Are you a Connector?

In this excerpt, this clinic from the Introduction of The Tipping Point, website I talk about what it means to think of the world in epidemic terms.

A world that follows the rules of epidemics is a very different place from the world we think we live in now. Think, what is ed for a moment, about the concept of contagiousness. If I say that word to you, you think of colds and the flu or perhaps something very dangerous like H.I.V. or Ebola. We have, in our minds, a very specific, biological, notion of what contagiousness means. But if there can be epidemics of crime or epidemics of fashion, there must be all kinds of things just as contagious as viruses. Have you ever thought about yawning, for instance? Yawning is a surprisingly powerful act. Just by reading the two yawns in the previous two sentences–and the two additional yawns in this sentence–a good number of you will probably yawn within the next few minutes. Even as I’m writing this I’ve yawned twice. If you’re reading this in a public place, and you’ve just yawned, chances are that a good proportion of everyone who saw you yawn is now yawning too, and a good proportion of the people watching the people who watched you yawn are now yawning as well, and on and on, in a ever-widening, yawning circle.

Yawning is incredibly contagious. I made some of you reading this yawn simply by writing the word “yawn”. The people who yawned when they saw you yawn, meanwhile, were infected by the sight of you yawning–which is a second kind of contagion. They might even have yawned if they only heard you yawn, because yawning is also aurally contagious: if you play an audio-tape of a yawn to blind people, they’ll yawn too. And finally, if you yawned as you read this, did the thought cross your mind–however unconsciously and fleetingly–that you might be tired? I suspect that for some of you it did, which means that yawns can also be emotionally contagious. Simply by writing the word, I can plant a feeling in your mind. Can the flu virus do that? Contagiousness, in other words, is an unexpected property of all kinds of things, and we have to remember that if we are to recognize and diagnose epidemic change.

The second of the principles of epidemics–that little changes can somehow have big effects and vice versa–is a also a fairly radical notion. We are, as humans, heavily socialized to make a kind of rough approximation between cause and effect. If we want to communicate a strong emotion, if we want to convince someone that, say, we love them, we realize that we need to speak passionate and forthrightly. If we want to break bad news to someone, we lower our voices and choose our words carefully. We are trained to think that what goes in to any transaction or relationship or system must be directly related, in intensity and dimension, to what comes out.. Consider, for example, the following puzzle. I give you a large piece of paper, 1/100th of a inch thick. (That’s a typical thickness). I want you to fold it over once, and then take that folded paper and fold it over again, and then again, and again, until you have refolded the original paper 50 times. How tall do you think the final stack is going to be? If you ask people that question they’ll fold the sheets in their mind’s eye, and usually answer that the pile would be as thick as a phone book or, if they’re really courageous, they’ll say that it would be as tall as a refrigerator. But the real answer is that the height of the stack would approximate the distance to the sun. And if you folded it over one more time, the stack would be as high as the distance to the sun and back. This is an example of what in mathematics is called a geometric progression. Epidemics are another example of geometric progression: when a virus spreads through a population, it doubles and doubles again, until it has (figuratively) grown from a single sheet of paper all the way to the sun in fifty steps. As human beings we have a hard time with this kind of progression, because the end result–the effect–seems far out of proportion to the cause. To appreciate the power of epidemics, we have to abandon this expectation about proportionality. We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly.
In this excerpt, clinic from the Introduction of The Tipping Point, I talk about what it means to think of the world in epidemic terms.

A world that follows the rules of epidemics is a very different place from the world we think we live in now. Think, for a moment, about the concept of contagiousness. If I say that word to you, you think of colds and the flu or perhaps something very dangerous like H.I.V. or Ebola. We have, in our minds, a very specific, biological, notion of what contagiousness means. But if there can be epidemics of crime or epidemics of fashion, there must be all kinds of things just as contagious as viruses. Have you ever thought about yawning, for instance? Yawning is a surprisingly powerful act. Just by reading the two yawns in the previous two sentences–and the two additional yawns in this sentence–a good number of you will probably yawn within the next few minutes. Even as I’m writing this I’ve yawned twice. If you’re reading this in a public place, and you’ve just yawned, chances are that a good proportion of everyone who saw you yawn is now yawning too, and a good proportion of the people watching the people who watched you yawn are now yawning as well, and on and on, in a ever-widening, yawning circle.

