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Implementing Change: Lessons Learned fromMalcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point

There is an old Romanian curse that says, “May you have a brilliant idea and be unable to convince anyone to use it.” Human beings have a propensity to resist change rather than embrace it, be it a minor modification or a radical innovation. This is true even when the change is seen as positive or solicited.Sometimes, however, we see new ideas that instantly and firmly take hold with large numbers of people. In his book, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes this phenomenon. He writes of trends as diverse as shoe fashions, crime statistics, infectious diseases and TV show ratings, and describes the factors that “tip” them into becoming sudden “epidemics.” He also identifies three types of people who are most often responsible for catalyzing the “tipping point” that triggers a change:

  • Connectors, who know many diverse people and provide the networks to help spread the new ideas or behaviors,

  • Mavens, known as knowledgeable problem solvers and information brokers who share relevant data and are able to facilitate the proliferation of the change, and

  • Salespeople, who have “persuasive personalities” and “mesmerizing” communication styles, allowing them to gain people’s trust and cooperation easily and thus help “tip” a trend.

Gladwell identifies two other key elements:
  • Stickiness – the characteristic of a trend or idea that causes people to remember it, and motivates them to adopt it, and

  • Power of Context – the impact of factors like time and place on the ability of a change to take hold.

According to Gladwell, individuals seeking to implement change must:
  • Focus their resources and attention on the right Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople who can promote “sticky” ideas that others will remember and act on,

  • Frequently test their ideas, intuitions and initial results, since people act in unpredictable ways, and

  • Remain confident that change is possible, even when logic and history suggest otherwise.

What Does This Mean For You?You can use the “tipping point” concept when working to implement change in your work or personal environments. It's best to keep these five guidelines in mind:

1. Be clear about who needs to do what, how and by when. You should be able to describe the essence or goal of the change in a 90-second “elevator speech.”

2. Identify your allies, adversaries, and those best suited to be your Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople. Anticipate others’ objections, opinions and needs, and prepare responses to their concerns.

3. Consider the preferred ways to communicate your proposed change. Decide who needs to hear what, in which sequence. Figure out whether to use meetings, one-on-one conversations, phone calls, emails, or newsletters. Which will be clearest and best received? Think about the words and images you should use to make your ideas “stick” and increase the recall and excitement in others.

4. Determine how to get buy-in. Should you provide predetermined structures, directions and desired time-frames? Would it be better to solicit input from the people responsible for implementing the change? Do you need to educate others or consciously build alliances? Will your own enthusiasm be enough to drive the project, or will your Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople be the ones to carry the torch?

5. Anticipate what follow-up and reality checks you’ll need. How can you test ideas and reactions to help keep the change effort on track? Who needs to follow up? How can you measure progress? How can you keep everyone, including yourself, inspired, confident and focused as the change takes root?In spite of the ever-increasing rate of change in our culture, no idea, behavior pattern or innovation takes hold overnight. It takes planning, patience and personal commitment to help the change “tip” and become established.

At Spero & Company, we are experienced change agents. Please contact us, at (303) 671-9030 or, if you would like to discuss how we can help you with the changes you plan to implement. Also, if you have been successful in reaching some “tipping point,” please let us know, so that we can share your insights with others.

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