Malcolm Gladwell, the author of the Tipping Point, wrote his famous Phone Book Test for Connectors:
250 last names … drawn randomly from a New York City phone … Gladwell writes:
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.
I tried the test myself and scored a 98 (see data below for a full breakdown). Though 98 would represent one of the most connected people Gladwell ever met, I assure you I am not that connected … one of the last names that Gladwell randomly selected was “Hoffman” — my last name.
Bailey 2 Bell 1 Butler 2 Cohen 4 Cook 3 Chen 5 Chung 1 Diaz 1 Duncan 4 Daly 1 Ellis 3 Friendman 5 Gruber 1 Garcia 1 Gilbert 2 Hawkins 3 Henderson 2 Hoffman 12 Jacobs 1 Johnson 10 Kahn 2 Lin 3 Liu 1 Levine 2 Michaels 1 Marin 1 Murphy 1 Mendoza 1 Perkins 3 Rader 1 Ray 1 Ritter 1 Rose 1 Rosenfeld 2 Roberts 1 Shapiro 1 Spencer 1 Stewart 3 Weinstein 1 Wang 5 Weed 1
I scored a 28, which is about average according to Gladwell. One interesting thing I noticed is that the first time I ran through the list (very quickly) I scored less than 20. I had to go back and do it again and REALLY think about people I’ve met in my life (work, school, friends, etc). I do believe there are certain “connectors” that know a great number of more people than us mere mortals, but I think some of it is not just that they know more people, but that their _memory_ of who they meet (even only one time) is much better as well. I find myself forgetting the last names of people I’ve known for years, so even if I really should score a 100 odds are I’d never recall that many names.
That’s where good software can come in to play. It wasn’t until my second pass, with the help of Outlook Express, that I got my score of 28 (which is probably much closer to my “true” score). It’s strange how easy it is for us to forget names, especially surnams. For some reason I gave myself a count of 0 for Liu when I was totally forgetting that one of my best friends is a Liu and I know his entire family.
The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend