The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell has some pretty interesting things to say, as well as being a thumping good read.

It’s a book about consumers and products, about critical mass and the spread of ideas and perceptions. How do you get from obscurity to a household name?

He says it’s got something to do with having the right people in the right places at the right times. There are three types of people, he says, that spur the “epidemic” along: Connectors, mavens, and salesmen.

Connectors are the people who know everybody. (My mother comes to mind as I write this.) They shake hands, smile, they make introductions, they keep you in touch with what’s going on in different social worlds. As gladhand-y as this sounds, these people are so important for a campaign or an idea to take root in a fast-paced, information-inundated society. You need someone to make other people feel good about the behavior or product or idea you want to popularize, someone confident who’ll make the right connections on your behalf.

Mavens are the people who know the truth about the state of an industry, who have their fingers on the pulse of the zeitgeist. They know things. This is the person you’d want to go to before the connector—they’d be able to tell you if that particular market is oversaturated, or if this particular trend is up-and-coming. And the best part is they’ll share what you’re doing with anyone and everyone, starting the “word-of-mouth” campaigns.

Salesmen are charismatic smooth-talkers. People believe what they say and find themselves agreeing with salesmen rather quickly; more quickly than they had anticipated. The funny thing is salesmen can be people who don’t even seem to be selling things. Gladwell notes ABC news anchor Peter Jennings fits in this category. And at first thought, you might say: “But wait. He’s a reporter, a journalist. He should never be selling anything.” But on second thought, you realize that every time he went on air, Jennings was indeed selling: himself, as a trustworthy source of news, the network as the same, and even the news he reported.

So you get a few of these people in the right places at the right times, Gladwell says, and success is much more likely. Of course, there are others helping the campaign along, but it’s the three types of people I described above that do, according to Gladwell, eighty percent of the work.

Additionally, there are a few other factors that contribute to overall success. Consider context. This doesn’t just mean where you put a poster—this refers, too, to the social and political atmosphere that envelops any message. For example, we’ve just finished up an election season, and a satirical political skit on Saturday Night Live carried more meaning—and had more of an impact on its viewers—during the past two months than it could have in the previous six.

The “stickiness” factor is another part of making messages memorable. You have to focus on content, of course, and make sure it’s the best you can make it.

So, what I took from this book:

  1. It’s important to figure out which kind of person you are, or if you fit into one of the personality mold. It will allow you to best focus on what you can contribute to your project and keep you from wasting time.
  2. Pay attention to when, where, and how you release your message.
  3. Content, as always, is king. People can tell the difference between awful content and something with value. Never try to push an empty message for the sake of saying something.

Have a good Thanksgiving.


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