Monday, August 20, 2007

11. Understand The Laws of Epidemics

At first glance this would seem extremely off subject. For haven’s sake, what does an epidemic have to do with becoming a famous architect? Well, everything actually. Fame, is really a social epidemic. We threw Mancom Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" in here because we thought it was a very practical guide to becoming famous. The following is an excerpt of wikisummaries' synopsis of the book. As you read it think of it in the context of architectural fame.

Gladwell asserts that most trends, styles, and phenomena are born and spread according to routes of transmission and conveyance that are strikingly similar. In most of these scenarios, whether the event in question is the spread of syphilis in Baltimore’s mean streets or the sudden spike in the popularity of Hush Puppies sales, there is a crucial juncture, which Gladwell terms the “tipping point,” that signals a key moment of crystallization that unifies isolated events into a significant trend. What factors decide whether a particular trend or pattern will take hold? Gladwell introduces three variables that determine whether and when the tipping point will be achieved.
The three “rules of epidemics” that Gladwell identifies are:

the Law of the Few,
the Stickiness Factor,
and the Power of Context.

the Law of the Few

noting that the origins of most major epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases can be traced back to the disproportionate influence of a few “super infectors” who are personally responsible for dozens, or in some cases, hundreds of transmissions. This role is analogous to the category of people that Gladwell identifies as “Connectors,” who play an inordinate role in helping new trends begin to “tip,” or spread rapidly.

The attainment of the tipping point that transforms a phenomenon into an influential trend usually requires the intervention of a number of influential types of people. In the disease epidemic model Gladwell introduced in Chapter 1, he demonstrated that many outbreaks could be traced back to a small group of infectors. Likewise, on the path toward the tipping point, many trends are ushered into popularity by small groups of individuals that can be classified as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.
Connectors are individuals who have ties in many different realms and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred.
Mavens are people who have a strong compulsion to help other consumers by helping them make informed decisions. Salesmen are people whose unusual charisma allows them to be extremely persuasive in inducing others’ buying decisions and behaviors. Gladwell identifies a number of examples of past trends and events that hinged on the influence and involvement of Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen at key moments in their development.

The Stickiness Factor:

Another crucial factor that plays a key role in determining whether a trend will attain exponential popularity is what Gladwell terms “the stickiness factor.” This refers to a unique quality that compels the phenomenon to “stick” in the minds of the public and influence their future behavior.
An interesting element of stickiness, as defined by Gladwell, is the fact that it is often counterintuitive, or contradictory to the prevailing conventional wisdom. To illustrate this point, Gladwell undertakes an in-depth discussion of the evolution of children’s television between the 1960s and the 2000s.
The PBS show Sesame Street represented a vast improvement in the “stickiness” of children’s television, in large part because it turned many of the long-established assumptions about children’s cognitive abilities and television-watching behaviors on their heads. These changes, based in large part on extensive research, resulted in a show that actually helped toddlers and preschoolers develop literacy.
Years later, the television show Blue’s Clues applied many of these same techniques to Sesame Street itself, resulting in the development of a program that research has shown can generate significant improvements in children’s logic and reasoning abilities. The attribute of stickiness, Gladwell argues, often represents a dramatic divergence from the conventional wisdom of the era.

The Power of Context

Clearly, in order for a trend to tip into massive popularity, large numbers of people need to embrace it. However, Gladwell points out that groups of certain sizes and certain types can often be uniquely conducive to achieving the tipping point. He traces the path of the novel The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood from regional cult favorite to national best-seller. Gladwell notes that the unique content of the novel appealed strongly to reading groups of middle-aged women in Northern California, and that these women were uniquely well-positioned to catapult the book to national success as a result of an informal campaign of recommendations and advocacy.
Gladwell also remarks upon the unusual properties tied to the size of social groups. Groups of less than 150 members usually display a level of intimacy, interdependency, and efficiency that begins to dissipate markedly as soon as the group’s size increases over 150. This concept has been exploited by a number of corporations that use it as the foundation of their organizational structures and marketing campaigns.

an edited summary from