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The Tipping Point
Taking a look at how little things can really make a big difference, and how you can tap the power to tip.

By: John Shepler

Listen, my children, and you shall hear of the midnight ride of William Dawes.

Who? William Dawes. On the night of April 18, 1775, William Dawes rode hastily out of Boston to warn the town of Lexington that the British were coming. At the same time, another patriot named Paul Revere took a different route to Lexington on the same mission. Indeed, the midnight rides of Dawes and Revere were successful in alerting the colonial populace of Massachusetts about impending British maneuvers. What resulted was the American Revolution and a famous poem about that critical horseback ride in the middle of the night. But why is only Revere mentioned? Why doesn't Dawes share in the glory?

The sad truth is that only Paul Revere was successful in rousing the citizens at every town and village along his path. William Dawes managed to move stealthily through the towns of Roxbury, Brookline, Watertown and Waltham without awakening any of the city fathers or militia commanders. Why? Probably because he didn't know anybody outside of Boston. Revere did. He was widely connected and knew exactly whose door to knock on to make sure the word was spread. By the time Paul Revere dismounted, everybody from Boston to Lexington was taking up arms. Dawes completed his ride with only one small town alerted. The rest remained undisturbed. Dawes remains unremembered.

The Power of Social People
Remember the old expression, "it's not what you know, it's who you know"? For connectors that's it. They are the people who tell other people, who tell other people, and make new information flow like wildfire. Connectors are one class of important people in making things happen. In fact, it only takes a few of the right kind of people to start a trend, a fad, even a revolution. That's the power of the tipping point.

The Tipping Point is a valuable little book written by Malcolm Gladwell. You might almost consider it a handbook for anyone who wants to change the world. It's all about leverage. Gladwell shows us how a small group of the right types of people interacting in the right ways can have a tremendous effect on society. We might say that at a certain point, the situation tips or takes off. That exact time is the tipping point.

Sound far fetched? OK, think about it this way. Have you ever tried to push over a tree? Good luck, right? Now take an axe and chop inward at a downward angle all around the tree trunk. When only a sliver of wood is showing, just the tiniest push will cause that tree to tip. A tree that a hundred people couldn't push over can easily be tipped by one person, once the stage is set.

Interesting Tipping Points to Ponder
In 1994, sales of Hush Puppies shoes were down to 30,000 pairs. Wolverine was considering phasing out the brand. In 1995, over 430,000 pairs of Hush Puppies were sold. In 1996, the sales figures were 4 times that. Excellent marketing plan? Nope. A hand full of kids in New York's East Village and Soho started wearing them to be different. Within their "hip" social group they started a fad. It spread across the country among young people who wanted to be equally "hip." A few kids wearing Hush Puppies tipped the shoe market.

In 1992, the crime rate in New York City plunged. It didn't taper off. It nosedived. Why? The "broken window" effect. If nobody fixes a broken window, then others think it's OK to break another window or loot or start fires. After all, nobody seems to care. But simply getting rid of graffiti on subway cars and arresting people who jump the toll turnstile sends a message that someone is in charge who cares. Soon business owners get the message and start cleaning up their storefronts. Not long after, crime becomes unpopular, even unthinkable in such a nice area. But it's the strong message of authority and caring about what happens that makes the situation tip.

Who Should Get Hip to the Tip?
The Tipping Point offers a surprisingly accessible way to effect social change. In the 1960's we all wanted to change the world. Today there's a blueprint for how it can be done.

Marketing people should read this book until the cover falls off. Then get another copy for reference. Within those pages lies the secret of how to get your message to spread virally, how to create fads and how to make your sales suddenly take off to the stratosphere. You'll have to figure out just how to do this in your particular situation. That's because tipping points aren't necessarily manageable. Things sometimes tip when they are ready to tip and we don't know the reason why until the dust settles years later. Still, the idea of this almost magical effect does whet the appetite for doing great things... and knowing that just one person or a small group really can make it happen.




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