The Tipping Point

A book summary, when last! I’m on my third book of the year and I thought I should write a book summary, considering how long it’s been.

The Tipping Point is a book by Malcolm Gladwell about how little things can make a big difference. It’s an idea about how certain concepts like fashion trends, messages and behaviours spread in a similar way to viruses.

The key components are:

  • The three rules of epidemics
    • Contagiousness
    • Little causes can have big effects
    • How changes can happen in one dramatic moment
  • The law of the few
  • The stickiness factor
  • The power of context

Considering we’re in an actual pandemic, let’s go through these key components and make sense of them within our own context.

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The Three Rules of Epidemics

The three rules of epidemics essentially speaks to the ingredients of how things spread. Firstly, it needs to be contagious. Whether it’s a virus or an idea, it requires an effective method to travel and spread.

Secondly, the concept of how little causes can have big effects describes how once a virus enters your system, it can completely take over. The same logic applies to fashion trends when certain influencers promote a new look. It’s a small change, but it can have a monumental impact on the industry.

The third rule speaks to how changes doesn’t necessarily have to be gradual. It can happen quite erratically. This essentially speaks to exponential growth. We’ve seen that with how the number of Covid cases started to rise.

The Law of the Few

  • Connecters – People specialists
  • Mavens – Information specialists
  • Salesmen – Persuasion specialists

Connecters, mavens and salesmen are critical individuals involved in allowing trends to ‘tip’ past a certain point. Connecters are people who are incredibly gifted socially. They have an enourmous network and know everyone. They’re comfortable having ‘weak ties’ with many different people and form acquaintances. These people are important because they help spread ideas through their network. They help us connect with important people

Mavens are people who typically accumulate knowledge. They also have a relatively large social network. They don’t just passively collect information, they actively try to share it. They find out about the best deals and want you to know about it too. Their motivation is to educate and help.

Salesmen are people who are effective at convincing us about things we are hesitant about. They’re extremely effective at using subtle non-verbal cues, physical harmony and motor mimicry. These are forms of body language and communication that allow us to feel comfortable, heard and understood.

I suppose in the context of our pandemic, mavens provided the virus, connectors spread it and salesmen convinced us that we were in trouble.

The Stickiness Factor

The stickiness factor is about how messages, ideas or trends actually stick to their target audience. It’s presenting it in such a way that people can’t seem to let go – or constantly want more of it.

It’s the way TV shows get viewers hooked; presenting the show in a way that makes people crave more. It’s the anticipation of another season. The keenness to expect another plot twist. The willingness to binge.

For a virus to spread effectively, it needs to have a stickiness factor. Given their biological nature, viruses essentially evolve to ‘stick’ as efficiently as possible. They spread from host to host, with the aim of reproducing and spreading their genes as much as they can.

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The Power of Context

The last idea discussed in the book was on the power of context and how our environment impacts the way we behave. What we need to understand here is that specific and relatively minor elements in the environment play a role in the Tipping Point.

Context matters because it also helps spread (or prevent) certain ideas and behaviours. It’s also why you often hear people talking about de-cluttering your work space. Because it affects your state of mind and how you interact with the world around you. It’s why your social circle matters. Because the people you surround yourself with influence you to do (or not to do) specific behaviours.

For any kind of pandemic to spread, the context in which it can grow matters. The type of people and the way they interact with each other matters.

It should be noted that all these concepts are explained in a much more profound way in the book. Gladwell uses incredible real-life case studies to argue his point. So far, we’ve looked at the Three Rules of Epidemics, The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor and The Power of Context.

Each of these elements can dramatically help us spread ideas and to start trends. It also helps us understand the way in which the world functions. I hope you’ve managed to get a little bit curious about these concepts and to maybe read the book for yourself.

As for now, I hope you have an incredible week and find something interesting to learn.

Talking to strangers

Why do we tend to make false assumptions about people we know so little about? Why are we so bad at detecting lies? Why do we ignore context when analyzing people?

