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The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell

November 18, 2010

Based on an experiment by Stanley Milgram, a psychologist in the late 1960s:

If we go through our friend list, we will find out that many of our connections come from a handful of people. These people are really good in making acquaintances and building relationships. They are natural. They often attribute knowing many people as their assets in achieving many things in life, without even doing that purposefully. These few people are called Connectors.

In 1974, Mark Granovetter made a study “Getting a Job” where he researched how people got their jobs by way of friends and acquaintances. He found out that most of them got their jobs through their acquaintances, less from friends, and even less from formal means (ads, headhunters, direct applications). This is the difference:

  • Friends are the strong ties:  they mostly occupy the same world as us, the same field/industry, church, school, company, and/or live nearby. Most of our friends know jobs that are in the same area as ourselves.
  • Acquaintances are the weak ties:  they occupy various worlds, near or far from us, and thus generally know things that we are not familiar with.

Granovetter coined the phrase: “the strength of weak ties.” People who are connectors have many weak ties and thus have access to opportunities and information from more variety of areas–areas that are not part of their daily lives.

~ ~ ~

The second party that is important in an epidemic is the Maven. It comes from the Yiddish, which means one who accumulates knowledge.

The following example will explain the role of a Maven. Supermarkets often promotes “Everyday Low Price”, which generally attracts customers to buy from their stores during that period. What if the supermarket did not actually lower any prices? People would still think there were lower prices and shop there, right? What would make people realize and not buy from these stores, or even worse, lose their trust?

The answer is: there are a few number of people who regularly check the prices and they serve as the guards for others. If prices actually stay the same, they would tell everyone else not to go to that store. These people follow the news, coupons, etc and accumulate knowledge on what products are better, which stores/businesses provide better service and value. Most importantly, they like to share their knowledge with others. They like it when they can help others with the information they have.

In the author’s words, “Maven is someone who solves his own problems–his own emotional needs–by solving other people’s problems.”

These Mavens are important in an epidemic because they are the expert in the field and we generally go to them for advice. We believe them when they give us an information. The one thing that a Maven is not is a persuader. Mavens are like teachers. They like to share information and gather more from others to add to their knowledge. In an epidemic though, people have to be persuaded to make actions.

~ ~ ~

Thus, the next group is of Salesmen. People who are true salesmen are not just good with words or knowing what to say next to a customer who are in doubt. Because if that is the case, we can buy guide books and many of us can be great persuaders. There is more to it from a salesman. “It’s energy, enthusiasm, likability, and still more. The following study tells more about the inherent nature of salesmen.

Brian Mueller and his team of Syracuse University ran an experiment during the 1984 presidential campaign between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. They videotaped 3 national nightly news programs: 1) Peter Jennings @ABC,  2) Tom Brokaw @NBC,  3) Dan Rather @CBS.

They took segments of the video that referred the candidates and showed them to a group of subjects without playing the audio. They asked the subjects to rate the facial expressions of those newscasters. The result was:

Jennings showed more facial expression that was biased towards Reagan. How does this affect anything?

Mueller then contacted a number of TV viewers and asked who they voted for. Those who watched the ABC voted for Reagan more than those who watched CBS or NBC. It is plausible that Jennings’ facial expression has caused people to vote for Reagan, unconsciously.

~ ~ ~

The author went on to talk about the nature of communication between two people. It is not just one saying things to the other and vice versa; in a good conversation, both people synchronize their rhythms, tones–and often times–feelings/emotions to each other. If I am happy, I tend to smile when talking to another person. That usually can make the other person smile, too. “Emotion is contagious”–thus there are the so called senders and receivers of emotions.

Howard Friedman at University of California Riverside devised the Affective Communication Test to measure this ability to send emotions, to be contagious. He gathered a bunch of people, gave questionnaire to rate their emotion contagiousness. Among the questions were: how hard you laugh, whether you touch someone when talking to them, etc. The final question was how the person emotional state was at that time: happy or sad.

He scored the questionnaires and grouped the people into happy high-scorers, sad high-scorers, happy low-scorers, and sad low-scorers. Then he paired up two happy high-scorers and two sad low-scorers to sit down together for 2 minutes, without talking. At the end of that, he asked the participants once again how they felt. This time the mood of the low-scorers have increased to be that of the high-scorers. The same happened when sad high-scorers were paired up with happy low-scorers. The mood of the low scorers got worse. These high-scorers are the persuaders, the Salesmen.

. . . to be continued (11/17/2010)

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