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Tipping A Program: Introduction

Fresh off of finishing Blink, I picked up Tipping Point, a book about, "how little things can make a big difference," another book that I've finished by Malcolm Gladwell. Here's Gladwell on what Tipping Point is about:

It's a book about change. In particular, it's a book that presents a new way of understanding why change so often happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. For example, why did crime drop so dramatically in New York City in the mid-1990's? How does a novel written by an unknown author end up as national bestseller? Why do teens smoke in greater and greater numbers, when every single person in the country knows that cigarettes kill? Why is word-of-mouth so powerful? What makes TV shows like Sesame Street so good at teaching kids how to read? I think the answer to all those questions is the same. It's that ideas and behavior and messages and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease. They are social epidemics. The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.

The entire time I read this book I couldn't help but think that this can apply to a school or program looking to get up into that upper echelon of schools. Of course, my focus was on Texas Tech as I read this book and my thought was, would it be possible for a university to do something different, to create some sort of social epidemic that attracts top tier athletes and as a result becomes a top tier program?

In order to discuss how this might be done, I'm going to employ the help of DTN and anyone else who wants to brainstorm on this idea, but first, because I don't think that I can ask that each and every one of you read Tipping Point as an assignment, I thought I might talk about some of the theories and concepts from Tipping Point and then later we can examine how this might relate to a mid-tier program becoming a top tier program. This will be the first part of this series, an introduction of sorts, with each tenant discussed in detail later.

The first tenant of Gladwell is The Law of the Few. The idea is that there are certain individuals who are gifted and have the ability to collectively create a social epidemic. Connectors are those folks who seem to know everyone. They are connected, not by any forced means, but because of their personality or just being wired a little differently, they have a unique ability to connect with a large number of individuals. Mavens are individuals who gather information on products or services or whatever it is that the social epidemic entails. Quite simply, Mavens are experts. Last but not least, Salesmen are individuals who can convince those individuals to believe or sell that social epidemic.

The next part of the equation is the Stickiness Factor. It's the thought that in a social epidemic, an important aspect is to have a message that "sticks" or is memorable, which can be done without huge marketing dollars. It is typically a simple concept that literally sticks with individuals. Messages that are memorable.

The final tenant is the Law of Context. The context in which a social epidemic takes place has a much to do with the message or individuals who help make it an epidemic. There's also the idea of a small group being instrumental in that change and Gladwell points to numerous examples where a group of about 150 people is the right size because each person in that group is likely to still have a personal connection with anyone else in the group. Any group larger than that then there's a very good chance you lose that connectivity.

Here is my thought: Why can't a school or program create a tipping point in their favor? Certain schools are right there. They aren't upper tier schools, but they aren't lower tier schools either. Schools have such a difficult time trying to beat the giants at their own game. Texas Tech will probably never have more money that Texas or Oklahoma State. Nor will Texas Tech have recruits that live in their backyard like Texas A&M or USC or Florida.

I realize that perhaps this a really big concept that has little to zero chance of anyone ever taking hold, much less being discussed. A part of me says there's no way that this could work. Despite those negative thoughts, I think the point for me in this exercise is that could it be done. I've been having this conversation in my head for a month now and that's about all I can stand. But more than that, it's about trying to figure out a solution to the very real problem of a school like Texas Tech. We (Texas Tech fans) typically bemoan about overcoming history, tradition, location, a bigger talent base, etc., but I haven't seen anyone come up with any realistic ideas to really solve the problem. And yes, I do realize that spending more money (i.e. T. Boone Pickens) is one solution (although I wonder about how a coach feels when one benefactor owns him and whether or not I'd want to play in a situation like that), but for most schools it's not a viable method.

This is an exercise to discuss solving those obstacles.

A Series In Tipping A Program:

  • Introduction
  • The Law of Few
  • Stickiness Factor
  • Law of Context
  • Conclusion