Have you ever wondered what makes things go viral and spread like wildfire? When a viral infection starts spreading, usually for years, only a few people are affected, but then suddenly within a short time, it becomes an epidemic. In this book called The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell shows us that social epidemics share several of the same characteristics as viral infections. Ideas spread like epidemics, and several crucial factors play a role in triggering epidemics. They are easy to recognize and can be consciously used to spread ideas, products, or behaviors. Epidemics start after the tipping point threshold has been crossed. For example, a flu strain usually spreads slowly at the start, but slowly it infects more and more people until finally, it reaches that magical moment when the transmission rate soars dramatically and the epidemic spins out of control. The growth is like a curve that is slightly inclined at first and then jots up at almost a right angle. This dramatic turn is the tipping point. Is there anything that you want to make more popular? Maybe a product you want to catch on between customers? It might be a service or an idea that you want to spread. How do we do that? In this summary, I’ll share with you three rules of epidemics that can be used to spread ideas.
Rule #1: The law of the few
Epidemics are often caused by a certain few people. For example, many of the early AIDS cases in the United States were traced back to only one flight attendant who had sex with more than 2500 people in North America and in doing so, significantly contributed to the spread of the virus. Likewise, in the cases of social epidemics, it is typically a certain few who speed up the rate of the transmission. Most of the time, these are people with special social connections or remarkable personalities. There are three types of people with social gifts. First are Connectors. These are the people who seem to know everyone and because of that they can introduce people to each other and bring the world together. The second group is called Marvens. These are the people we rely upon to get new information. They tend to have a passion for something and know everything about it and want to share it with others. And the third is Salesmen who are usually very charismatic people and have a natural ability to persuade others. These are people with social gifts that form only 20 percent of the society but tend to influence 80 percent of the outcome and do most of the work in spreading ideas.
Rule #2: The stickiness factor
If you want an idea to spread, you first have to make sure that it sticks. An idea needs something special, something catchy, something that makes it stand out from the rest of the information that inundates us every day. For a message to stick, It has to be appealing. Sometimes changing a small detail like how the message is presented is what makes all the difference. For example, in 1954, Winston, which is a cigarette brand, used the following slogan to advertise for their new product. “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.” They purposefully made a grammatical error using like instead of as which caused a small sensation. The message stuck and ended up spreading like epidemics. And in just a few years, Winston became the most popular cigarette brand in the US. Another example is in the world of television. Sesame Street’s huge success was largely because of the innovation they introduced to the show. At first, the show kept scenes with fictional characters (or muppets) separate from the scenes with real actors filmed on the street. But as soon as they found out that children were bored with the separation, they decided to bring the Muppets into the real scenes. This small but crucial change is what made Sesame Street so appealing to its audience, and the rest is history. So, make sure your idea sticks before you try to spread it.
Rule #3: The power of context
There is a theory called broken windows theory which argues that crime is the inevitable result of the disorder. If a window was broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon more windows will be broken and a sense of anarchy will spread from the buildings to the street, sending a signal that anything goes here. In a city, relatively minor problems are all, the equivalent of broken windows. Invitation to more serious crimes. This was apparent to the authorities in New York City, in the mid1990s when the city’s crime got out of control. They taught things like graffitied subway cars or subway-fare evaders going unpunished send out a signal to people that anyone could do whatever they want. To control the crime epidemic, authorities focused on these minor details and the crime rate dropped rapidly in the following years. Usually, the emergence of epidemics can be traced back to small changes, and more often than not the smallest change in the context can determine whether an epidemic takes off or not.
So to summarize, the book Tipping Point explains how ideas spread like epidemics, it's only epidemics once the tipping point threshold has been crossed, and usually, a few key people are the ones that start the epidemics. Also, an idea has to stick before it can spread. And usually, the smallest change in context will determine whether an epidemic takes off.