Yawning is incredibly contagious. I made some of you reading this yawn simply by writing the word “yawn”. The people who yawned when they saw you yawn, meanwhile, were infected by the sight of you yawning–which is a second kind of contagion. They might even have yawned if they only heard you yawn, because yawning is also aurally contagious: if you play an audio-tape of a yawn to blind people, they’ll yawn too. And finally, if you yawned as you read this, did the thought cross your mind–however unconsciously and fleetingly–that you might be tired? I suspect that for some of you it did, which means that yawns can also be emotionally contagious. Simply by writing the word, I can plant a feeling in your mind. Can the flu virus do that? Contagiousness, in other words, is an unexpected property of all kinds of things, and we have to remember that if we are to recognize and diagnose epidemic change.

The second of the principles of epidemics–that little changes can somehow have big effects and vice versa–is a also a fairly radical notion. We are, as humans, heavily socialized to make a kind of rough approximation between cause and effect. If we want to communicate a strong emotion, if we want to convince someone that, say, we love them, we realize that we need to speak passionate and forthrightly. If we want to break bad news to someone, we lower our voices and choose our words carefully. We are trained to think that what goes in to any transaction or relationship or system must be directly related, in intensity and dimension, to what comes out.. Consider, for example, the following puzzle. I give you a large piece of paper, 1/100th of a inch thick. (That’s a typical thickness). I want you to fold it over once, and then take that folded paper and fold it over again, and then again, and again, until you have refolded the original paper 50 times. How tall do you think the final stack is going to be? If you ask people that question they’ll fold the sheets in their mind’s eye, and usually answer that the pile would be as thick as a phone book or, if they’re really courageous, they’ll say that it would be as tall as a refrigerator. But the real answer is that the height of the stack would approximate the distance to the sun. And if you folded it over one more time, the stack would be as high as the distance to the sun and back. This is an example of what in mathematics is called a geometric progression. Epidemics are another example of geometric progression: when a virus spreads through a population, it doubles and doubles again, until it has (figuratively) grown from a single sheet of paper all the way to the sun in fifty steps. As human beings we have a hard time with this kind of progression, because the end result–the effect–seems far out of proportion to the cause. To appreciate the power of epidemics, we have to abandon this expectation about proportionality. We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly.
In this excerpt, rx from the Introduction of <em>The Tipping Point</em>, viagra I talk about what it means to think of the world in epidemic terms.

A world that follows the rules of epidemics is a very different place from the world we think we live in now. Think, for a moment, about the concept of contagiousness. If I say that word to you, you think of colds and the flu or perhaps something very dangerous like H.I.V. or Ebola. We have, in our minds, a very specific, biological, notion of what contagiousness means. But if there can be epidemics of crime or epidemics of fashion, there must be all kinds of things just as contagious as viruses. Have you ever thought about yawning, for instance? Yawning is a surprisingly powerful act. Just by reading the two yawns in the previous two sentences–and the two additional yawns in this sentence–a good number of you will probably yawn within the next few minutes. Even as I’m writing this I’ve yawned twice. If you’re reading this in a public place, and you’ve just yawned, chances are that a good proportion of everyone who saw you yawn is now yawning too, and a good proportion of the people watching the people who watched you yawn are now yawning as well, and on and on, in a ever-widening, yawning circle.

