In his book “The Tipping Point”, author Michael Gladwell refers to business trends as “epidemics”. He says “Ideas and products and messages and behaviours SPREAD just like viruses do”! It’s a simple concept but accurately reflects the process that culminates in a “hot” product attracting mass interest – and mass sales, in the market place.
So Gladwell points out that what most people might see as a craze or a phenomenon is really brought about by very distinct forces, the same forces which lead to the outbreak of flu or measles. It starts small; it takes one person to be infected, but that one person infects many more, until what was once an outbreak, becomes an epidemic – and it is the very moment this occurs that Gladwell calls the Tipping Point. And while the medical world does all it can to STOP a potential epidemic reaching that point, the book The Tipping Point is intended to help business people make sure it DOES!
Think about how a fashion trend spreads or the manner in which an unknown book becomes a best seller. As far as the creators of either the fashion trend or the author of the book are concerned, it’s “Bring on the epidemic!” Most people have trouble comprehending how something can start in such a small way but so quickly multiply in effect, with a result that seems so blatantly out of proportion to the cause. The reality is this can and does happen, so we need to abandon our preconceived ideas about proportionality and prepare for the possibility that BIG CHANGES can follow from small events; and QUICKLY!
But what ARE the forces that cause something with humble beginnings to reach the “tipping point”? Well Gladwell has bestowed names upon what he says are THREE agents of change which form this process. His own book adhered to these stages to become a best seller.
There is firstly the Law of the Few. This relates to PEOPLE and to how energetic, sociable or influential among their peers they are. You can see this in motion with the 80/20 principle, which states that roughly 80% of the work will be done by 20% of the people.
The second agent of change Gladwell calls the STICKINESS Factor. If we relate it to a virus, it’s about how easy or difficult it is to brush off or overcome. In business terms, this relates to the how memorable or ‘contagious’ the MESSAGE we send out is. We want it to make an impact; to STICK in the memory of the recipient. How? By how we STRUCTURE and PRESENT the message!
The third is the POWER of CONTEXT; Just as a medical epidemic is sensitive to the conditions it exists in, so too are the business “epidemics” we strive to create. The conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which these epidemics occur make the third agent of change environment rather than people related. Still, even given these three agents, some brilliant ideas fade away while others turn their creators into millionaires. Why? Well it comes back to PEOPLE. And Gladwell again introduces us to categories.
CONNECTORS – provide the means for knowledge to spread; they know lots of people which gives access to a wider circle of contacts. The knowledge they spread comes from the MAVENS. No not a group of Harry Potter characters, but derived from the Yiddish term meaning “one who acquires knowledge”. Economists attribute much to the behaviour of Mavens, who are identifiable by their focus on not only getting the best deal, but telling others about it! They are “helpers” in the marketplace; they have the ‘inside scoop’. So Connectors are the social glue that spreads the message provided by the data bank of Mavens. The third in the category is the SALESMAN (person) The salesman has the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced by what we are listening to. They are critical to the tipping of epidemics. And what separates a great salesman from an average one, is the number and quality of answers he/she provides to objections raised by potential clients.
To start en epidemic then, concentrate your resources on The Law of the Few; Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.