This will be a book summary, a type of post I haven’t written in a while. The book I’ll be discussing is called ‘Talking To Strangers’ by Malcolm Gladwell. It will be a study of our common misconceptions when understanding strangers, not so much a guide on communication.

I’ll discuss 2 of the puzzles brought up, a theory about defaulting to the truth, transparency, and how we confuse coupling with displacement. (It’ll all make sense further down).

Puzzles 1 & 2

#1: Why can’t we tell when when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?

Is it that we’re just gullible? We might seem to fall for lies more easily than other people. But without us realizing it, it’s in our nature. We tend to trust and believe people readily, because it provides an evolutionary advantage.

We have a default to the truth. This allows us to form communities and structure within society. The downside to that? We have to tolerate an enormous amount of error.

#2: How is it that meeting a stranger can sometimes make us worse at making sense of them, than not meeting them?

Judges, lawyers, interviewers and many other professions including doctors, seem to work on the basis that seeing the person face to face would allow for a ‘fairer’ judgement or diagnosis of them. But what if that isn’t always the case?

Getting more information or seeing a person’s facial expressions, only adds to the complexity of our judgment. This may make us at worse analyzing them, not better. It’s because we have an issue with transparency.

Truth default theory

We’re better than chance at correctly identifying people who are telling the truth, than identifying those who are lying.

We have a default to truth. Our operating assumption is that the people we are dealing with are honest. This works alongside puzzle #1. So when do we believe people and when do we not?

Belief is not the absence of doubt. You believe someone because you don’t have enough doubts. Essentially, there’s a threshold of doubts that need to be triggered for us to figure out that someone is lying.

Were there enough red flags to push you over the threshold of belief?

Transparency

“This is the idea that people’s behaviour and demeanor – the way they represent themselves on the outside– provides and authentic & reliable window into the way they feel on the inside.”

Transparency is one the biggest flaws we make when making sense of strangers. We think that they way they ‘look’, indicates how they really ‘feel’. When we confront strangers, we have to replace our idea of them, with our direct experience with them.

It’s being conscious of stereotyping and assuming certain things about people you have absolutely no idea about.

We are bad lie detectors in situations when the person we’re judging is mismatched. When they aren’t transparent. We’re intolerant of emotional responses that fall outside our expectations.

Mismatched: When a person’s behaviour/demeanor doesn’t match how they feel.

Coupling vs displacement

Displacement: Assuming that people would go to any measure to achieve a certain objective. > Changing the conditions won’t stop them from trying to find an alternative.

Coupling: The idea that behaviours are linked to very specific circumstances & conditions. > If you change those circumstances, the behaviour would no longer prevail.

We need to understand that there’s a fundamental difference between coupling and displacement. Most of us have a natural tendency to think in terms of ‘displacement’. We need to start seeing how ‘coupling’ is a more realistic way to think, and that changes our entire perception of those around us.

We need to start understanding the importance of context, in which the stranger is operating. Two things powerfully influence your interpretation of who a stranger is: where & when.

“We think we can transform strangers without cost or sacrifice, into the familiar and known, and we can’t.”

We should stop penalizing one another for defaulting to the truth. It’s in our nature to believe people are being honest, and it only becomes ‘clear’ to us that someone is lying when they’ve passed our threshold of belief.

There are certain individuals who are naturally mismatched -their demeanor doesn’t represent their feelings- and we often interpret them in the completely wrong way.

This was a rather difficult topic to discuss, considering that the book is filled with real-life examples that exemplify the concepts. If there’s anything you can take from this, is to be conscious of your assumptions. Analyze them before projecting them, and understand that your mind works in mysterious ways.

Everything isn’t as simple as it seems. The world doesn’t run transparently. People are often mismatched and we can’t blame them for our misinterpretations. Sometimes less is more, and acquiring too much information only adds to the complexity of the judgment.

So next time you talk to a stranger, smile & approach them with caution and humility. Accept that the search to understand them has real limits. You will never know the whole truth, but that’s what makes life interesting.