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 7 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 another case study. This time we explore the ideas of how tipping points happen by considering teen suicides and smoking. 

Let’s return to the subtitle of The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. In chapter 7 Gladwell uses the examples of teen suicide in Micronesia and teen smoking in the United States. The central idea in both examples is the role of permission-givers.  Permission-givers make a concept cool or interesting to a specific group of people through their actions. In the world of 2019, permission-givers leverage a wide range of social media platforms that were not as widespread when Gladwell wrote the book. The proliferation of social media has made the concept of permission-giving even more important to understand. In chapter 2, The Law of the Few, Gladwell described the role of the salesperson; a permission-giver is a specialized form of the salesperson. The salesperson/permission giver provides the connections to the people that can be most impacted by an idea which pushes an idea or activity over the tipping point. Permission is not a general invitation broadcast indiscriminately put a much more targeted communication to, in the case of suicide and smoking, to those that are most vulnerable. (more…)

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

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…)