03 February 2010

How to Start a Revolution

Excerpt from The Tipping Point - The Net Version, a paraphrasing of the main ideas in Malcolm Gladwell's book The Tipping Point by Robert Paterson

'The Tipping Point is: That one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once. The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point, a place where the unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than possibility. It is a certainty.

Epidemics tip because of the extraordinary efforts of a few select carriers. But they also sometimes tip when something happens to transform the epidemic agent itself.

Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.

Are another example of geometric progression: when a virus spreads through a population, it doubles and doubles again into infinity.

Epidemics are a function of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating:
  • they (Epidemics) have clear examples of contagious behavior
  • they both have little changes that make big effect
  • it takes only the smallest of changes to shatter an epidemic's equilibrium
  • they happen in a hurry
This is the most important trait, because it is the principle that makes sense of the first two and that permits the greatest insight into why modern change happens the way it does.

...In order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first. Contagiousness is in larger part a function of the messenger. Stickiness is primarily a property of the message.

The Law of the Few

There are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them. With an epidemic, a tiny majority of the people do the work. Once critical factor in epidemics is the nature of the messenger. Messengers make something spread.

Word of mouth is still the most important form of human communication. Rumors are the most contagious of all social messages.


  • people with a special gift for bringing the world together, people specialists
  • know lots of people
  • have an extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances, making social connections
  • have mastered the "weak tie"; a friendly, yet casual social connection
  • manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches
  • by having a foot in so many different worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together
  • acquaintances represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are
  • social glue: they spread the message


  • information specialists
  • once they figure out how to get that great deal, they want to tell you about it too.
  • solves his/her own problems, his/her own emotional needs, by solving other people's problems; have knowledge and the social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics.
  • a teacher and a student
  • in a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks; they provide the message.


  • have the skills to persuade when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing
  • little things can make as much of a difference as big things
  • gives nonverbal clues that are more important than verbal clues...

The Stickiness Factor

There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible/sticky and compels a person into action. All you have to do is find it. In order to be capable of sparking epidemics, ideas have to be memorable and move us into action. Content of the message matters too.
  • what is needed is a subtle but significant change in presentation to make most messages stick
  • the elements that make an idea sticky turn out to be small and trivial
  • 'clutter' has made it harder and harder to get any one message to stick
  • the information age has created a stickiness problem
  • pay careful attention to the structure and format of your material, and you can dramatically enhance stickiness
  • can tip a message by tinkering, on the margin, with the presentation of their ideas

The Power of Context

We don't necessarily appreciate that our inner states are the result of our outer circumstances. We are more than just sensitive to changes in context. We're exquisitely sensitive to them. And the kinds of contextual changes that are capable of tipping an epidemic are very different than we might ordinarily suspect. 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.
  • small changes in context can be just as important in tipping epidemics...
  • what really matters is little things - 'Broken Windows Theory': in a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes (Rudy Gulliani's belief)
  • an epidemic can be reversed/tipped by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment
  • there are specific situations so powerful that they can overwhelm our inherent predispositions
  • human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context. We are a lot more attuned to personal cues than contextual cues
  • character is more like a bundle of habits and tendencies and interests, loosely bound together and dependent, at certain times, on circumstances and context
  • the convictions of your heart and the actual contents of your thoughts are less important, in the end, in guiding your actions then the immediate context of your behavior...


First Lesson of the Tipping Point

Starting epidemics requires concentrating resources on a few key areas. Your resources ought to be solely concentrated on the Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

Second Lesson of the Tipping Point

The world does not accord with our intuition. Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. They deliberately test their intuitions.

Important Conclusion

What must underlie successful epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push; just in the right place; it can be tipped.


Diffusion model: a detailed, academic way of looking at how a contagious idea or "product" or innovation moves through a population.
  • Innovators: the adventurous ones, visionaries
  • Connectors, mavens, and salesmen make it possible for innovations to connect with the early adopters. They are translators: they make ideas and information from a highly specialized world and translate them into a language the rest of us can understand. They drop extraneous details and exaggerate other details so that the message itself acquires a deeper meaning'
  • Early adopters: the slightly larger group that is infected by the innovators. Visionaries.
  • Early Majority: the deliberate and the skeptical mass, who would never try anything until the most respected of this group try it first'
  • Late Majority Laggards: the most traditional group that see no urgent reason to change'

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comment here. Please note these stories are posted for information rather than for debate; if you wish to disagree with something posted, no problem, but since I post both things that I do and don't support, it would be appreciated if the criticism was about the issue.