Chapter 3: The Stickiness Factor

Now it is getting interesting.  As someone who grew up on Sesame Street, it was fascinating to understand how much effort was behind teachtaining (new word) me as a kid.  Learning what is behind making a TV show, initiative, or marketing effort sticky caused me to look around and listen for attempts at stickiness.  Was that message really intended for me?  Was that lame jingle their attempt at sticking in my mind?

Recently I participated in a “treasure hunt” approach similar to the Columbia example in the book.  This company through its email newsletter asked me to participate in an online game that asks you to fill your shopping cart with various natural brands that they are affiliated with.  The intention is to get each of us to visit the various websites and begin to use these brands.  There was a two-part incentive.  If you visited all the sites, you got coupons to purchase these products, but that was the minor incentive.  One lucky winner would get a $15,000 new kitchen.  Since I have been consciously avoiding re-doing our kitchen (except for a fresh coat of paint), they got my attention.  The game was fun and interesting enough to get me to do the work.  As of today, I did not win, but I will keep you posted.

What recently demonstrated the stickiness factor for you?  Was it an ad, a song, a company, or a person?  Is all stickiness good?  Sometimes I am amazed at the stickiness of certain pop songs with my kids.  Can you think of an example where someone or something was attempting to be sticky for good or bad?  In the over-crowded and potentially over-connected space of our lives, do you notice that these attempts are becoming more cutting edge or more over-the-top?  Do these attempts move to you action, or are they just background noise?  Look around for the next few days, and let all of us know what you observe.

Now that I think about watching Blue’s Clues with my kids, I realized how much I enjoyed that program as well, and its non-flashy journey based episodes.  It was deliberately sticky, especially for parents who were growing tired with the lightning paced shows it was competing with.  Or maybe I was just tired and needed a nap.

Chapter Two: The Law of the Few

Gladwell describes how all people were not created equal when it comes to their influence on others.  There are a “few” people with a “particular and rare set of social gifts” who are either Connectors, Mavens, or Salesmen.

Connectors know lots of people and create those small degrees of separation away from everyone (including Kevin Bacon).  On page 39, he provides a list of names to help gauge your own level of Connector status.  I was amazed at how much variation existed within the various groups where he gave this assessment.  I am curious, what was your number?  My number was 45.  It did help that one of the names on the list was Weber. 

I particularly liked how Connectors are described on page 51: “The point about Connectors is that by having a foot in so many different worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together.”  Poor William Dawes, it appears he was out ridden by a Connector.

Mavens are those that accumulate knowledge on things and readily share it with the rest of us.  We trust their views on cars, appliances, schools, books, or even ice cream.  “They aren’t passive collectors of information…once they figure out how to get that deal, they want to tell you about it too.”  Page 62.

Salesmen, or those people who can persuade us and convince us are the last group.  These are individuals that can change our minds, and sometimes even get us to buy things (even if it is just an idea).  Gladwell describes communication with this groups as more of a dance.  Think about your last interaction with an actual salesperson, what did you like or not like about that interaction?

Which are you?  ConnectorMavenSalesmen?  Who are the Connectors, Mavens, or Salesmen around you?  Do these few influence you?  If so, how?  Let us know, and what you thought of this chapter, and remember to post on at least one other person’s post.

Chapter One: The Three Rules

The Law of the Few:  Well, there is nothing better when considering epidemic-like events than discussing the spread of STDs…but it does help make the case for how a few people can spread an idea or a product.  The 80/20 rule seems to apply well especially as Gladwell describes the characteristics of the few as how much more “sociable they are, or how energetic or knowledgeable or influential among their peers.”  (Page 21)  Think about people in your circles whose influence seems to outweigh the average person, do you listen to them?  Do they impact you?  Are you that person?

Stickiness Factor:  The ability for something to remain appears to be a key factor, essentially it has to “stick” with you in order to make the kind of impact Gladwell describes.  “Stickiness means that a message makes an impact.”  (Page 25)  What was the last thing that “stuck” in your head?  Was it a song, a commercial, a person, an event?

The Power of Context:  Understanding the situation people find themselves in is the last rule and states “that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.”  (Page 29)  The “bystander problem” as described in this chapter was pretty alarming to me, and made me think about when I see an accident or lose power in the neighborhood.  I mostly assume someone has already called 911 or the power company and I don’t pick up the phone.  I do not always act because in context, there are so many people in the same situation, assumptions are easy to make.  Does the environment impact you?  How do you feel when you come home to a sink full of dishes, you witness an argument, or it rains on the day you planned that big outdoor event?

Gladwell is making the case, or perhaps building his case that these three rules need to be in place in order to pass the tipping point.  Have just one of these, and it is not enough.  You have two of them?  Sorry, you still need another one.  Can you think of an example of each rule in your own experience?  If so, please share it with the group.

As a reminder, please read a chapter each week, post a thought about the reading, and comment on at least one other person’s post. 

