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Concrete Theory Lacks Stickiness November 27, 2009

Posted by mgodoublems in Book Analysis.
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I have just finished The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell.  My second book in as many weeks by him.  This book, as with all of Gladwell’s books, has been remarkably thought-provoking.  Gladwell is an author of such talent that I am disappointed that I did not pick up his books a few years ago, when I was first prompted to by one of my professors.  He takes concepts that are impossibly large and makes them relatively simple to fathom, and I will gladly add this book to my permanent bookshelf.  I feel that I have been building a book collection that I will continuously reference from this point forward.

The Tipping Point is a book devoted to the science of social epidemiology.  Social epidemics are very similar to health epidemics, in the sense that they tend to spread person-to-person, instead of being miraculously airborne.  The foundation of these social epidemics is fairly small, and must involve the right kinds of people in order for them to spread quickly.  Gladwell develops a well-applied vocabulary that describes all of the aspects of a social epidemic well.  I will attempt to replicate it here.  First and foremost, there are three rules that Gladwell attributes to Tipping Points.  The ‘Law of the Few’, the ‘Stickiness Factor’, and the ‘Power of Context’.

The Law of the Few dictates that there are three types of people required to develop a social epidemic out of a run-of-the-mill product.  Connectors know a large amount of people and constantly meet new ones, dabbling in a variety of social circles.  Mavens have a devotion to learning, and are always out to discover more; they tend to be the early adopters of society.  Salesmen are experts of the pitch and of making people feel comfortable by understanding their situation.  These three kinds of people combine to make an epidemic powerful.  In order to create a social epidemic, all one must do is find these people.

The Stickiness Factor is just that – how well a topic sticks in peoples’ minds.  Find a way to form your idea so that people remember it, and people are drawn to it, and you have stickiness.  Stickiness is the thing that separates the ‘fad’ from the permanent trend.

The Power of Context is the idea that, in order to facilitate – or prevent – an epidemic, targeting the epidemic itself may not be the best method.  There may be outside, minor – and easily manipulable – factors that will cause more progress than any direct scheme.  In order to find context, significant research generally has to be done to determine what the true contributing factors to an epidemic are.  Gladwell relates to the NYC Subway system, which once had an extremely high crime rate until two things happened – graffiti was wiped out by law enforcement, and people who did not pay tolls were punished at a much higher rate.  These two factors, while minor in terms of the big picture of the crime in the subways, caused a massive reduction in overall crime by modifying the context – in this case the environment – that the crime was occurring in.

Gladwell’s assessment of epidemics is so simple, and yet so profound.  After reading the book, it makes absolute sense.  It has made me look at myself, to determine what (if any) characteristics I have of any of the three key personalities.

Gladwell has a test in his book in which you take a few minutes to list off of the top of your head all of the people that you know, when given a list of surnames, to determine how connected you are.  I built an Excel document of the list of people with the same surnames that I know.  I came up with 34 names – Gladwell lists the average at 21.  Of the 34, 16 were people from home, and 18 were people from school.  There were more names from school that sounded familiar, but that I could not quite place with a first name or a face – I’m sure if I saw the person, I’d remember them, but this was meant to be off the top of the head (I referenced Facebook to make sure a couple of times).  Of the 16 from home, 5 were siblings (3 in one family, 2 in another).  I would say that, from this, I am not a Connector by any means, though I am extremely social and can talk to new people easily.

I may qualify to be a Maven, with how much information gathering I do.  If I find a good book, such as this, I tend to spread it around after acquiring all of the knowledge I can off of it, and that tends to also be something I do with other products.  These are the key qualifications of a Maven, so I may have found a niche there.  I have a somewhat insatiable thirst for learning, which I hope never stops, and which I like to pass on at every opportunity.

When it comes to being a Salesman, I feel like I do not have the force of personality required.  I can be influential, with the right people, and when I am speaking on a topic that I feel great emotion about I can be quite persuasive, but that does not apply to my everyday life, so I do not qualify there.

In order to develop a successful business, there must be people from each of these three categories involved at some point in the process.  A small business owner must have characteristics that fit all three of these in order to move his business up to the next level.  He must be well-connected, which stems from a very sociable personality – I don’t know any successful small business owners that can’t socialize well with their customers.  He must be a maven of his trade – people need to be able to trust his knowledge.  Finally, and most obviously, he must be a salesman, because running a business without being able to sell a product or service is impossible.

Read it.

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