Yawning is incredibly contagious. I made some of you reading this yawn simply by writing the word “yawn”. The people who yawned when they saw you yawn, meanwhile, were infected by the sight of you yawning–which is a second kind of contagion. They might even have yawned if they only heard you yawn, because yawning is also aurally contagious: if you play an audio-tape of a yawn to blind people, they’ll yawn too. And finally, if you yawned as you read this, did the thought cross your mind–however unconsciously and fleetingly–that you might be tired? I suspect that for some of you it did, which means that yawns can also be emotionally contagious. Simply by writing the word, I can plant a feeling in your mind. Can the flu virus do that? Contagiousness, in other words, is an unexpected property of all kinds of things, and we have to remember that if we are to recognize and diagnose epidemic change.

The second of the principles of epidemics–that little changes can somehow have big effects and vice versa–is a also a fairly radical notion. We are, as humans, heavily socialized to make a kind of rough approximation between cause and effect. If we want to communicate a strong emotion, if we want to convince someone that, say, we love them, we realize that we need to speak passionate and forthrightly. If we want to break bad news to someone, we lower our voices and choose our words carefully. We are trained to think that what goes in to any transaction or relationship or system must be directly related, in intensity and dimension, to what comes out.. Consider, for example, the following puzzle. I give you a large piece of paper, 1/100th of a inch thick. (That’s a typical thickness). I want you to fold it over once, and then take that folded paper and fold it over again, and then again, and again, until you have refolded the original paper 50 times. How tall do you think the final stack is going to be? If you ask people that question they’ll fold the sheets in their mind’s eye, and usually answer that the pile would be as thick as a phone book or, if they’re really courageous, they’ll say that it would be as tall as a refrigerator. But the real answer is that the height of the stack would approximate the distance to the sun. And if you folded it over one more time, the stack would be as high as the distance to the sun and back. This is an example of what in mathematics is called a geometric progression. Epidemics are another example of geometric progression: when a virus spreads through a population, it doubles and doubles again, until it has (figuratively) grown from a single sheet of paper all the way to the sun in fifty steps. As human beings we have a hard time with this kind of progression, because the end result–the effect–seems far out of proportion to the cause. To appreciate the power of epidemics, we have to abandon this expectation about proportionality. We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly.
In Chapter Two of The Tipping Point, try I talk about the central role that three personality types–that I call Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen–play in social epidemics. In this excerpt, I describe a simple test that anyone can take to tell whether they fall into the first of those categories, the Connector.

What makes someone a Connector? The first–and most obvious–criterion is that Connectors know lots of people. They are the kinds of people who know everyone. All of us know someone like this. But I don’t think that we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people. I’m not even sure that most of us really believe that the kind of person who knows everyone really knows everyone. But they do. There is a simple way to show this. In the paragraph below is a list of around 250 surnames, all taken at random from the Manhattan phone book. Go down the list and give yourself a point every time you see a surname that is shared by someone you know. (The definition of “know” here is very broad. It is if you sat down next to that person on a train, you would know their name if they introduced themselves to you, and they would know your name.) Multiple names count. If the name is Johnson, in other words, and you know three Johnsons, you get three points. The idea is that your score on this test should roughly represent how social you are. It’s a simple way of estimating how many friends and acquaintances you have.

