It’s been a while since I last posted, however, there’s an explanation. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been more and more aware at not just the quantity of new ideas that are bouncing around at the moment but their quality. I’ve also been acutely aware that not even one part of one single idea has come from my direction so…

I decided to talk to some people, that lead to me reading a book and now I have an idea. The “people” in question were actually just one person – an epidemiologist friend of my dad’s. I was interested in how epidemics spread, more specifically, how they go from “outbreaks” to epidemics. The answer is not simple even (after he simplified it for me,) it all depends on demographic shifts, activity patterns and incubation periods, but, when you really strip it back to the bare bones epidemics happen when communities interact to the point where cross infection becomes mathematically “likely.”

Unhelpfully, he also told that I wasn’t the first person to make the link between transmitted diseases and “social” epidemics. He directed me to a book by Malcolm Gladwell who pretty effectively steals my thunder. It’s called The Tipping Point, I think it was published sometime between 1997 and 2000 and, if you haven’t read it, I would recommend you do. It is, quite simply, brilliant.  

Gladwell talks about the route from from having and idea to creating a global phenomenon – innovation, through the early adopters to the mainstream audiences. That is all fairly standard but then he looks at why things fail – usually at the junction between the stages – and identifies three kinds of people who seem to make the difference between success and failure. Gladwell’s “connectors, salesmen and mavens” exist online in a kind of caricature with their Gladwellesque features greatly exaggerated. It seems to me that a lot of what the book talks about as general themes are actually quite specific when you apply it to an online community or a social media epidemic – it reminds me of that subway PR pitch video “Let’s pray it goes viral.” If Gladwell is right then we don’t have to pray we simply need to be better at our jobs.

I can’t properly explain this – to do so would take literally pages and pages so here is my idea. Everyone buy a copy of “The Tipping Point,” apply what Gladwell says in a more literal way than it was intended and update where necessary.

It’s not quite Newton’s third law but it’s a start.

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