The Tipping Point (Introduction)

Malcolm Gladwell sets the stage for the Tipping Point by describing the rise in the sale of Hush Puppies, and the decline of New York City Crime.  Both events didn’t gradually change over time, but something (almost like the spread of a virus) caused a shift that seems disproportional to the effort behind it.

Gladwell describes how radical this idea can be for some of us because “We are, as humans, heavily socialized to make a kind of rough approximation between cause and effect.” (The Tipping Point, Page 10)  As I read this, I thought about how many times my mom and my grandmothers all had the same “we must all work really hard to make it” mantra.  Clearly, they were socializing me around this principle.

All around us, we regularly witness and even use the term “viral” to describe ways to market, or the latest video that a friend passes to us online.  Many companies, people, and ideas are trying to be that next overnight sensation by cracking some code, and getting past the tipping point.

Thanks for being part of this journey and I look forward to hearing from you.

Questions to Ponder

What was the last product, trend, or idea you witnessed that seemed to spread like wildfire?  How did you either hear about it or participate in it?

Of the three characteristics Gladwell describes (contagiousness, little causes having big effects, and change happening not gradually but in one dramatic moment) which seems the most radical compared to how you usually think about events, changes or movements?

Did you yawn during that section?  (Pages 9, 10)

The votes are in: The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell

The votes are in and the winner is The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell.  I have read his other books, use Outliers in a training session with leaders, and am excited to read this book together.  This book club will get The Tipping Point off my nightstand and into our collective minds.

The book club will begin next Monday and I will post on a chapter a week.  Counting the introduction, it will take us nine weeks to read together.  Please find, borrow, buy, share, download, or check out a copy of the book to participate (there are still libraries out there).  The goal is to have each of you reply to the weekly post and/or each other every week.  If you have any questions please let me know.

Maybe together we will learn how our small actions will make a big difference.

Power Distance and Plane Crashes

I am a fan of Malcolm Gladwell.  I like his writing, his stories and his perspective.

In Chapter 7 of Outliers (The Ethic Theory of Plane Crashes) he discussed Power Distance, or the space that is created when authority, hierarchy and culture disrupts our ability to interact with or communicate with each other.  Beyond creating nervousness about flying anytime soon, this chapter challenges leaders to consider how closely tied communication is to your ability to lead. (See Leading and Communicating)  And how as a leader you may be completely unaware of the distance between you and those you lead.

I won’t spoil the chapter, but some of the reasons planes crash are surprising.  It was not the big stuff, the reasons were more a combination of minor mechanical issues, lots of errors, and most importantly a failure of teamwork and communication.  The Captain (the leader) is making decisions and the First Officer or others (the followers) cannot seem to break through the power distance and yell “stop” before it is too late.

The most alarming part of the chapter is an experiment where both Captains and First Officers are provided a scenario.  Each group is instructed to ensure that their planes do not pass through a stormy airspace.  Each group was provided communication options ranging from strong Command options (essentially turn the plane) to much weaker options such as Hinting (the weather up there looks mean).

The results startled me.  Captains picked the strongest communication option and the First Officers picked the weakest option.  This reminded me of my time in the Navy and how that command structure played out.  While in the presence of the Captain instructions were barked towards me.

“Weber, I want the ComSysLantOpt report with a focus on BoatShipAftBowStern!”  (or whatever it was) was barked then I was dismissed.

Yes Sir!  Consider it done! 

I turned to the person next to me and asked if they had any idea what that meant.  Nope, but “good luck.”  In the presence of that leader, “consider it done” was the only acceptable reply.  The Power Distance was huge.

The more organizations I work with, the more this Power Distance issue comes to light if the leaders are not tuned in to the distance their positions create.  Once identified, there are great ways to combat this in the workplace.  The airline industry had to teach junior crew members to speak up in a clear and assertive manner.

Listen to those around you.  Especially anyone who reports to you, or where your position creates some authority over someone else.  Listen for the “hints” that they use because a direct conversation is too risky for them.

While listening recently I found a surprising “hint” near me.  Two of our daughters are in college.  College kids spend money, and need money all the time.  And I replayed a few conversations and/or texts.

“Wow, these books this semester were really expensive.”

“I am not sure if I saved enough money during the summer.”

My first response to these was “Great” thanks for letting me know.  But that was not their real intention was it?  They needed money and didn’t want to come out and directly ask.  There is a Power Distance in my position as a parent, and I learned was how intimidating (Captain like) I can be, even with my own kids.

My challenge for you is this: Spend the next week listening to yourself and others. Identify who hints around you, where you hint, and why.  Once identified, find one area where you can actively and deliberately communicate to shorten the Power Distance.

Maybe this simple step will prevent our workplaces, relationships, or “planes” from crashing.

I got a text the other day.

Dad, can you put $10 on my flex card so I can print out my report?


Now that is progress.