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Some notes from my reading of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, by Malcolm Gladwell. see also http://www.gladwell.com

Seems useful in thinking about invitation, especially with public/community programs and events...

messengers - law of the few

connectors (people who know people)
mavens (people who are known to know things)
salespeople (persuaders, people who translate from innovators to early adopters)

message content - the stickiness factor

presentation over content
hold attention
draw into story
connect with existing habits
power of narrative, the way we learn
sequencing may matter


contagiousness, e.g. broken windows, graffiti
power of groups, 150 as basic limit
simpified stories, info stored in group mind, phonebook, myth
environment, not character, drives behavior, e.g. entrainment

for those who would tip...

concentrating resources on key people as messengers
test intuition deliberately, refine stickiness
modest interventions, low budget, etc, use environment

thanks to DanChay?, kenai alaska, for filling in my cryptic notes above with these notes and quotes:

On the possibility you haven't come across the book already, I thought I might share with you a quick summary/interpretation/taste of "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," by Malcolm Gladwell (2000): http://www.gladwell.com/ .

Evidently Gladwell was a reporter for the Washington Post, and since 1966 has been a staff writer for the New Yorker. This book of 275 pages plus endnotes is an easy and pleasurable read.

Gladwell builds his observations around the metaphor of an epidemic. Using a myriad of entertaining academic and anecdotal examples, he observes three primary categories of variable that can "tip" a linear or close-to-equilibrium dynamic into geometric or exponential growth. Under each category below, I've included a number of excerpts.


This refers to the observation that typically a few highly interactive agents may be the key to "tipping" an epidemic-like dynamic. These may be identified as: infectious agents, messengers, umlomo, connectors, people who bridge identity groups, opinion leaders, "otherness"-people, mavens, salesmen, etc..

"...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 those special few."

"...the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a rare set of social gifts."

"...Connectors, people with a special gift for bringing the world together."

"They are people whom all of us can reach in only a few steps because, for one reason or another, they manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches."

They care: "I love my clients, okay? I'll bend over backwards for them," Gau said. "I call my clients my family. I tell my clients, I've got two families. I've got my wife and my kids and I've got you."


Very small changes in the expression of the message, content, disease, etc., can make a huge difference in "stickiness" or fruitfulness.

"Winston tastes good ..."

"If they couldn't make sense of what they were looking at, they weren't going to look at it."

"At three and four and five, children may not be able to follow complicated plots and subplots. But the narrative form, psychologists now believe, is absolutely central to them."

"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."


Very small, not-intuitive changes in the surrounding environment can make a huge difference in tipping an epidemic-like dynamic.

"...human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem."

"But the lesson of the Power of Context is that we are more than just sensitive to changes in context. We're exquisitely sensitive to them."

"It takes only the smallest of changes to shatter an epidemic's equilibrium."

"The impetus to engage in a certain kind of behavior is not coming from a certain kind of person but from a feature of the environment."

"...what we think of as inner states -- preferences and emotions -- are actually powerfully and imperceptibly influenced by seemingly inconsequential personal influences..."

"...there are specific situations so powerful that they can overwhelm our inherent predispositions."


What are the variables that really make a difference?

"If I asked you to describe the personality of your best friends, you could do so easily, and you wouldn't say things like "My friend Howard is incredibly generous, but only when I ask him for things, not when his family asks him for things..." "...when we think only in terms of inherent traits and forget the role of situations, we're deceiving ourselves about the real causes of human behavior."

"The mistake we make in thinking of character as something unified and all-encompassing is very similar to a kind of blind spot in the way we process information. Psychologists call this tendency the Fundamental Attribution Error, which is a fancy way of saying that when it comes to interpreting other people's behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context. We will always reach for a 'dispositional' explanation for events, as opposed to a 'contextual' explanation."

"A vervet, in other words, is very good at processing certain kinds of vervetish information, but not so good at processing other kinds of information. The same is true of humans.

HOW DO WE CREATE A MOVEMENT? (My interpretive heading.)

"...in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first."

"She needed a place where women were relaxed, receptive to new ideas, and had the time and opportunity to hear something new....She also needed a new messenger, someone who was a little bit Connector, a little bit Salesman, and a little bit Maven....Her solution? Move the campaign from black churches to beauty salons."


The question often is posed to this list, "How to transform an OO (ordinary organization) into an LO (learning organization)?" We've seen all the ideas illuminated by Gladwell featured on this list: Otherness, Fruitfulness, Liveness, Spareness, Openness, Sureness, Wholeness, entropy production, leverage, etc.. Still, I came away from reading it with some new insight.

Grins and best wishes,


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Last edited March 5, 2003 11:50 am CentralTimeUSA by MichaelHerman
© 1998-2020 Michael Herman and www.michaelherman.com, unless signed by another author or organization. Please do not reprint or distribute for commercial purposes without permission and full attribution, including web address and this copyright notice. Permission has always been granted gladly to those who contact me and say something about themselves, their work, and their use of these materials. Thank you and good luck! - Michael