Friday, August 25, 2006

A Pet Named Fido

What happens when you are promised a dog but this happens?

You ask it to sit and roll over and it just walks away.

It lies in the sun.

It sleeps 16 hours a day.

It claws at your furniture.

It meows.

Do you still insist on treating it as a dog or should you realize you've got an animal called a cat?

Unfortunately, a lot of people are stuck in a mild form of denial (for lack of a better word), where they are upset with situations in life when things don't come out the way they expect and then keep in insisting on forcing their cat into behaving like a dog.

What can your cat be? It may be a software project, where people expect it to follow the waterfall model yet it follows the iterative model. It may be your husband or wife who isn't the perfect person you expect to be, or it could be your child whom you expected to be a brilliant scholar or sportsman but turns out into a musician.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Tipping Point: The Power of Context

The Broken window theory expouses that the simple things in life do send a message.

Seemingly insignificant things like a broken window, sends a message that it's okay to do other minor crimes which in the end lead to bigger crimes.

Rudy Giuliani and William Bratton cleaned up New York bit by bit by cleaning up one line of the subway line of graffiti and then attacking petty crimes like fare-beaters who created a climate of crime. Seemingly a minor infraction, yet this small thing is pointed out by former Mayor Giuliani and Bratton is the key to cleaning up New York. (I wonder then that squeaky clean Singapore though criticised as being a "fine" city, may very well have hit the right formula before it was discovered, no spitting, no chewing gum, no littering... Perhaps Malaysia should reconsider the consequences of a tidak-apa attitude. An "it's nothing much" attitude may very well have much consequences.)

Gladwell argues here that perhaps our characters are more of a function of our environment than we thought.

Another example of the power of context is when two Princeton psychologists, Darley and Batson tested seminary students to see who would play the role of Good Samaritan. They were asked to prepare a talk and some specifically on the parable of the Good Samaritan. On the way to give the talk they would encounter a man coughing and groaning, slumped. Now, who would stop to help him?

It wasn't the people who had just read the parable of the Good Samaritan, it was rather those who were told that they had a few more minutes to spare versus those who were told they were late.

Finally, in the second part of the power of context, he shares the magic number of social connections in a group that humans can have: 150. Groups work better in that number. Any larger, and you would have to split them. Gore-tex manufacturer builds plants to accomodate 150 people. Any larger, and another plant must be built. The reason is because our brains have a limiited capacity to handle more social connections.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Tipping Point: Stickiness

Besides connectors, mavens and salesmen, the next factor to creating a social epidemic is the environment.

An epidemic must be sticky, it's no use infecting others unless they are can carry the virus for a long enough time to incubate.

The idea of Sesame Street and Blues Clues is to make education a social epidemic.

Sesame Street was not an immediate hit. In fact, it was because of psychological testing to see whether kids were distracted or not during certain segments that they learnt to decide which to scrap, which to rework or to edit. The Sesame Street producers had eye movement cameras and observers meticulously watching the behaviour of their target children and seeing what worked and what didn't. This led to the decision to incorporate puppets with live actors, that went against the advice of "experts" that warned against mixing fantasy and reality.

In his example of Blues Clues, which is considered a bigger success than Sesame Street, the keys were talking in terms of how pre-schoolers think (story-telling format) and getting them involved in learning, like asking them to repeat the host's gestures (the principle of involvement) and repeating the same show every day for 5 days (the principle of repetition). Another key to Blues Clues is progressive difficulty. Easier first, and then the difficulty increases as the show progresses.

It may be a simple thing to reorder the clues given so that the show has suspense but it has a dramatic impact.

The lesson is that simple things like structure and format of a show can go a long way in causing something to be sticky.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Tipping Point: The Law of the Few

Malcolm Gladwell's best-selling "The Tipping Point" explains to us how trends, epidemics in the social arena occur.

Drawing an analogy with biological epidemics, he identifies the super-infectors in social trends.

The 3 types of people that are important to start a social trend are:

  • The Connector.

  • The Maven.

  • The Salesman.

The connector is the person with a very wide extensive social network. Whereas, average people are pick and choose their friends and have social groups of around 400-500, the connector has around 1200 people in his telephone book. Not only does he have an extensive social network, the connector's world can extend over many different areas of socialization, from science, to the arts, to politics. The connectors role allows social trends, ideas, and fads to jump between social groups. While some people collect stamps, connectors collect friends. Out of 100 friends, they may be able to influence 50 about a new trend. They are like the network hubs or switches that connect people together.

The maven are the experts, not just very good experts, but experts who are evangelists, who want to tell, who are enthusiastic about their area of expertise, and from whom people go for advice. Mavens are not just people who read specialist magazines, they write in to correct them. They may have less friends than a connector, but out of 50 friends, they may be able to influence all 50. Mavens are like network servers, that susses out the best information, and stores them like databanks waiting to disseminate them.

Finally, the salesman is the person who have the innate capacity to influence people. They somehow have this social tone, that when others meet them, others resonate to their frequency and not the other way round. They are like the social tuning forks, the drummers whose beat others march to. They are the transmitters, the base stations from which people unknown to them receive signals.