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
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
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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