Is the Tipping Point Toast?

A rebuttal to the Tipping Point brings up interesting points, but seems to miss some important points.

Malcom Gladwell’s famous book The Tipping Point put forward the idea that small numbers of people have unusual influence on the spread of ideas and even disease.  However, recent work by researcher Duncan Watts, described in an article in Fast Company (Feb 2008) suggests that these “Influentials” don’t really have as much influence as previously thought.  In fact, anyone can become a major transmitter of an idea.

While the FC article brings up some important counter-arguments to the Tipping Point suggestion that viral effects depend on a small percentage of individuals, it only partly covers the importance of Stickiness.  In the Tipping Point, Gladwell explains that the “Law of the Few” isn’t enough to make a new product or idea popular: it first has to already be “sticky,” meaning that it’s the kind of thing that people are highly inclined to remember and share with others.  However, recent work by researcher Duncan Watts suggests that

This comes up briefly in the FC article: “Watt’s theory says the emergence of a trend depends not on Influentials, but on the susceptibility [emphasis added] of the public to the ‘virus.’
The Tipping Point
That’s basically what Stickiness is.  If the public is open to accepting and re-transmitting an idea, then anyone who sees it will be more likely to share with others.  That depends a lot on how memorable the idea or product is, and the context (another Gladwell “law”).

The major contribution of Watt’s research seems to be that there’s a lot more randomness going on than the Tipping Point would have you believe.  Sometimes great ideas get ignored, and sometimes dumb ideas get spread through dumb luck.

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