THE TIPPING POINT
How little things can make a big difference
Hush Puppies, classic lightweight crepe sole – As un-fashion
as it was possible in all the 80’s and into 1994 to get. In the
60’s they sold millions every year. EVERYONE had at least
one pair. But they went WAY out of style and by 1994 were
all but dead, sales down to 30,000 per year. Wolverine the
company was thinking about phasing them out.
Its tipping point came late in 1994 or early 1995.
Two executives were in New York and ran into a fashion
stylist who told them that Hush Puppies were being bought
up out of little mom and pop stores and used stores and
where the in thing as clubs an bars in downtown Manhattan.
The guy told them that even Isaac Mizrahi was wearing
them. They had no idea who he was.
Things started to snowball.
In 1995 they sold almost half a million pair
In 1996 they sold 2 million pair
1996 won a fashion design award and the president
stood on stage with Calvin Kline to accept the
They exploded within a year. It all started by some kids,
whoever they were in the East Village and Soho. Kids who
were wearing them exactly because no one else was! A
couple of designer picked them up, more, more, bars, in,
and then the tipping point.
Understanding the TIPPING POINT is the best way to understand the emergence of fast
trends in fashion or crime or a book or teenage smoking. It is the history of an idea of what
creates rapid almost instantaneous change.
Three characteristics are present for all epidemics and all epidemics have a tipping point!
1. Contagiousness - It is very much like a virus or epidemic.
2. Little causes have big effects - Little changes in behavior unintended created big
consequences. 20-50 maybe 100 kids started wearing Hush Puppies and a year
later half a million were sold.
3. Fast spreading, a dramatic moment. Not slow and steady but sharp changes
These describe fashion trends, changes in crime rate or crack cocaine trade or a measles
epidemic moving through a school. That dramatic moment of change is THE TIPPING
POINT. The critical mass.
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THE THRE RULES OF EPIDEMICS
Now how does this take place? What makes it happen?
Why do some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others do not.
What can we do to deliberately start and control them.
An epidemic is a function of the people who are the transmitters, the infectious agent
itself and the environment in which the agent and the people operate.
A tipping point happens when anyone of those three change – 1,2 or in all 3
The AGENTS OF CHANGE are:
1. The Law of the Few –The carriers, the transmitters
2. The Stickiness Factor – The agent, the virus the message
3. Power of Context – The environment in which the other two function.
ALL THREE ARE ALWAYS PRESENT. It is whether they are there in sufficient numbers and
strength to make it happen. It is how they interact that counts,
THE LAW OF THE FEW
There are: connectors, mavens and salesmen
The midnight ride of William Dawes in 1776. Who ever heard of that?
No it is the midnight ride of Paul Revere. Where ever Revere want the bells range, the
towns leaders turned out, the drums rolled, the news spread like a virus, alarms where
raised throughout the region
But did you know that same night Dawes did the same thing on the other side of Boston
and in fact went to more towns and traveled a longer distance than Revere. Yet on his ride
the towns didn’t turn out, the people weren’t excited, the church bells didn’t ring, the
results were so discouraging that the revolutionaries thought some of the towns where
A piece of extraordinary information spread like wildfire in one direction and didn’t in the
other. Luckily the British went out to Concord and were met and defeated by the militia.
ALL by word of mouth.
The reasons for the difference was in the two men. Revere knew everyone, was on 5 of the
7 revolutionary councils – only two were on that many, He knew everyone, had held many
posts, involved in all the actions, a wide group. He would routinely ride to Philadelphia
and New York and up to New Hampshire, met all the people. While Dawes knew a lot in
Boston he didn’t know many in the country side, he was uncomfortable, wasn’t recognized,
Six Degrees of Separation. You have all heard of that
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You are 6 degrees of separation from George Washington, three from Bill Clinton, four
from JFK – all because you now know me!
Stanley Milgram wanted to study how people were
connected the idea of the small world problem. He got 160
random names of people in Omaha Nebraska and mailed
them a package and asked them to get the package to a
stockbroker who worked in Boston and lived in Sharon Mass.
Each person was to send the package to someone they knew
that would get it closer to that person. And then the next
was asked to do the same thing. He found that most arrived
within 5-6 steps. THUS 6 DEGREES OF SEPARATION.
But they aren’t all equal. 24 responses came to his home, 16
from one person, a clothing merchant. The rest came to his
office and most of those came from two men. 160 people
sent out letters and those people sent out letters and over
half came to the same 3 people.
THUS, a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps and the
rest of us are linked to those special few – THE CONNECTORS.
Sprinkled among every walk of life are a handful of people with truly extraordinary knack
of making friends and acquaintances.
CONNECTORS REACH INTO MULTIPLE WORLDS
A classic study of Getting a Job by Mark Granovetter.
His study showed that about 60% got jobs through personal
contacts, 20% from ads and headhunters and 20% from
applications. Of those that used contacts a vast majority
[over 80%] had only WEAK CONNECTIONS with the
contact. MAKES SENSE. If knew well then relationships
narrow in what person knows all ready. With weak ones
they are in different worlds.
WEAK TIES ARE ALWAYS MORE IMPORTANT THAN STRONG ONES.
This holds for restaurants, movies, fashion trends or anything that moves by word of mouth.
So with Hush Puppies they found some connectors that made it happen just out
These are purposeful information gatherers. They accumulate knowledge. They know it
all. They are obsessed with getting the best deal or learning the details. They have lots of
information on products, prices and places. They are experts but they want to help you,
assist you give you information. More socially motivated.
They have knowledge and the ability to spread it around. But not a persuader. They are
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Connectors are the social glue, Mavens are the data banks, and Salesmen are the
A number of studies have been done, Here is one on students. READ [p 77]
What have all these studies told us.
