Who’s going to help you tip the change?

Pixabay – Open Clipart-Vectors 

In the Switch, Chip and Dan Heath (2010) explained the value of growing your people.  In particular, they noted the value of identity and a growth mindset. I was struck by their question, “How can you make your change a matter of identity rather than a matter of consequence?” (p. 154).  After all, they shared that a change which violates a person’s identity is likely doomed to fail and mere incentives will not change people’s behaviour (p. 154).

We see it in education… most students don’t change just because there’s a consequence and in business team’s don’t just increase their numbers because there’s a bonus.  It’s deeper than a simple exchange of service.  Each person is motivated by a different set of experiences, when you can unite your team toward a common goal that they truly believe in – that’s when you will see the most growth.

As a leader, how often do you stop to think about the identity or mindset that you are fostering?  James March identified two models of decision making.  People either make a rational decision based on an analysis of the pros and cons or they decide based on the identity they’ve adopted.   March suggested people using the identity model decide based on three questions,

“Who am I?
What kind of situation is this?
What would someone like me do in this situation?”
(Heath, 2010, p. 153).

Rational doesn’t always win and identities aren’t written in stone.

As a leader with ethos and logos, you may convince the rational rider of the value and cost effectiveness of your plan, but if the emotional elephant (pathos) isn’t moved by the numbers they won’t travel very far down the path with you. It goes back to knowing your students and your people.  What matters to them?  Have you listened first and spoke last?

Take for instance the fascinating example of Brasilata.  It illustrated how identities can be adopted and shaped over the course of people’s lives.  The Heath’s wrote of how Brasilata  chose to create an inventor identity.  Everyone in the company was considered an inventor and it was their job to share their ideas.  The company, in turn, built on the ideas suggested and in time became one of the top leaders in steel can manufacturing (p. 156-157).  As an educator, the story of how one principal changed the identity of a down and out inner city school to a one of striving for excellence was heart warming.  It’s certainly not easy, but there are bright spots.

Pixabay – Geralt 

It also turns out that there are 3 key types of people you want involved in your change efforts.  In fact as Malcolm Gladwell (2006) wrote, they will tip the change.  Have you heard of connectors, mavens and salesmen?

First, you need to find your connectors.  These are the people who know lots of people in a diverse variety of social circles.  They also make it a habit to introduce people from different circles.  They are the connectors. Think about who you know and who introduced you to those people….often, Gladwell noted, those connectors show up over and over in how you met your friends.

As an introvert, connectors are very helpful.  Finding people who genuinely care about connecting you with other people of similar interests decreases the energy it costs to meet new people. When I’m connected with a person who has similar interests, you can get right to the issues rather than the preliminary small talk. Less stressing about meeting people means more time investing in real learning.

You’ve likely identified the connectors, but have you thought about the mavens?  They are the “people we rely upon to connect us with new information” (p. 19). They are the curators of knowledge about very specific topics.  We all know them.  They are the people you go to when you have a question about something specific; moreover, you trust them and what they say because they have a great track record. People buy or go places because these people recommended it.

Lastly, you have your persuaders sometimes known as salesmen. Not the stereotypical used car salesman, but rather people with well developed rhetoric skill.  They have ethos (you trust them), they know their stuff (logos) and they can sell (pathos – emotion). Even their body language cues your brain to buy in.  We’ve all heard them.  They are the TED speakers that Carmine Gallo (2014) wrote about.  They are the people you would follow to places you’ve never wanted to go.  Their energy and enthusiasm is contagious.

To this day, I still remember attending my first Sciematics conference as a young biology teacher and listening to Brian Keating speak.  By the end of the session I wanted to travel to Antarctica and camp on the ice just to learn more about the penguins.  (I didn’t really but in that moment it sure felt like I did)  Just a few weeks ago I listened to Color By Amber Executive Chairman and Founder, Talley Goodson.  As he shared his passion for design and innovation in a way that not only gives back to the artisans but makes the planet a better place, his positive energy was contagious.  He not only wants to make the world a better place, he’s committed to making it happen.  Who doesn’t want to be part of that.

So we need all kinds of people to sustain change.  Gladwell (2006), Gallo (2014) and the Heath’s (2010) emphasized the fact the your message has to be sticky.  People have to remember the change to actually share it.  In fact in today’s social media world, Gallo (2014) reminded us that you need to be able to share your message in 140 characters or less.

Finally, remember the power of context.  Gladwell (2006) asked readers to think about the broken windows effect.  That is… our behaviour changes to fit the context of the environment in which we function.  If you walk down a dirty street with garbage strewn all around and broken windows surrounded by graffiti filled storefronts, the petty crime rate goes up.  An increase in small crimes is the gateway to more violent crimes.  So when people talk about cleaning up the streets, it does actually make a difference.  Start with the small changes and the bigger ones will follow.

