The Tipping Point
Thanks to the lockdown and being at home, I have too much time to spare, and it gives me so much happiness to devout this time for all the things I love and care. Oh my, that rhymed! So, I have been reading to my heart’s fill, binge watching sitcoms – especially ones adapted from bestselling novels, and doing some experimental cooking, as in home who’s there to judge anyway.
I have been seeking out non-fiction read that is simple in its description and interesting enough to grasp my wavering attention for a complete sitting. ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell is one such average length book, that had been sitting there in my bookshelf for years. I had bought this International Bestseller from a bookshop near a Museum in Bangalore. (I remember this as it was my first time exploring the city of Bangalore, then.) It talks about how little things can make a big difference, as the tagline reads. Now we have another term for it – ‘going viral’. How social behaviors, fashion trends, practices, ideas etc. spread like wildfire or tip off beyond anyone’s imagination. How does anything go viral or become an epidemic, beyond control, this being applicable to diseases as well. It’s quite a fascinating page turner.
The book is a work of great research. The best thing is that it connects examples from so many different areas to explain in rather simple terms the key phenomena at play in the making of any of these viral trends. We get to read about the events that didn’t seem of great significance but led to the tip off moment.
“Three characteristics – one, contagiousness; two, the fact that little causes can have big effects; and three, that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment – are the same three principles that define how measles moves through a grade-school classroom or the flu attacks every winter. ”
As per the author, there are three reasons behind why a particular event tips off – he names them The Law of Few, The Stickiness Factor and The Power of Context. These are separated into chapters with so many sociological and behavioral examples from past decades – strange events that have resulted in numerous research studies.
The Law of Few states that it’s a courtesy of a very few people that any idea tips off. Or we can say a very few number of people are actually responsible for any disease tipping off to become an epidemic. We can relate to all this more so, in our current situation of the pandemic. May be that person who threw a party for 2k people, or the one who traveled 7 countries in seven days, etc. Remember that curve, which slowly rises and then suddenly at some point peaks exponentially. On similar context why a TV show gets immense popularity, or a web series for that matter. The outbreak of AIDs and syphilis.
“Mavens are the data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people – Salesmen – with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.”
The Stickiness Factor tells us that there is some strangeness or gluing factor to a thing or an event that keeps it being repeated, makes it contagious, occurring in patterns and make it spread. Why is yawning contagious? What makes the seasonal flu stick through winter? What results in collective behavior? What made the TV show Sesame Street a major success in preschoolers’ education? (This study was my personal favorite. It’s on child’s psychology, learning process and how the TV creatives harness it to grab their attention and teach them lessons.)
“Ya-Ya was being talked about and read in groups, the book itself became that much stickier. It’s easier to remember and appreciate something, after all, if you discuss it for two hours with your best friends. It becomes a social experience, an object of conversation.”
The Power of Context is an argument that says that behavior is a function of social context or a person’s extended environment. “When they are away from their families – in different contexts – older siblings are no more likely to be domineering are younger siblings no more likely to be rebellious than anyone else.”
In a public experiment, The Stanford University had forms up for volunteers who had to stay in a custom-made prison inside its campus for a certain period. The authentic prison atmosphere made the inmates depressed and aggressive in the following days. Another incident – a shooting of two black men in a subway was covered in all news medium for months, making it a topic for all the conversations and research. The results suggested that it is possible to be a better person on a clean street or in a clean subway than in one littered with trash and graffiti. Environment affects us more than we think it does.
There was a case study on suicide epidemics in the book too. Quite unusually interesting study.
“Suicide stories are a kind of natural advertisement for a particular response to your problems.”
“Then somebody else does it and so I do too. It’s a kind of imitation.”
“I don’t know whether any of us knows how much of our decision is conscious and how much is unconscious. Human decisions are subtle and complicated and not very well understood.”
“Through the persuasive force of his personality, serve as a Tipping Point in a word-of-mouth epidemic, the people who die in highly publisized suicides – whose deaths give others ‘permission’ to die – serve as the Tipping Points in suicide epidemics.”