John

The Tipping Point Suxxorz?

In News on February 21, 2008 at 8:55 am

thetippingpoint.jpg

Guy Kawasaki’s blog last month picked up an interesting feature written by Clive Thompson about Duncan Watts debunking Malcolm Gladwell’s popularization of the Tipping Point theory in regards to the power of “key influencers” in affecting a trend in society. It’s a long-assed article from Fastcompany that spans some 9 pages (a testament to how uncomfortable the web is for long-form journalism) but the point is well-made.

PR and Marketing people won’t be happy to hear that a hit happens more randomly than was previously thought–it’s harder to predict and affect a sweeping trend now, whereas before they could seed certain influencers to kick-start a movement.

I think that it’s more of a mix of the two theories–it’s hard to disprove Gladwell’s theory (after all, even in my circle of friends, there are those with more influence than others), but Watts’s point shows that marketing folks shouldn’t be too reliant on these key people to make a big hit; there are a lot more factors at play here than meets the eye.

The story’s excerpt:

In the past few years, Watts–a network-theory scientist who recently took a sabbatical from Columbia University and is now working for Yahoo–has performed a series of controversial, barn-burning experiments challenging the whole Influentials thesis.

He has analyzed email patterns and found that highly connected people are not, in fact, crucial social hubs. He has written computer models of rumor spreading and found that your average slob is just as likely as a well-connected person to start a huge new trend.

And last year, Watts demonstrated that even the breakout success of a hot new pop band might be nearly random. Any attempt to engineer success through Influentials, he argues, is almost certainly doomed to failure.

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