Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell

The Tipping Point is a concept which Gladwell describes as a sort of point of no return or the point after which an epidemic will explode. This could be an epidemic from a pathology standpoint such as an influenza epidemic or something more benign such as the popularity of an ipod or a book such as Harry Potter gaining enormous popularity. These epidemics usually start out in small numbers and may gradually increase until the point of exponential growth.

He proposes that three types of people are necessary to start an epidemic and help push it to the tipping point. These are the maven, connector, and salesperson. The maven is the type of person who knows lots about lots of things and is interested in helping others by informing them of points of interest or providing useful information. I'm not 100% certain but think that I may fall in this category.

The connector is someone who knows lots and lots of people, much more than the average person. This is the type of person who seems to know people where ever they go and generally has great contacts all over the place in numerous areas and walks of life. They are commonly involved in multiple pursuits which provide access to this wide network. I believe my friends Mandy and Sharla fall into this category.

The salesperson is one of those people who can sell ice to an Eskimo and generally are very persuasive, engaging, and charismatic. My friend Kevin and cousin Heath fit this category.

To clarify, not everyone will fall into one of these categories.

A classic example of the connector is Paul Revere. The reason he was so successful in spreading the word that the red coats were coming was that he had a vast network of friends and acquaintances. He was a member of many societies and likely new the key leaders in the various towns along the way. This enabled him to quickly spread the word and allowed for the colonists to react and prepare for battle. In contrast to Revere, William Dawes also set out on a similar route but those along the route he followed were few in comparison with the network of people who responded along Revere's route. Dawes simply didn't have nearly the connections in towns along his path that Revere did along his.

When a maven or two, a few connectors, and several salesman latch on to an idea or new product, it has the potential to explode in popularity. If we look at the example of the ipod, we can hypothesize as to how this works. MP3 players were on the market and available prior to the introduction of the ipod. The ipod took the concept and improved upon the design and functionality of the mp3 player. Somewhere a maven (perhaps a music connoisseur) noticed that Apple had a good thing going on with this new music player. They told several people and even showed them how to use it. Either they directly talked with a connector or someone they talked with did. Thus the connector then new about the existence of the ipod tried it out and told their broad network about the ipod exposing a large quantity of people to it. A salesperson whether employed by Apple or just someone of a salesperson mentality caught on to it and really sold the benefits and attributes of how great and awesome ipods were. The three of these people or types of people thus started a revolution in the music player industry.

Another concept Gladwell discusses in the book is the factor of "stickiness" in an idea or product. In other words, how likely are people to remember the product or idea or have it maintain their attention. A couple of examples he presents are the educational shows Sesame Street and Blues Clues which do extensive research on what is interesting to children and what holds their attention. This is critical to them in better educating their target audience. The examples and discussion is fairly fascinating and if nothing else, I recommend those with young children or who interact with them to read this section.

Gladwell also presents the marketing parabola which presents the cycle of product adoption as innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, late adopters, and laggards. These categories are generally in normal standard deviations of adoption.

Overall the book presented some very interesting information but tend to become tedious at parts. The reader might do well to skim at parts and focus on the maven, connector, salesperson as well as the stickiness chapters.

Review also posted at and


Mandy said...

Thanks for the book review. I think I will check it out at the library today when I go to pick up a few other things.

Andrew Allen said...

The section on the law of the few and the stickiness chapter are the best.

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