1. Little things can make a big difference.
2. Non verbal cues are as important or more important than verbal cues.
3. Persuasion often works in ways that we do not appreciate.
THE STICKINESS FACTOR
It isn’t enough to get the idea or the product or the information out there. If it doesn’t
stick then it won’t happen. Paul Revere vs. William Dawes.
Stickiness is something you know when you see it.
Sesame Street did something no other kids show did –
consistently increase reading and knowledge level among
pre-schoolers. It worked! interestingly Big Bird wasn’t in the
pilot, mix of fantasy and reality within a single scene was not
allowed by the experts and the show was failing. Big Bird
linked fantasy and reality and Big Bird made it very very
sticky and the mix did.
Later along came Blue Clues – an animated blue dog called
blue, Steve, a mail box called mailbox, a shovel called shovel
and a pail called pail were the only characters. Same
episode ran 5 days running. Within 6 months it trounced
Sesame Street. In a comparison with 60 items, Blue Clues
kids remembered 50 and Sesame Street kids remembered
35—for preschoolers it had stick.
What makes an ad work isn’t its humor or beauty but whether is sticks. Some of the most
successful are ads that are real hokey.
Columbia Record Club - You have seen them - get 20
records free, sign up for 100 years. A guy named
Wunderman was the genius behind it with his TV Guide and
Parade magazine ads.
Columbia wanted more class so they hired McCann Ericson.
Top NYC ad agency to design ads. Wunderman was not
happy. He offered a challenge: In 28 markets do the print
ads exactly the same. In14 run his TV ads and in 14 run the
classy ones from McCann.
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The only change made in all the print ads was that he added
a gold treasure box to all the print ads.
In his media ads he created these hokey ads that said, find
the treasure box in TV Guide or Parade and get a free
record. He ran them at 2 am, really cheap.
McCann’s were classy and 4x as much placed in prime time.
The results In the Wunderman markets sales up 80%. In the McCann classy ads markets
sales up 19%.
Why? The little things, the link of the gold treasure box to the print ads.
Two groups of students were given booklets to urge tetanus
shots – one mild and straightforward and the other really
scary. The high fear group said they would get shots more
than regular one BUT in ALL only 3% went and got shots.
They changed the ad and added a map to health center and
hours open. Same split between mellow and fearful.
Results, 28% got shots. MOST interestingly there was an
even split between fear and not fear ads. The map made
For an epidemic to happen, it has to be memorable, fierce,
There is a simple way to package information that will make it stick. Just have to figure it
So you need the right people to distribute it and get it accepted. YOU need a message or
a virus or a vehicle that is sticky, remembered. But not enough, it all has to have context,
the environment in which the other two happen is key.
The Broken Window Theory. An epidemic starts with the first stone. Crime is the perfect
Crime on the subways and in NYC had been growing rapidly.
Police were focusing on the major crimes and letting the
little stuff go. Nothing helped.
In the 1970 the NYC subways were a mess, crime, graffiti.
Crime rate in NYC in early 90s was high. Within a year it
started to fall and fall dramatically. A guy name William
Bratton was key. Head of Transit police and then NYC
police. He adopted the Broken Window Theory. He had
the police focus on the little things:
Subway – Graffiti, not the big stuff
Subways – Fare jumpers 1 out of 7 Not the big stuff
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Streets – Public urinating, throwing bottles,
“squeegee men[the guys that come up to cars to
wash windows at stop lights], Not the big stuff
Crime plummeted, criminals pay very close attention
to their environment
You can change the tipping point with the smallest details in fact they are almost always in
the smallest details
People act and respond differently in different environment. People can be honest in one
environment and dishonest in another, generous in one not in another. Believing in one
and not in another ROKEACH, a great researcher, found that people always carry two
attitudes when they are in any situation – an attitude about the object and an attitude
about the place/environment. THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!
Rebecca Wells wrote Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood in
1996. Sold 15,000 hardback. Normal readings had 7-10
people. 1997 the paperback came out and the first edition of
it sold 18,000 then in a few months sales reached 30,000.
Groups started coming to the readings and getting 8-10
books signed to different people, then mothers and
daughters, then three generations. Still not on best seller list.
Then in early 1998 it reached its tipping point, and went on to
48 printing and 2.5 million copies. Wells said she realized it in
northern California when she arrived at a readings with 700 to
800 people regularly.
The power of context in this case was book groups. Where
book groups were strong the book sold strong. It was talked
about and read and talked about, word of mouth through
groups. Groups, friends, peer pressure have a greater impact
than family on context and spreading epidemics.
Transactional memory - Much of our real memory is outside our brain but in our
environment. Two know more than each one, the interaction creates added memory
SO WHAT WE HAVE – WORD OF MOUTH SUCCESS IS SIMILAR TO AN EPIDEMIC.
NEEDS VERY SPECIAL KEY PEOPLE, AN OBJECT THAT IS STICKY AND AN
ENVIRONMENT IN WHICH IT CAN MULTIPLY. Simple but we almost always forget it.
Remember it is the little things that make the difference.
Getting people to talk about an idea or product isn’t enough, need the right
people, the very special people
Have a catchy theme or ad or visual product is nice but it isn’t enough. You have to
have something that sticks. IT is in the little changes, little changes, small things
that create the tipping point.
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Even if you have all the perfect people and the stickiest product but if the
environment or context in which it takes place is wrong, it won’t happen.
So remember an epidemic can’t happen unless all three but when you do have all three, it
will take off like a huge explosion, Hush little Puppy.
SO DON’T FORGET ANY OF THEM AND IF YOU ARE A “BIG PICTURE KIND OF GUY” YOU WILL
LIKELY FAIL” Don’t assume it is the big things, it is the little ones
And remember to “Think Sideways”
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