Tipping Point

This week we continue our re-read of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. In chapter two, Gladwell dives into the law of the few.  There are three types of people that are important to pushing an idea up to and over a tipping point: connectors, mavens, and salespeople.  All three are required. Remember to dust off your copy or buy a new copy and read along!

People are both the mechanism and the target for anyone trying either to understand why an idea crosses the tipping point or to push an idea across a tipping point.  Knowing who to influence or connect spells the difference between success and failure. Word-of-mouth is an extremely powerful effect, but just passing the information along one person at a time is not sufficient for getting an idea over the tipping point. People pass on all kinds of information all the time but only in rare instances does that exchange cause the idea to go viral. Gladwell theorizes that social epidemics happen because of the involvement of three types of people each with particular of social talents.

Connectors are people that interact with many different people. More important than the raw numbers, they have relationships with many people in many different groups. Consider, how you could pass a message quickly through your organization, would you start with the person that knew a lot of people in one department or the person that knew people in a lot of departments.  Gladwell points out that really effective connectors establish and maintain these far-flung relationships because it is their nature rather than an affectation adopted to generate power.

Many of the readers of this blog are involved in helping organizations change or build capabilities. The idea of connectors is important to understand if you are trying to affect change broadly. Organizational transformation requires spreading ideas quickly and broad therefore need to utilize connectors to spread the message.   Identifying and influencing connectors broadens the audience for your message.

Mavens, the second type of people you need for pushing an idea over a tipping point, know a lot about specific areas and actively tell people what they know.  Mavens get satisfaction from being the source of information. They are motivated by wanting to help others with the information they have accumulated. Gladwell describes the role of the maven as the people that connect us to new information.  

Salespeople (Gladwell used salesmen) is the third category. Not every idea is immediately adopted by every person or even enough people to get a chain reaction going.  Persuasion is needed to push ideas over the tipping point. Salespeople persuade other people to accept the idea. Persuasion is part context, verbal and non-verbal communication.

  • Mavens gather and share information
  • Connectors spread information
  • Salespeople persuade others to accept information.

In the chapter, Gladwell uses the story of Paul Revere and William Dawes to illustrate why some ideas go viral and others do not.  In American lore, both Revere and Dawes made similar midnight rides. Revere’s ride was effective in generating action and is memorialized, while Dawes part in the event is mostly an afterthought.  Revere was a maven, connector and salesperson rolled into one. His ride pushed an idea over the tipping point. In Gladwell’s opinion, Dawes was just a guy. Longfellow did not write a poem about the midnight ride of William Dawes.  

As leaders, we need to understand that for our ideas to reach and cross the tipping point we need to engage with people that fill all three roles. Build an influence map that identifies connectors and the mavens that influence them.  Consider whether you need to educate the mavens before engaging the connectors. This is change management, not some dark art. Planning how to engage generate change in important or successful change will be a random event.

Previous entries

Week 1 – Plans and Introductionhttps://bit.ly/2S8PPwc

Week 2 – The Three Rules of Epidemicshttps://bit.ly/2DQnRNV