Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Tipping Point

I have just finished reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. As what he is aptly put it, he brings to the reader an intellectual adventure story.

The tipping point is about how little things can make a big difference. It is the magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire.

In his little book, he painstakingly explained three rules of social epidemics.
1. The Law of the Few
2. The Stickiness Factor
3. The Power of Content.

1. The Law of the Few

It is not all that difficult to stand an epidemic. However, one will need to concentrate resources on a few key areas. In this case, the law of the few says that connectors, mavens and salesmen are responsible to starting word-of-mouth epidemics.

Connectors refer to people with many friends or many linkages. Mavens are those who are not just passive collectors of information but love to share and initiate discussion with others. As for salesmen, they are people who are very persuasive.

A key lesson which I learnt about persuasive people was the way they were able to "show" their emotions. And this is a paradigm shift in thinking. We normally think of expression on our face as a reflection of what we feel. In other words, emotion goes inside-out. Emotion contagion, though, suggests that the opposite is also true. If you smile, you will feel happy. If you frown, you feel sad. Emotion, in this sense, goes outside-in. One can really make used of this little information to stay happy - just by "faking it" until you really feel happy.

2. The Stickiness Factor

The stickiness factor underlines that there is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is to find it.

I loved the example of the tetanus shot information package to students. When it was just a brochure to students, the proportion of students who took the free shot was low. However, just by including a map of the clinic (in campus) and the operating hours of the clinic, there was significant increase in the take-up rate. The explanation was that the latter presentation shifted an abstract lesson in medical advice - a lesson no different from the countless academic lessons they received in their campus live - to a practical and personal piece of medical advice.

3. The Power of Content

The power of content is about our environment and also our limitation to relate to new information and to each other.

A good example of the environment is in Georgia Sadler's quest (a nurse) to start a grassroots movement towards prevention of diabetes and breast cancer among the black community in San Diego. When she tried to have talks after church seminars, she failed miserably as they were tired and hungry after the service. She needed a new context which she found in hair salon where she had a captive audience.

The second point is our limitation to relate to new information and to each other. We have trouble estimating dramatic, exponential change. We cannot conceive that a piece of paper folded over 50 times could reach the sun. We have problem relating to people when the number crosses 150. Re-framing the information and awareness are the keys to unlock our limitations.


It is another good book to read and ponder over. It makes me think that band-aid solution may be the panacea afterall. It is inexpensive, convenient and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. It solves a problem with minimum time, effort and cost. We have been conditioned to think that the true answers to problems have to be comprehensive and there is virtue in the dogged and indiscriminate application of effort. But there are times when we need a band-aid solution, a way that makes a lot out of a little, and that is what Tipping points, are all about.

It reinforces my belief that change is possible, we just need the right kind of impetus. With the slightest push, in the right place, things can just tip.

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