Is there a ‘Tipping Point’ in our lives?

A few years ago I attended a conference of Canadian local governments in Calgary. One of the keynote speakers mentioned a book by Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell called “The Tipping Point”. The speaker used the concepts expressed in the book to make a point on homelessness: at some point the scale will tip and trends will change, even for homelessness.

I was inpressed by the speaker and so I bought the book and read it. What a fascinating reading! It’s a book about change. In particular, it’s a book that presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990’s? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? According to Gladwell, the answer to all those questions is the same. It’s that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.

When I look at my community, and I see how the issue of crime has effected our quality of living, I think more and more of the Tipping Point theory by Gladwell. A number of effort were put into reducing crime for many years but only now and without a clear explenation, crime reduction is dramatic (and good for the community).

There are some interesting points in Gladwell’s theory that need to be outlined. They are, in fact, the foundation of his theory. Let’s review them.

Gladwell writes that there are three rules to epidemics: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.

The 80/20 Principle states that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants. This idea is central to the Law of the Few theory where a tiny percentage of people do the majority of work. But say you took those 20 people who do all the “work” away, would changes or epidemics never occur or would the next 20 people step into that role and assume the position of “workers”? Is one born an exceptional person, a ‘one of the few,’ or could someone eventually learn how to become a member of this exceptional group?

Stickiness means that a message makes an impact and doesn’t go in one ear and out the other. Take a simple, every day example of this. Think about a song that you couldn’t get out of your head or that television commercial you still remember from when you were a kid. Could you pinpoint what it is you think makes them “sticky?”

Finally, the Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem. How attuned are you to your environment and its effect on you? Have you felt your mood change because of the surroundings even if it’s as subtle as standing near a couple in a bitter argument or being in a cluttered, messy bedroom?

In order for these rules to be effective, you need special people. They are called Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

Connectors are the kinds of people who know everyone and possess special gifts for bringing the world together. What kind of careers and job titles would you expect Connectors to have? Connectors are defined by having many acquaintances, a sign of social power, but do you think a Connector privileges quantity over quality? How do Connectors embody the maxim “it’s not what you know but who you know?”

Maven means one who accumulates knowledge and who has information on a lot of different products or prices or places. Could anyone be a maven if they just have the diligence and desire to learn a specific craft or area of knowledge?

Salesmen are the select group of people with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing. Discuss what you think makes a good salesman? Think about the last time you were in a store and what you liked or didn’t like about the retail person assisting you? Have you ever felt suckered into buying something or recognized the only reason you bought an item (or even one in ever color) was because of the person selling it to you?

What happens when two people talk? They engage in a kind of dance. Their volume and pitch fall into balance and they fall into physical and conversational harmony? So, when we ‘click’ with someone, is this harmony immediately established without effort or can it be created and fine-tuned with practice or over time? Is it this synchronicity that leads to attraction? Does the way people ‘dance’ with each other indicate the presence of chemistry? What would you describe yourself as — a connecter, maven or salesman? Think of the people you know and who out of them best exemplifies these categories and why.

Well, I believe the topic is huge and so I will have to write more. In the meantime, is there a Tipping Point in your life? I hope to hear from you on this first blog on the subject. I will write again in a few days.



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