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crystalline mao with butterflies - robert sommers 2007

Friday, December 5, 2014

Big Tipper

I have just finished reading Gladwell's most widely acclaimed book, The Tipping Point. I am only fourteen years late to the party on this one. In the language of diffusion that Gladwell discusses, this makes me a bit of a laggard.

This is the third or fourth Gladwell book I have read recently and they all have been thought provoking. Assuming that some of you might find the same things interesting that I do, you might give it a look.

Malcolm Gladwell's book is a discussion of how trends and fads develop. They require several things to occur before critical mass or a tipping point is reached. The first is a special class of people to help spread the word.

These people are Connectors (think Kevin Bacon squared), Mavens and Salesmen. When you read about these character types you of course try to see what you resemble and fit yourself into the equation.

I am a connector (networker), a bit of a maven (people who seem to know everything) and a pretty lousy salesman. My wife on the other hand is a hell of a maven and a great sales person.

Gladwell points to three general rules that these fads and social epidemics share, stickiness (contagiousness, a hook), the law of the few and the power of context. The Law of the Few requires those aforementioned individuals noted above. He calls them information spreaders. The power of context is about the environment, behavior as a reaction to social context. All three of these causal factors lead to something tipping, to a monumental change.

Gladwell illustrates his point by charting various fads and epidemics, from shoes to AIDS, to the broken windows policing we have heard so much about recently. But what I found most interesting was his introducing us to the concept of diffusion.

The Diffusion of Innovation is a theory postulated by a man named Everett Rogers, a social scientist and professor of communications. He published his seminal work Diffusion of Innovations in 1962. Diffusion is the process of how an innovation is spread in society. Rogers maintains that four main elements influence the spread of a new idea: the innovation itself, communication channels, time, and a social system. 

These new ideas or fads must be widely adopted. and they must reach a point in the curve that we call critical mass in order to be sustained. This happens through five different kinds of people/adopters; innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. There is also a subset of luddite laggards called leapfroggers who aren't constrained by convention and might jump a few technological levels if they feel like doing so.

Rogers coined the phrase The Tipping Point. He found that once an idea reaches a 15% to 18% adoption rate, it becomes very likely to begin increasing rapidly and eventually reach a saturation level of acceptance.

Here is an interesting rundown on the innovation groups from wiki.

Click on the pic
Each type is different and there is tension between the groups, a definite chasm between early adopters and the early majority. A man named Geoffrey Moore wrote a book called Crossing the Chasm that talks about marketing high tech products within Rogers social construct and narrative. It has been termed the bible of entrepreneurial marketing. 

An interesting synopsis from Wiki:
In Crossing the Chasm, Moore begins with the diffusion of innovations theory from Everett Rogers, and argues there is a chasm between the early adopters of the product (the technology enthusiasts and visionaries) and the early majority (the pragmatists). Moore believes visionaries and pragmatists have very different expectations, and he attempts to explore those differences and suggest techniques to successfully cross the "chasm," including choosing a target market, understanding the whole product concept, positioning the product, building a marketing strategy, choosing the most appropriate distribution channel and pricing.
Crossing the Chasm is closely related to the technology adoption lifecycle where five main segments are recognized: innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards. According to Moore, the marketer should focus on one group of customers at a time, using each group as a base for marketing to the next group. The most difficult step is making the transition between visionaries (early adopters) and pragmatists (early majority). This is the chasm that he refers to. If a successful firm can create a bandwagon effect in which enough momentum builds, then the product becomes a de facto standard. However, Moore's theories are only applicable for disruptive or discontinuous innovations. Adoption of continuous innovations (that do not force a significant change of behavior by the customer) are still best described by the original technology adoption lifecycle. Confusion between continuous and discontinuous innovation is a leading cause of failure for high tech products.[4]
Innovations need to cause a change of behavior on the part of the customer. Think Apple. Where do you fit in Moore and Roger's world? I think I am somewhere near either end of the parabola. Anywhere but the majority...

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