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Malcolm Gladwell The Tipping Point
By S. Housley

I recently attended the PubCon conference in Boston. Malcolm Gladwell the author of The Tipping Point and Blink was the keynote speaker. He was very engaging and raised some very interesting points.

The book, The Tipping Point, in part discusses the concept of connectors and mavens, and how they bring about change. Connectors are those unique individuals who have an uncanny connection to an unbelievable number of other people. They typically cultivate relationships and grow extensive networks in a variety of different social circles. Connectors have extremely diverse social networks, while most individual have three to five social networks; connectors have an astounding fifteen social networks. Mavens are those individuals who consistently provide highly specific and relevant information based on analysis of a specific sector, they might evangelize a specific brand or be known for being price conscious.

Along with these unique social traits, come what Malcolm Gladwell refers to as social power. It is Gladwell's belief that in today's society Social Power is far more important than political or economic power. An interesting concept to be sure. Taking a closer look at the examples that Gladwell provided it is easy to see how important these unique individuals are to our society and the future's developing trends.

According to Malcolm Gladwell a boxing match between Jack Dempsey and George Carpentier in the 1920's was said to be the tipping point for radio. How is that possible? The radio was initially marketed as a way to receive news stories. At the time, everyone had access to the news through daily newspapers. The majority of society in the 1920's, saw little benefit in purchasing an expensive radio to hear news that was already very accessible.

An individual within RCA conceptualized broadcasting the boxing match live. The idea faced significant resistance but moved forward. Prior to the boxing match radios were installed in a multitude of locations where the general public congregated. The boxing match was broadcast live and it was the first "play by play" sports broadcast.

The boxing match was the tipping point for radio, because it reframed the purpose of radio. No longer was the radio just a mechanism for delivering news, it brought information to individual in their homes as it occurred. The key components that contributed to the success of the radio was that the purpose of radio as a communication medium was reframed. Additionally, the individual behind the idea to broadcast the boxing match was a connector, who had an extensive network of individuals to draw on.

Another key part of Gladwell's talk focussed on the notion that change can happen quite quickly. Many of us assume that complex problems require complex solutions. Invariably the more difficult the problem, the more we feel that we need to throw money at it, to resolve it. This is not always the case.

Gladwell's classic example of a complex problem that was resolved with a simple solution, was illustrated in the Fall of the Berlin Wall. While most political pundits at the time would have predicted that the wall's destruction would have a significant cost and require an exhorbant amount of time. In reality the the political climate change happened quite quickly, and the wall came down in thirty days. While most people understand the intrinsic value of political and economic power, few grasp the importance of social power.

In the US for years the government attempted to force drivers and automobile passengers to wear seatbelts. Laws and fines were instituted in many states, and the idea of buckling up was rebuffed by all. Drivers resented the government legislating what happened in their car.

Eventually the seat belt movement tried another path, they decided that they were making little progress with adults, but felt they could make strides with promoting the safety aspects of seatbelts with children. Children are vulnerable and keeping them safe made sense, to all on both sides of the issue. There was little argument and children buckled up. Being taught at a young age to buckle up resulted in children becoming the evangelists for seatbelt safety. While Mom and Dad would not buckle up when facing fines, when their children asked them to they did. A simple solution to a complex problem.

Gladwell also elaborated on the iPod's success. Gladwell pointed out that the iPod's success was a factor because of tow things. iPods were not sold as electronic gadgets, they were marketed as fashion accessories. All the advertising focused not on the features or complexity of most technical gadgets, it focused on the iPod's sportiness and design, iPod's were fashion accessories NOT scary electronic gadgets. Apple's marketing of the iPod is another example of reframing content. Additionally Apple gave purchasers very little choice. Making a decision presumes a level of knowledge that many purchasers don't have too much information can often cause confusion and doubt. iPods were presented simply and users had to select between large or small.

As far as applying this to software consider ways to reframe your product. If people think of it in terms of "audio editing software" reframe it as a way to "record history".


About the Author:
Sharon Housley manages marketing for FeedForAll software for creating, editing, publishing RSS feeds and podcasts. In addition Sharon manages marketing for NotePage a wireless text messaging software company.

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