Taken from the field of epidemiology, a tipping point is the moment at which a contagious disease “tips” and becomes an epidemic. From a sociological point of view, it’s the point at which momentum for change becomes unstoppable. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is about turning messages—about ideas, behaviors or products—into epidemics.
How do we spread a vegan message to the point where it tips? Obviously this book doesn’t offer a blueprint for that. But it gives some ideas—and some fascinating food for thought—based on research from marketing, sociology, and education.
A few concepts:
There are certain types of people who help messages spread. No real surprises here. They are highly social people (those who have a huge network of contacts), information gatherers, and people with the capacity to sell an idea or persuade others.
The message itself needs to be “sticky.” Is it retainable, memorable, personal, practical, novel, irresistible? Most messages will need to be tested and tweaked. And tweaking a message or the presentation of a message in a way that doesn’t appear to make much sense can have huge positive consequences.
Context and environment shape the way people behave and can even overwhelm predispositions. While we might think that people react to an environment or set of circumstances by wanting to change them, it often turns out that they themselves are changed–for better or worse–by the environment.
Finally, Gladwell suggests that ideas spread more rapidly through multiple small groups than one large one.
If there is one salient point to take away from Gladwell’s premise it is this: Attachment to one idea about how to spread a message—no matter how logical or intuitive it might seem—may not always serve us well.
Instead, messages need to be tried, tested and modified. The answer to success can sometimes be found in approaches that are counter-intuitive. And changing the environment can actually cause people to change.
Finally, while it is great that some activists go out and spread the message to crowds, it may be that a whole bunch of people hosting individual vegan pot lucks will spread our message faster than anything else we could dream up!