Getting Ready To Assemble

We continue to our poll to select the next book in the Re-read Saturday feature.  Last week we announced that we would run the poll for two weeks — currently Thinking Fast and Slow has run away from the pack.  If you would like to weigh-in on the which book should be next, vote in the poll below:

The Re-Read Saturday feature was inaugurated in 2015 with a re-read of The Goal.  Over the years the re-read has served many purposes. I have pursued the Re-read to help remind the readers of the blog about power concepts that are core to software development or process improvement.  In some cases, readers have written to indicate that the books in the series were new to them (a few times they have been new to me). One of the selfish reasons I have continued to invest my time in the series is to reinforce my knowledge of the concepts. Several of the entries in the series are perennially top pages visited on the blog.  I am looking forward to the next book — whichever it is. You get to choose, and unlike the guy in the grocery store yesterday, I am not leaning on the scale (those bananas did NOT weight 17 lbs!).

One more thing, I want to say thanks to the help received from many sources that help get the blog and podcast to you. The people that make this possible include Meghan Cagley, Matt Williams, Tom Cagley Sr, Steven Adams, Barb Cagley and everyone that comments publicly and privately are a few of the people I am referencing when I say ‘we’.  If you are interested in getting involved you can be part of ‘we,’ let us know at or leave a message at 01-440-668-5717 with your thoughts or how you would like to contribute.

If you are new to our Re-read Feature and want to get a sense of how this Re-read Saturday thing works, here are the entries for The Goal:

Chapters 1 through 3

Chapters 4 through 6

Chapters 7 through 9

Chapters 10 through 12

Chapters 13 through 16.

Chapters 17 through 18

Chapters 19 through 20

Chapters 21 through 22

Chapters 23 through 24

Chapters 25 and 26

Chapters 27 and 28

Chapter 29 and 30

Chapters 31 and 32

Chapters 33 and 34

Chapters 35 and 36.

Chapters 37 and 38.

Chapters 39 and 40


Tipping Point

We have been re-reading Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point over the past 10 weeks.  When considering how I would wrap up the re-read I had to fight the urge to parrot back the findings Gladwell identified in the conclusion: a few people are critical and that people’s biases matter.  I had to fight the urge because I think that every change leader should recognize that shotgun approaches rarely are effective, and even when they are efficiency suffers (translate efficiency into change costs more than it should). That was until a late night call to discuss the nuances of organizational change driven by training. Training, in which the basic strategy put forward was sheep dipping, training everyone and hoping some of it would stick, was the mechanism the voices on the other end of the phone were going to use to generate change. This was a serious conversation being put forward by several experienced coaches. When reminded of the Law of the Few, the coaches rationalized that their contract was for training not targeted interventions, therefore, training was what was going to be delivered. The call and the approach we end up devising by the end of the call was more nuanced, but the whole conversation drove home the point that sometimes everyone needs a reminder of the material in The Tipping Point. The idea that standing up in the middle of the room and yelling at the top of your voice to everyone in earshot (the train everyone only approach) is rarely effective. Step back and take the time to identify the connectors, the mavens and the salespeople. They aren’t always the same person and you can’t trust to the organization chart to point out the few people that move an organization.

I once did an experiment to try to map organizational influences.  I asked a department of approximately 100 people to identify the top three people they went to in order to get advice on how to really do projects in the organization (not just what was in the book).  The resulting map pointed at three people. Only one of those people was in the PMO. The three people were mavens (one turned out to be a connector also) who’s opinions moved the needle. The change program which up to that point was moving slowly (and was fairly ineffective) was able to shift gears with that knowledge.  Find the “few”, get a handle on how they perceive the world and then determine how to engage them in the change you are trying to influence. I have returned to the premise of this experiment many times to try to identify the linchpin to push a change over the tipping point. The stories and examples in the Tipping Point feel a bit dated but the core ideas are as fresh and as important as ever.  

We need to choose the next book in the Re-read Saturday Series! Steven Adams has requested a referendum on the next book!  Mr. Adams has always provided sage advice, therefore, a poll we will have!  The poll will be open for two weeks. Vote for your two favorites.

Until then I am reading Nucleon by Jeppe Hedaa.


Tipping Point

Chapter six 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!), is a case study of a firm that went over the tipping point twice.  Once on the way to explosive growth and once in the way to explosive de-growth.

Gladwell uses the story of AIRWALK (a wicked cool footwear company originally focused on skateboarders) and The Lambesis Agency.  The two firms worked together to drive the AIRWALK brand over the tipping point. The story in the chapter is used to explore how an idea germinates, becomes cool, and then crosses the tipping point to exponential growth.  In this case, there is a return trip as the same idea crosses back over the tipping point.  The pattern of an idea defusing into the population and then catching fire observable in other fields.  The idea of Agile followed a very similar path of being cool then jumping into the mainstream.

