Lessons From The Tipping Point

by Luke Wroblewski November 8, 2006

Chances are most Functioning Form readers are familiar with Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point. But since I only finished the book myself last month, here’s a quick summary of some of the concepts I found most interesting:

Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do. These “epidemics” share a basic, underlying pattern: contagious behavior; little changes have big effects; changes happen not gradually but at one dramatic moment. There is more than one way to tip an epidemic. They are functions of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating.

The Law of the Few

  • The Law of the Few states that Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen are responsible for starting word of mouth epidemics, which means that if you are interested in starting a word of mouth epidemic, your resources should be solely concentrated on those groups.
  • The attitude of the Early Adopters and the Early Majority are fundamentally incompatible. Innovations don’t slide effortlessly from one group to the next. There is a chasm between them.
  • Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen make it possible for innovations to cross the chasm. They are translators. To make an idea contagious, they alter it in such a way that extraneous details are dropped and others are exaggerated so that the message itself comes to acquire a deeper meaning.
  • In a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are the social glue: they spread it. Salesmen persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.
  • A very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through these special few.
  • Your acquaintances (as opposed to your friends) occupy a very different world from you. They are much more likely to know something you don’t.
  • Simply by finding and reaching those few special people who hold so much social power, we can shape the course of social epidemics.

The Stickiness Factor

  • The content of a message matters. Specifically, the quality of “stickiness”: is it memorable enough to spur someone to action?
  • The “stickiness” factor says that there are specific ways to make a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.
  • We are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations are set by the steady passage of time.
  • As human beings we can only handle so much information at once. Once we pass a certain boundary, we become overwhelmed. This “intellectual capacity” is defined as our ability to process raw information.
  • By tinkering with the presentation of information, we can significantly improve its stickiness.

The Power of Context

  • The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they seem.
  • Context says you don’t have to solve the big problems to enact change. Little things can make a big difference.
  • When people are in a group, responsibility for acting is diffused. They assume someone else will make take action or that no action is needed.
  • In smaller groups people are a lot closer. They’re knit together which is important if you want to be successful at community life.
  • We are actually profoundly influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us.
  • Merely by manipulating the size of a group we can dramatically improve its receptivity to new ideas.