I am actually sitting right next to Malcom Gladwell at the moment, who is the author of two great books, The Tipping Point & Blink. Brett Tabke, CEO of WebmasterWorld is doing the introductions, etc.
Malcom has just recently joined the ranks of bloggers, and graciously admits that’s he’s been behind the curve. He speaks about Jack Dempsey & George Carpentier, who were two boxers who slugged it out in New York a couple of years ago (1921). People from across the world came to see this match, and it was called the “Match of the Century”. RCA was a company that made radios, and although RCA at that stage was only news and classical music, and Sarnoff, one of the employees wanted to do the first Sports Radio broadcast. After a number a days of persistency, Sarnoff eventually convinced the grey haired men to let him do a Sports broadcast.
He eventually finds a kid to do the commentating on the match and somehow he obtains a radio transmitter, which he “steals” from the military. Sarnoff then calls all the radio broadcasting companies to distributing radio sets, because at that stage, it wasn’t a home device. Eventually the match went off without a hitch, and the radio blew at the 5th round, but luckily the match ended at the 4th round. That was the first radio broadcast which eventually tipped the world into Radio, up until then, people simply did not look at radio as personal devices. Sarnoff managed to build a community around the new technology, which was radio, at that point, an emerging technology. Nice analogy, Malcolm.
The problem that Sarnoff had in convincing his superiors was that they believed that the evolution of radio was not something that could happen overnight.
Malcom also goes into a quick sidebar about the how the Berlin wall fell down. It took a mere 4 weeks, where some people believed that it would take 30 years.
Malcolm emphasizes that we have to decouple the notion that to have a big effect, we need a large cause.
Why was this boxing match a catalyst for bringing radio to the tipping point? It’s because it reframes the technology – before this match, the Radio was merely a mechanism for bringing the news, not a source of live entertainment. At that point, the news was ubiquitous, as Newspaper companies publishes papers all day long and distributed in the street by vendors.
All of a sudden, the radio went from a source of news, to a source of entertainment. Malcom calls this active reframing, “reformative change”.
He says that if you talk to social change people, they say that the most vivid example was from the sixties, when people moved from using seatbelts 15% of the time, until 65% of the tim as it is today. The seatbelts advocates realised that government enforced seatbelt usage was being ignored – people didn’t like being told what to do. Eventually the laws were passed telling adults that their children had to be buckled up, which led to adults buckling up, not because the law said so, but because their kids said so.
The iPod, as Malcom discusses, was not the first MP3 players, and arguably, still not the best, however, what makes it so popular? Apple turned it into a fashion accessory, not a gadget, this led to a revolution overnight.
So the question is, how did Sarnoff, a 23 year old, pull it off? Well he had social power, connections, people he knows, etc. We as a society are obsessed with political power, etc.
I’m getting the feeling that this is a prelude to Malcom’s next book, Social Power (just guessing). This will probably cover social networks, etc. I remember him alluding to it in “The Tipping Point”.
He goes on to explain how certain people in societies have social power, due to the large social networks that they have. This people are connectors, and not because they necessarily have a large social network, but also a diverse social network.
We’re halfway through the session now.
He refers back to the Tipping Point story about Paul Revere, a man with extraordinary social power. Not going to rewrite the story here, read the book.
Malcom says that there is a growing trend of social isolation due to the fact that people are spending more time in their niche social circles. Teenage trends are indicating that teens are now more cutoff from adult society, however, if you look historically, teens are always unhappy!
There is another element of social power that Malcom discusses in Tipping Point, and that’s the Maven – brief notes here only, read the book – it’s great!
Why is it, when you lower the price in a supermarket that you sell more of it – when you have 500,000 items to track, how does the consumer know or care? Given the fact that when you buy something on special in a supermarket, you shop the sign not the price. People who stop buying because of prices increases etc, are called “Supermarket Vigilantes”. Interesting
Malcom Gladwell walked into a laptop store (no, this is not a joke). He doesn’t know which laptop to buy, given that he doesn’t understand all the technology descriptions. You could ask the Sales guy to help…but they’re never around. And if you do find one, he was just a carpet salesman last week. You could read Laptop weekly, but if you don’t know anything to start with, that doesn’t help either. So what did Malcom do? He phoned his brother who quizzed him and then gave a recommendation to buy a Sony Vaio.
Unless you as a marketer understand that the underlying reason that he bought the Sony, was a relationship. If the sale director looked at the video tape from the store, he might be led to believe that Malcom wanted that particular laptop of his own accord, when in reality, he had no clue.
I personally use my cellphone when shopping, to check prices using the net and get reviews on books from Amazon, on the fly. I find it a great help, and has saved me many bad purchases. Ok, yes, I know, my relationship here is with the Internet, but I think you get the drift .
Consumers cannot handle an excess of information very well, and upon this information overload, consumers do irrational things. Why are 401k signup rates so different from companies to companies? A researcher found out that the more fund options, the lower the signup rate! The more choices, the more the consumers decide not to make a decision, because they’re overwhelmed or unsure.
He goes into a quick discussion about German U-Boats & US Navy conflicts (WWII) and how long it took to make decisions etc, in the midst of battle. There was alot of information coming into different parts of the fleet, and there was no one communicating the information from different fleets based on German U-Boat movement. There were no Mavens and Connectors to help the captains in the field. The US Navy eventually put together a group of people to do this, called “The Tenth Fleet”, and the US Navy went from being at the mercy of the U-Boats to being the kings of the high sea.
Malcom ends that keynote saying that the key to change and evolution is through Maven’s & Connectors and embracing change.