The Three Rules of Epidemics
“Epidemics are a function of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating. And when an epidemic tips, when it is jolted out of equilibrium, it tips because something has happened, some change has occurred in one (or two or three) of those areas:”
- The Law of the Few
- The Stickiness Factor
- The Power of Context
The Law of the Few
“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.” These people can be classfied into:
- They are “people specialists”.
- “They are the kinds of people who know everyone” and have a “knack [for] making friends and acquaintances.”
- They cultivate and master “the ‘weak tie,’ a friendly yet casual social connection” while most people don’t maintain acquaintance relationships.
- “…By having a foot in so many different worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together.”
- They are “information specialists”.
- They are active accumulators of information and knowledge experts.
- “They want to tell you about [their information] too. … They are socially motivated.”
- “They know things that the rest of us don’t. They read more magazines than the rest of us, more newspapers,” etc.
- They are persuasion specialists.
- They have “the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.”
- They have mastered “non-verbal cues”, “interactional synchrony”, and “emotional contagion”, all of which are subtle communication interactions shown to be strong in persuasion.
The Stickiness Factor
Simply: “in order to be capable of sparking epidemics, ideas have to be memorable and move us to action.”
“If you paid careful attention to the structure and format of your material, you could dramatically enhance stickiness. … All you have to do is find it” through careful research and analysis. “Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. They deliberately test their intuitions.”
The Power of Context
“Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. … We are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us. … With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.”
- The Broken Windows Theory
- “If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. …Crime is contagious… it can start with a broken window and spread to an entire community.”
- Fundamental Attribution Error
- “There are specific situations so powerful that they can overwhelm our inherent dispositions. …When it comes to interpreting other people’s behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context.” Basically, a person can act very differently, almost contradictory, from situation to situation.
- Channel Capacity
- “The amount of space in our brain for certain kinds of information. …We can only handle so much information at once. Once we pass a certain boundary, we become overwhelmed.”
- Social Channel Capacity
- The amount of space in our brain for social information, like relationships, personal dynamics, group dynamics, etc.
- Rule of 150
- 150 people is the average optimal size of a human community. “Keeping [groups] under 150 just seems to be the best and most efficient way to manage a group of people.” Any larger, and communities tend to split apart naturally. This has happened throughout human history.
- Transactive Memory
- “When people know each other well, they create an implicit joint memory system… which is based on an understanding about who is best suited to remember what kinds of things.” Members of a group tend to fall into roles and gain expertise in certain areas.