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Book Review Break – The Tipping Point

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 61 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Book: The Tipping Point by: Malcolm Gladwell

Subtitle: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Here’s the scoop: Malcolm Gladwell was the keynote speaker at the recent Boston Pubcon. I figured the memes from the idea in his book would be spreading like wildfire from all the procrastinators that finally found a good reason to read the book like me. This is one of those books that I had heard about so much about in other places, that I felt like I already knew the thesis…and I suppose I kind of did. What was astounding was that the narrative was so compelling that I really enjoyed it despite feeling as though I had already read the cliff notes from the summaries of others.

Interpreted Thesis:
Idea epidemics are the result of the right people, the right packaging (approach, distribution, presentation, etc.), and the right time and place.

Traditional thinking creates traditional slow change. Little ideas that reach the right people at the right time can create amazing results towards the adoption of something new. Just because and idea is great, doesn’t mean it will widely adopted. An understanding of social dynamics, methods of presentation, and situational context can greatly increase your likelihood of having an idea spread virally.

Topics:-Evolution of Ideas

  • -How things change
  • -Sociology

  • -Marketing

    Key Terminology

  • Three rules of the tipping point:

    • Law of the Few
    • Based on Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen, the law of the few states that it only takes a few of the right people to start an epidemic.

      -Connectors – The people who know “everyone” – People motivated by getting to know and understanding a wide variety of people.
      -Mavens – Yiddish for someone who collects information. – Someone who enjoys collecting and redistributing information, often from a tendency to enjoy helping others. People motivated by educating and helping others.
      -Salesmen – People who are naturally persuasive without necessarily intending to be. People who are naturally charismatic and have a subtle persuasive effect on those around them through their demeanor.

      Stickiness Factor

      Probably the most overdone phrase of the last ten years in regards to websites. This phrase alone has reached the masses, and I was well aware of the definition long before ever reading Mr. Gladwell’s initial description. 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. This idea has been so inspirational, that “stickiness” has probably been mentioned in every strategic discussion of a website in the last few years.

      Power of Context

      This was probably my most favorite section of the book. The idea is that, “epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the places and times that they occur”. The power of context is an amazing tool for trying to determine logic or motive in people’s actions. It’s easy to judge people on poor decisions, it much more difficult to understand the rationale behind why they made those decisions. Understanding of people can be a very powerful tool that is sharpened by an understanding of the power of context.

      This section was made extremely interesting by discussing the “broken windows theory” in regards to the reduction of crime in NYC. I must note a compelling counterpoint to this theory in Freakonomics, but both theories seem to have some very logical and thought provoking points.

    These were the main points of the book that were followed by many strong examples of the points being made including some interesting case studies. Despite the redundancy of the stories, the examples were descriptive enough to draw me in as the reader not only to the ideas being pitched, but also to the story at hand. The non-fiction description of characters and companies was compelling enough that I could visualize them, making me want to understand further how they’re circumstances applied to the idea of a tipping point.

    Quotes from dog-eared pages:

    In the advertising world, direct marketers are the real students of stickiness, and some of the most intriguing conclusions about how to reach consumers have come from their work.

    Eye movement research is based on the idea that the human eye is capable of focusing on only a very small area at one time — what is called a perceptual span.

    Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and the circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.

    **In reference to the Stanford prison experiment
    Zimbardo’s conclusion was that there are specific situations so powerful that they can overwhelm our inherent predispositions

    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 (FAE), 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.
    More on Fundamental attribution error.

    The 150 rule:
    Dunbar has actually developed an equation an equation, which works for most primates, in which he plugs in what he calls the neocortex ratio of a particular species — the size of the neocortex relative to the size of the brain — and the equation spits out the expected maximum group size of the animal. If you plug in the neocortex ratio for 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…
    More on Dunbar’s number

    Wegner argues that when people know each other well, they create an implicit joint memory system — a transactive memory system — which is based on an understanding about who is best suited to remember what kinds of things.”
    More on transactive memory systems
    Somewhat related – Aaron’s post on memex

    That is the paradox of the epidemic: that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.

    This is what is meant by translation. What Mavens and Connectors and Salesmen do to an idea in order to make it contagious is to 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. If anyone wants to start an epidemic, then — whether it is of shoes or behavior or a piece of software — he or she has to somehow employ Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen in this very way: he or she has to find some person or some means to translate the message of Innovators into something the rest of us can understand.

    “discordant details were leveled out, incidents were sharpened to fit the chosen theme, and the episode as a whole was assimilated to the preexisting structure of feeling and though characteristic of the members of the group among whom the rumor spread.”

    More on Gestalt, from which comes the idea of “leveling and sharpening”.

    Contagiousness is in larger part a function of the messenger. Stickiness is primarily a property of the message.

    The world — much as we want it to — does not accord with our intuition. This is the second lesson of the Tipping Point. Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. They deliberately test their intuitions.

    Application to SEO:
    Many of the principles and ideas in the book have a direct impact on human understanding. Any enlightenment of the human disposition helps a marketer/seo to do a better job of reaching prospects successfully. SEO is much bigger now than reaching robots with meta tags.

    The idea of “transactive memory systems” is extremely intriguing to me, and is one of the main reasons that I started a blog. I no longer have to remember all of the subtle details of a book that I read, because if write about it, I have a searchable memory system for later. I only have to remember some of the points in order to trigger the response to go and search for more information. In some ways, search engines are transactive systems as well. You can become as smart as what you are searching for, and have a better understanding of something in only minutes. It is hard to contemplate the impact that SE’s will have on human learning, having reduced the time for information retrieval from perhaps hours with libraries and other analog means to the mere seconds it takes to type a query.

    I have more and more interest in social networks, sociology, and other social dynamics in regards to becoming a better marketing professional, and a better person in general. The studies and experiments are often profound and life-changing experiences when you understand them better.

    Closing Notes
    I am very pissed off at myself that I didn’t make it to the keynote speech now. I got involved in a good conversation and before I knew it it was too late to slip in. I was lucky enough to walk in to the signing session about the same time as Malcolm, and had him autograph the copy I have just finished reading complete with dog-ears. It seems awkward to ask for an autograph, but the timing was just right where I only had to stand behind a few folks, and had my copy with me, so I thought it was worth it. I would have much rather just had a conversation about nearly anything, but I imagine Malcolm has surprassed Dunbar’s number long ago. I thank Mr. Gladwell for writing such an inspirational and forward thinking book. If anyone has done summaries of the keynotes, please post them below so others can check it out.

    More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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    • Hawaii Seo

      Hi Todd,

      You are a Connector, a Maven and a good Salesman.

    • ray

      Some of these ideas are nothing new, just a new metaphor for the same old ideas; The Law of the Few (Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen) is the same as “Go after the kings and queens and the serfs and vassals will follow”.
      Which is the same as targeting “key people” or “sneezers” of any culture, group or class etc.

    • greg

      nice review. i bought tipping point to read before the conference. loved it.

      unfortunately, i spent the morning sleeping, and missed the keynote.

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