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Archive for July 1st, 2008

As I’ve mentioned on my blog before, when I’m working on my book, I switch to non-fiction. I cease to read fiction for fear that it will influence me. Well, yesterday I just happened to pick up the Tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a book I’ve read before but find it illuminating every time I read it.

Most of us at some point in our lives have heard the story about some monkeys who were trained to peel bananas. For those who haven’t here goes: A study was conducted in which a bunch of wild monkeys, who were taught to peel bananas before eating them. During the course of the study, researchers discovered an astonishing thing. When about 100 monkeys had been trained, researchers found that soon all the monkeys were peeling bananas before eating them. Somehow, an experiment which had started out with a few monkeys had assumed epidemic proportions.

What made this happen? The Tipping Point, discusses precisely this. It studies why, starting with a few numbers, an idea, a product or a disease becomes huge. He begins with the examples of Hush Puppies and why they suddenly, mysteriously became huge, how in one given year, crime rates in New York automatically dipped and goes on to study the spread of infectious diseases.

In each instance it was found that when the idea/disease reached a certain critical mass, it spread like the virus and infected an entire population. He calls it the Law of the Few and that critical number, The Tipping Point.

However, every idea does not become a phenomenon. What then differentiates an idea that becomes big from an idea that refuses to catch on? The answer must lie in the make-up of the critical mass population. It seems, for an idea to become big, the answer does not lie simply in numbers. The answer lies in the nature of the messenger.

Gladwell asserts that there are certain characteristics that are common within the population that effectively spreads an idea. He categorises them into Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. Connectors, as the name suggests are wonderfully connected people. They have a large number of acquaintances, not because they are networkers but because they genuinely like other people and are helpful.

While Connectors cultivate acquaintances, Mavens collect information. They are naturally curious people and are veritable goldmines of information. And they like helping other people. But Mavens, while being wonderfully, enviably up-to-date about information on various products may or may not be persuaders.

Salesmen are somewhat a more amorphous category. The only thing that can be said about them with any certainty is that they’ve got the ‘it’ factor. They’ve got charisma. When they talk, people listen. And, you got it, they like helping people.

An idea that becomes big usually involves a complex network of Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. “Mavens are the data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are the social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people – Salesmen – with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.”

Gladwell then turns his attention to the characteristics of the successful message itself – the social and economic condition prevalent at the time and the inherent stickiness of the communication itself.

Interspersed with interesting example, The Tipping Point is a wonderfully entertaining and hugely informative book on the science of manipulation. A must read for anyone looking to sell something. A must read for everyone.

 

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