Algazi, Alvarez, Alpern, Ametrano, Andrews, Aran, Arnstein, Ashford, Bailey Ballout, Bamberger, Baptista, Barr, Barrows, Baskerville, Bassiri, Bell, Bokgese, Brandao, Bravo, Brooke, Brightman, Billy, Blau, Bohen, Bohn, Borsuk, Brendle, Butler, Calle, Cantwell, Carrell, Chinlund, Cirker, Cohen, Collas, Couch, Callegher, Calcaterra, Cook, Carey, Cassell, Chen, Chung, Clarke, Cohn, Carton, Crowley, Curbelo, Dellamanna, Diaz, Dirar, Duncan, Dagostino, Delakas, Dillon, Donaghey, Daly, Dawson, Edery, Ellis, Elliott, Eastman, Easton, Famous, Fermin, Fialco, Finklestein, Farber, Falkin, Feinman, Friedman, Gardner, Gelpi, Glascock, Grandfield, Greenbaum Greenwood, Gruber, Garil, Goff, Gladwell, Greenup, Gannon, Ganshaw, Garcia, Gennis, Gerard, Gericke, Gilbert, Glassman, Glazer, Gomendio, Gonzalez, Greenstein, Guglielmo, Gurman, Haberkorn, Hoskins, Hussein, Hamm, Hardwick, Harrell, Hauptman, Hawkins, Henderson, Hayman, Hibara, Hehmann, Herbst, Hedges, Hogan, Hoffman, Horowitz, Hsu, Huber, Ikiz, Jaroschy, Johann, Jacobs, Jara, Johnson, Kassel, Keegan, Kuroda, Kavanau, Keller, Kevill, Kiew, Kimbrough, Kline, Kossoff, Kotzitzky, Kahn, Kiesler, Kosser, Korte, Leibowitz, Lin, Liu, Lowrance, Lundh, Laux, Leifer, Leung, Levine, Leiw, Lockwood, Logrono, Lohnes, Lowet, Laber, Leonardi, Marten, McLean, Michaels, Miranda, Moy, Marin, Muir, Murphy, Marodon, Matos, Mendoza, Muraki, Neck, Needham, Noboa, Null, O’Flynn, O’Neill, Orlowski, Perkins, Pieper, Pierre, Pons, Pruska, Paulino, Popper, Potter, Purpura, Palma, Perez, Portocarrero, Punwasi, Rader, Rankin, Ray, Reyes, Richardson, Ritter, Roos, Rose, Rosenfeld, Roth, Rutherford, Rustin, Ramos, Regan, Reisman, Renkert, Roberts, Rowan, Rene, Rosario, Rothbart, Saperstein, Schoenbrod, Schwed, Sears, Statosky, Sutphen, Sheehy, Silverton, Silverman, Silverstein, Sklar, Slotkin, Speros, Stollman, Sadowski, Schles, Shapiro, Sigdel, Snow, Spencer, Steinkol, Stewart, Stires, Stopnik, Stonehill, Tayss, Tilney, Temple, Torfield, Townsend, Trimpin, Turchin, Villa, Vasillov, Voda, Waring, Weber, Weinstein, Wang, Wegimont, Weed, Weishaus.

I have given this test to at least a dozen groups of people. One was a freshman World Civilizations class at City College in Manhattan. The students were all in their late teens or early twenties, many of them recent immigrants to American, of middle and lower income. The average score in that class was 20.96, meaning that the average person in the class knew 21 people with the same last names as the people on my list. I also gave the test to a group of health educators and academics at a conference in Princeton New Jersey. This group was mostly in their 40’s and 50’s, largely white, highly educated–many had PhD’s–and predominatly upper income. Their average score was 39. Then I gave the test to a relatively random sample of my friends and acquaintances, mostly journalists and professionals in their late 20’s and 30’s. The average score was 41. These results shouldn’t be all that surprising. College students don’t have as wide a circle of acquaintances as people in their 40’s. It makes sense that between the age of 20 and 40 the number of people you know should roughly double, and that upper-income professionals should know more people than lower-income immigrants. In every group there was also quite a range between the highest and the lowest-scorers. That makes sense too, I think. Real estate salesmen know more people than computer hackers. What was surprising, though, was how enormous that range was. In the college class, the low score was 2 and the high score was 95. In my random sample, the low score was 9 and the high score was 118. Even at the conference in Princeton, which was a highly homogenous group of people of similar age, education and income–who were all, with a few exceptions, in the same profession–the range was enormous. The lowest score was 16. The highest score was 108. All told, I have given the test to about 400 people. Of those, there were two dozen or so scores under 20, and eight over 90, and four more over 100. The other surprising thing is that I found high scorers in every social group I looked at. The scores of the students at City College were less, on average, than adult scores. But even in that group there are people whose social circle is four or five times the size of other people’s. Sprinkled among every walk of life, in other words, are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors.