens and salespeople, epidemics would not reach a ‘tipping point’.
A second theory Gladwell proposes is the stickiness factor. The ‘stickiness’ of an idea determines whether it receives just a passing glance or catches on. To reach a tipping point, ideas have to be compelling. Those wishing to create epidemics must pay attention to the presentation of the message, once again paying special attention to the little things that can grab people’s attention.
The final theory presented is the power of context. Changes in the context of a message can tip an epidemic. Gladwell cites the “bystander effect” as an example. When people are in a group, responsibility for acting is diffused because they assume that someone else will take responsibility. Gladwell argues that our circumstances, or context, matter as much as character. “The key to getting people to change their behavior…sometimes lies within the smallest details of their immediate situation. The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.” Realizing this allows one to control the tipping point by altering the environment.