Tipping Point

In Chapter Five of Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (remember to stop borrowing your best friend’s copy and buy a copy of the book for yourself!), Gladwell uses the story of how the book Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood found its way over the tipping point as an example of the power of context.  Ya-Ya had a long glide path to a being a best seller, but once it started being read by groups such as book clubs or just mothers and daughters sales skyrocketed. The book evoked solidarity and linkages between groups of women. Gladwell links the explosion in sales to groups acting as super connectors.

In Chapter 2, The Law of the Few, Gladwell described how a connector could take an idea and spread it to many people.  Super connectors connect groups. Ya-Ya was the type of book that was read by groups (book clubs in this case) which made the book significantly stickier. Groups are powerful forces that act on how humans behave and think. Groups have social norms and apply pressure to hold members to the norms the group feels are important. The number of people in a group can impact how fast an idea moves is absorbed into the larger community.

As a super connector, groups bring ideas to a tipping point faster by affecting one group at a time rather than one person at a time.  By impacting a group or groups a connector influences more people at once — the capacity of the connector or channel capacity is increased. Channel capacity is a measure of how much a conduit can hold and transport to a destination. Social media examples of a person or a group’s channel capacity include followers and followers-followers. Reach is another term for channel capacity that was less prominently used when this book was published. Weekly I get a report on the reach my Twitter account had during the previous week. The channel capacity of a group is higher than an individual (all things being equal).

The idea of engaging groups to extend increase the adoption of a new idea, for example, adopting test driven development (TDD) is an important consideration when you are trying to push a process improvement past a tipping point.  Groups abound in Agile organizations. Examples of the types of groups include squads and clans (the Spotify model), centers of excellence or communities of practice. These are vectors to help push ideas over the tipping point.  A change will always be transmitted faster if leaders engage groups within their organizations. Groups have the added advantage that when they adopt an idea or concept they become self-reinforcing, again increasing stickiness.

Later in the chapter, Gladwell discusses the derivation and impact of Dunbar’s number.  Dunbar derived a maximum size of a group of 150 (ish) above which the group would split. Splitting might not be physical, but rather in terms of shared memory and norms. SAFe references Dunbar’s number as the approximate maximum for Agile release trains. Whether Dunbar’s number translates perfectly to human behavior is an open question; however, we would all agree that large groups have problems being cohesive for large lengths of time.  

Gladwell points out that the concept of transactive memory, a mechanism through which groups collectively encode, store, and retrieve knowledge. Individuals act as a memory node that helps lock a group together in a self-reinforcing network. The network provides a path to spread ideas. Since the network of a group is long-lived, group memories can be stored in pieces and reassembled as needed (like relational data storage). The network affect increases redundancy making ideas sticky. This idea also supports developing stable teams, which is a focus most coaches begin with when leading the adoption of agile principles and is at odds with an assembly like methods (waterfall and others) that insulate individuals from the team.

Viewing of people as a social group rather than as an assembly of individuals makes engaging groups a tool to make ideas spread more quickly and makes ideas more sticky.

Previous entries:

Week 5 – Power of Context (Part One)  – https://bit.ly/2GVxGwx

Week 4 – The Stickiness Factorhttps://bit.ly/2GuSJ96

Week 3 – The Law of the Fewhttps://bit.ly/2Buau46

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

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