As a leader, how are you empowering your team to shape the path to sustainable change?  Will it happen in the climate and culture you currently exist in?  Like Cloud (2013) said, “you always get what you create and what you allow” (Boundaries for Leaders, p. xvi).

Where do you want to be?




What or Who causes ideas to tip?

A Review of
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
By: Malcom Gladwell

book coverJust as the title promised, Gladwell explained how it’s the little things over time that make the difference and in the end cause the change to tip.  Despite being written in 2006, the basic ideas still resonated strongly with me and added to my perspective of how change comes to be in the world around us. As leaders, The Tipping Point reminded us to appreciate the people in our network and value the the small changes because in the end it’s more often the combination of small consistent changes that have shaped the world around us than large sweeping initiatives.

Gladwell skillfully uses real life case studies and stories to engage the reader in an interesting journey through the evolution of an idea.   He compared an idea to that of an epidemic.  One moment or perhaps for years it’s just an idea or how things have always been and then it hits the tipping point and everything changes. He referenced New York City’s drop in crime and why Paul Revere’s ride changed history and the other guy’s didn’t.  Did you know there was another rider that tried to warn of the British invasion?  By encouraging us to reflect on the world around us, Gladwell opened our minds to the possibilities of change and helped us understand why some ideas spread. He also noted the factors that help ideas catch fire.

It seems simple that good ideas will spread.  People get excited, they share their ideas and the effect ripples out.  It would be interesting to read an updated afterword by Gladwell based on the changes in social media in the last 10 years, but I imagine he’d say the same types of people still exist.  It’s just their medium and perhaps sphere of influence that has broadened.

“The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts” (p. 33).  That is the law of the few.  Gladwell explained that there are three key types of people in our world. Connectors, Maven and Salesmen.

Connectors are those in our networks that know lots of other people and their networks cross into many different types of social circles.  They enjoy bringing people together from different circles and introduce you.  Gladwell encouraged the reader to pause for a moment and think about your friends.  How did you meet them?  Who introduced you? More than likely, there’s one or two people that made those connections.   As an introvert, connectors are very important people to me.  They eliminate the need for small talk and connect you with people without requiring the extra energy it takes to meet strangers.  When you are brought together by a connector, you already have something in common to talk about.

Mavens are the “people we rely upon to connect us with new information” (p. 19) about specific topics. They are passionate about the topic they care about and you trust their advice. Just think about it.  Who’s your tech person?  Who recommends the best places to eat? Who do you ask when your car doesn’t work?  We all know mavens.  They want to share and they are often skilled communicators.

Lastly, Gladwell referred to the salesmen or those who are good at persuading.  Not only are they skilled verbal communicators, their body language seals the deal.  Interestingly, Gladwell mentioned the role of body language and the subtle ways these people exude persuasive body language.

Share your idea with one of these people and the chance of it spreading greatly increases, however, just sharing the idea won’t cause a word of mouth epidemic. He explained the message has to stick.  If people don’t remember it, they won’t share it.

What truly resonated with me, partially because the idea has come up in several other reads, was the power of context. People’s behaviour is reflective of the type of environment that’s been created.  It’s what he called the broken windows effect.  In short if we walk down a street with dilapidated old buildings, dark alleys, filled with garbage and lots of broken windows, we will act differently. The theory suggested that you will also see a higher violent crime rate.  Literally, clean up your streets and your crime rate will drop.

Filled with moving examples, Gladwell repeatedly draws the connections back to case studies and the complimentary research in a way that is sure to keep you turning the pages. It increases your awareness of the change happening around you and the next time something tips…maybe you’ll spot one of the reasons why.  Interestingly, Gladwell explained it’s not the huge changes that cause ideas to spread it’s the small, consistent actions that happen everyday that build into lasting change.

Leadership Connections:

  • What’s this have to do with being a leader?  Change is always happening.  As a leader, we are often asked to move change forward.  Understanding how change works and how you can tip change in a positive way, increases your chances at successfully reaching your goal.  Whether you want to improve your school or lead an effective team, understanding change will help you better support your team.
  • Do you know your people?  Can you spot the connectors, mavens and salespeople on your team?  The diversity of your team is an asset on which you can build the skills of everyone.
  • Understanding the value of the tipping point means that you don’t have to stand at the front and lecture people on what to do.  You need to come up with a sticky idea and shape the environment and then work with your team.
  • Gladwell offered interested readers the gateway to working on change. If you are ready, you have the opportunity to add more to your Leadership Toolbox.  Because you just never know when you might need to fix a broken window.


Gladwell, M. (2006). The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference . Little, Brown and Company.

~ Thanks to Eric Hufnagel, Superintendent of Learning NESD, for recommending this book. 

Image – Screenshot from Amazon.ca