January 6, 2009

Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point is the biography of an idea. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do. The rise of hush Puppies and the fall of New York's crime rate are textbook example of epidemics in action.

There are three characteristics –

  1. Contagiousness;
  2. The fact that little causes can have big effects
  3. That change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment

These three principles that define how measles moves through a grade-school classroom or the flu attacks every winter.

The possibility of sudden change is at the center of the idea of Tipping Point and might well be the hardest of all to accept. The expression first came into popular use in the 1970s to describe the flight to the suburbs of whites living in the older cities of the American Northeast. When the number of incoming African American in a particular neighborhood reached a certain point, sociologist observed that the community would 'tip' most of the remaining whites would leave almost immediately. The Tipping Point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.

This behavior repeated in Hush Puppies huge demand, NY sudden crime rate reduction, Baltimore syphilis spreading, use of FAX machine, Cell phone, etc.

Sharp introduced low cost fax in 1984 and sold around 80,000 in US. For the next three years, business slowly and steadily bought more and more faxes until 1987, enough people had faxes that it made sense for everyone to get a fax.

Kevin Kelly, one of the gurus of the New Economy has written, for example, of what he calls the 'fax effect'. The first fax machine ever made was the result of millions of dollars of R&D and cost about $2000 at retail. But it was worth nothing because there was no other fax machines made the first fax more valuable and the third fax made the first two more valuable and so on. "Because fax machine are linked to a network, each additional fax machines that is shipped increases the value of all the fax machines operating before it" Kevin writes. When you buy a fax machine, then, what you are really buying is access to the entire fax network – which is infinitely more valuable than the machine itself.

Kelly calls this the 'fax effect' or the law of plenitude, and he considers it an extraordinarily radical notion. The traditional economy value comes from scarcity – diamonds, gold, oil etc- it has more value when they are rare. But logic on network is the reverse. Power and value now come from abundance.

Chapter 1 – The three rules of Epidemics.

In 1964 young Queen woman by the name of Kitty Genovese was chased by her assailant and attacked three times on the street over the course of half-an-hour as thirty-eight of her neighbors watched from their windows and during this time, none of the 38 called police.

It can be assumed that their apathy was indeed one of the big city varieties. It is almost a matter of psychological survival, if one is surrounded and pressed by millions of people, to prevent them from constantly impinging on you and the only way to do this is to ignore them as often as possible. Indifference to one's neighbor and his troubles is a conditioned reflex in New York as it is in other big cities. This is called bystander problem.

The three rules of Tipping Point

  1. The law of the few
  2. The stickiness factor
  3. Power of context

Offer a way of making sense of epidemics.

Chapter 2 – The law of the few.

Explains from history – April 18th 1775 when British was planning for attacking Concord to seize the stores of guns and ammunition that some of the colonial militia stored there. Paul Revere got to know about this incident and he spread the news across the colonies by riding at night. Other gentleman –William Dawes – also spread the news, but he could not make any effect in his message compared to Revere's.

Paul Revere's influence is explained with the context of the ' low of the few'.

In the law of the few, author further divides them into three categories.

  1. Connectors
  2. Mavens
  3. Salesman.

Revere belongs to the first category and Connectors have special gifts for bringing the world together. What makes someone a Connector? Criterion is that Connectors know lot of people and they are the kinds of people who knew everyone.. Their importance is also a function of the kinds of people they know. Word-of-mouth epidemics are the work of Connectors. Revere was a Connector, but William Dawes was just an ordinary man.

The word Maven comes from Yiddish and it means, one who accumulates knowledge. For example from everyday's life, they would know which gas station sells cheapest oil, or which supermarket sells low price stuff or which stuff is being sold in which super market etc.

A Connector might tell ten friends where to stay in LA and half-of-them might take his advice. A Maven might tell five people where to stay in LA, but all of them would take his advice. These are different personalities at work, acting for different reasons. But they both have the power to spark word-of-mouth.

(Some people can be both – Connector as well as Maven)

Some books on salesmanship recommended that persuaders try to mirror the posture or talking styles of their clients in order to establish rapport. But that's shown not to work. It makes people more uncomfortable not less and it is too obviously phony.

However some people has skill to harmonize others. As per Joseph Cappella, "Skilled musician and good speakers know this and they know when the crowds are with them, literally in synchrony with them, in movements and nods and stillness in moments of attention". The essence of a Salesman is that one some level they can not be resisted. They can build of trust and rapport in 5 to 10 min that most people will take half an hour- to one hour to do so. They also carriers who are very expressive and can inject emotions to the others faster than the rest.

In their brilliant 1994 book 'Emotional Contagion', mimicry is one of the means by which we infect each other with our emotions. In pother words, if I smile and you see me and smile in response – even a micro smile that takes no more than several milliseconds – it's not just you imitating or empathizing with me. It may also be a way that I can pass on my happiness to you. Emotions are contagious. In a way, this is perfectly intuitive. All of us have had our spirits picked up by being around somebody in a good mood. We normally think of the expression on our face as the reflection of an inner state and Emotions goes inside-out and emotions can goes outside-in.

(If I can make you smile, I can make you happy. If I can make you frown, I can make you sad).

Howard Friedman, a psychologist, has developed what he calls the Affective Communication Test to measure this ability to send emotions to be contagious. The test is a self-administrated survey with 13 questions relating to things like whether you can keep still when you hear good dance music, etc.. the highest score is 117 and average score around 71. Some of the people author tested for the category of Salesman got highest scores.

Chapter 3 – Stickiness factor.

When most of us want to make sure what we say is remembered, we speak with emphasis. We speak loudly and we repeat what we have to say over and over again. Marketers feel the same way. There is a maxim in the advertising business that an advertisement has to be seen at least 6 times before anyone will remember.

Author goes into great detail by using the success story of 'Sesame street" and to emphasis the 'stickiness factor'.

There is a simple way to package information that under the right circumstances can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.

Chapter 4 – The power of Context.

Author uses NY city crime rate reduction for explaining this topic.

During the 1990s violent crime declined across US for number of fairly straightforward reasons. The illegal trade in crack cocaine began to decline. Second is economic's dramatic recovery began to many people who might have been lured into crime got legitimate jobs instead and the general aging of the population meant that there were fewer people in the age range that is responsible for the majority of all violence.

New York city's crime rate reduction case was different.

The most intriguing candidate is called the 'Broken windows' theory. Broken Windows was the brainchild of the criminologist James Q Wilson and George Kelling. They argue that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, they write, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes.

(MTA authority as a first step, took care of dirty graffiti every day at their yard, and secondly, they added more police to catch people who cross the bar without sweeping tokens and gradually build up the structure. When Julianne became NYC mayor, he brought MTA police chief as NYC commissioner who followed the same technique by catching people doing silly mistakes – peeing on the street etc )

People's behavior changes with context. Some will cheat at house, but not outside (vice versa), some people help friends, but not relatives(vice versa), some people is honest in the office, but in their personal life (vice versa), etc..

Consider the following brainteaser. Suppose I give you a 4 cards labeled with the letter A & D and the numerals 3 and 6. The rule of the game is that a card with a vowel on it always has an even number on the other side. Which of the cards would you have to turn over to prove this rule to be true? The answer is two (A Card and three card). The overwhelming majority of people gives this test, don't get it right. However, if we rephrase it this way, majority gets it right.

Suppose four people are drinking in a bar. One is drinking Coke. One is sixteen. One is drinking beer and one is twenty-five. Given the rule that no one under twenty-one is allowed to drink beer, which of these people's IDs do we have to check to make sure the law is being observed? Now the answer is easy (beer drinker and the 16 year old boy).

The difference is that it is framed in a way that makes it about people, instead of about numbers, and as human beings we are a lot more sophisticated about each other than we are about the abstract world.

Princeton university professors – John Darley and Daniel Batson – conducted a study based on Biblical story (Gospel of Luke tells of a traveler who has been beaten on his way to Jericho – Good Samaritan) and they proved that people at different context, behaved differently in those situations.

Judith Harris has convincingly argued that peer influence and community influence are more important than family influence in determining how children turn out. We spend so much time celebrating the importance and power of family influence that it may seems, at first blush, that this can't be true. But reality it I no more than an obvious and commonsensical extension of the Power of Context, because it says simply that children are powerfully shaped by their external environment that the features of our immediate social and physical world – the streets we walk down the people we encounter – play a huge role in shaping who we are and how we act.

Chapter 5 – Power of Context –Part 2.

Explained from the context of success of Rebecca Wells's Divine Secrets of the ya-ya Sisterhood'. Rebecca Wells says that what she began to realize as the ya-Ya epidemic grew was that it wasn't really about as her or even about her book: it wasn't one epidemic focused on one thing. It was thousands of different epidemics, all focused on the groups that had grown up around Ya-Ya. "I began to release that these women had built their own Ya-Ya relationship not as much to the book but to each other".

If we are interested in starting an epidemic – in reaching Tipping Point – what are the most effective kinds of group's? Is there a simple rule of thumb that distinguishes a group with real social authority from a group with little power at all? As it turns out, there is. It is called the rule of 150 and it is a fascinating example of the strange and unexpected ways in which context affects the course of social epidemics.

There is a concept in cognitive psychology called the channel capacity that refers to the amount of space in our brain for certain kinds of information. As a human being we can only handle so much information at once. What I am describing here is an intellectual capacity – our ability to process raw information.

Same way we have social channel capacity limits. Humans socialize in the largest groups of all primates (monkeys, chimps, baboons, humans) because we are the only animals with brains large enough to handle the complexities of the social engagement. If you plug in the neocortex ration of Homo sapiens, you get a group estimate of 147.8 – or roughly 150. "The figure of 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us. Putting it another way, it is the number of people you would not feel embarrassed about joining uninvited for a drink if you happened to bump into them in a bar".

Same rule is applies to work. In military, the rule is 200 men form a unit.

Chapter 6 & 7 are Case Studies, which further clarifies the above points.

Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics. In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligence action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.

Tx n Rd

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