One of the classic product adoption models begins with a few innovators developing an idea, followed by early adopters, early majority, later majority, and laggards. Gladwell’s premise is that innovators and early adopters (a very small portion of any population) act as opinion leaders. These two groups think and behave very differently from those in the early majority and the rest of the population.  Innovators and early adopters are incompatible with the other groups in the lifecycle. Geoffrey Moore’s classic paper, Crossing the Chasm, goes into depth about the need to connect the two portions of the product adoption curve. Agile, as an example, had been evolving and becoming cool in a small segment of the software development world before the Agile Manifesto, but there was no path for it to become mainstream.  Enter Gladwell’s connectors, mavens and salespeople that were discussed in the power of the few. The “few” are a mechanism to create a bridge to the mainstream.

The few translate an idea that the innovators and early adopters have developed and then tweak it so the early majority can consume the idea.  The Agile Manifesto and Scrum were the tweaks that allowed agile to cross the chasm.  Later tweaks, such scaling frameworks, are examples of changes needed to push agile adoption from the early majority to the late majority.

As an example of the tweaking process, Gladwell explores the psychology of creating a rumor.  The three steps are: (more…)

Tipping Point

The core message of this chapter is that the situation/environment plays a major role in whether an idea or event crosses the tipping point.  As we have seen in earlier chapters, it rarely brute force or the big event that drives an idea across the tipping point, but rather small, important, and very precise events that provide the impetus.  The primary story in this chapter centers around the crime epidemic in New York of the 1980s and early 1990s ( Gladwell connects the relatively quick decline of violence in the subways (which he uses as a proxy for the whole city) to the to the adoption of the broken window policy applied to fare jumpers and graffiti. The broken window policy shifted the context so that small indiscretions had consequences. The context shift was enough to deflect the trajectory of the epidemic and let other factors bring it back across the tipping point.

As noted in the Law of the Few, a few very specific people’s behaviors and support (connectors, mavens and salespeople) are critical to pushing an idea over the tipping point.  The Power of Context is similar: small things count. Epidemics, in this context viral explosions of ideas or behaviors, are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances found in the times and places they occur.  Changing the context can deflect or amplify an epidemic. The fact that every context is different is the reason there is no playbook for repeatedly creating a viral video. In the context of the NYC crime epidemic, the application of the broken window approach to policing graffiti and fare jumpers was enough of a context shift.  The idea that no infraction however small would be overlooked changed the energy in the system enough for other factors to stop the epidemic. Note – both the broken window approach and Gladwell’s analysis assume a rational economic player. The context shift, in this case, makes the cost of the small nuance crimes much higher for the perpetrators, therefore, they rationally stop those crimes and expend their efforts elsewhere. In situations where the actors are less rational (a different context) policing graffiti and fare jumpers may have had no impact on the crime in the subway.

Affecting how a team or organization works requires recognizing that change requires affecting the right people AND the right people when the circumstances are correct.  Change agents need to impact the environment in order to address social change. Dave Sohmer, interviewed on SPaMCAST 536 – 24 February 2019) led two very different agile transformations: one used a big bang approach and the other used more of an incremental approach. Both worked, but if the approaches were flipped neither would have been successful.  Both organizations ended up at the same place; however, the environmental context required them to travel different paths.

Previous entries:

Week 4 – The Stickiness Factor

Week 3 – The Law of the Few

Week 2 – The Three Rules of Epidemics

Week 1 – Plans and Introduction

Tipping Point

This week we continue our re-read of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (Buy a copy and read along). In Chapter one, Gladwell suggests that there are three factors that impact whether an idea or product crosses a tipping point; they are the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context. Chapter one introduces these concepts and presents real-life examples to illustrate the factors.   (more…)

Tipping Point

Today we begin our re-read of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  My wife and I originally read the book in the early 00s.  We will be reading from is the paperback version published in 2002 by Back Bay Books (15th printing).  The book has an introduction, 8 chapters, an afterword (the 2002 version had a new afterword), endnotes and an index for a total of 302 pages. Dust off your copy or buy a new copy — I think I loaned my original copy to someone five years ago and I suspect it is not coming back.  I am reading my wife’s copy. (more…)

I have been vacillating between an intense discussion of Bad Blood and a terse and blunt statement about Theranos.  In the end, I took a middle path. If you want to dive into the detail again, grab the book and the follow our re-read through it.  If you want the later,  the bottom line is — sleazy company, bad board and sociopathic people at the top.  Now the middle path. (more…)