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The Tipping Point

One of the challenges we face in software development is driving adoption. Anyone who is involved in IT has likely been involved in building a 'ghost town' or two. The project that had executive buy-in, a great business case, and resulted in a system that no one used. In some cases the project was fundamentally flawed (requirements, vision, timing), in others it's a matter of not getting the message out (or not getting the right or a compelling message out).

I read Malcom Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference with the goal of learning some characteristics that separate the hits from the misses. I was not disappointed. Gladwell likens social adoption to be like viruses, and maps characteristics of people (connectors, messengers, mavens, etc) into the delivery system to make his point. Anyone interested in viral marketing should read the first few chapters of this book to gain his perspective on how social messages spread.

One of the very interesting concepts Gladwell explores is his Rule of 150. He quotes various academic research on the matter and constructs a very interesting view of the number of social interactions an average person can maintain. He then shows examples of the rule of 150 in the real world and talks about Gore factories in New England. Evidently, they have found an ideal factory size employs no more than 150 people, at which point performance indicators begin to show a decline. I am not sure whether it was an anecdote or actually true, but he says that they only put 150 parking spots at each factory and when people start parking on the grass they know it is time to add a facility. This is only one of the"tipping points" explored in the book, but is certainly interesting to see in practice.

My main take away from the book in terms of software delivery mapped more into the change management aspects of project delivery and less to the actual development of the software. It is simply not practical or necessarily appropraite within every application to put word-of-mouth actions (e.g. Invite a Friend). When rolling out any new system, it is important to get the buy-in of your Mavens (so they don't poo-poo you) and construct a message that your connectors can buy into and repeat. Getting these folks on board early in the process can help avoid building another ghost town.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

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