Malcolm Gladwell has probably occupied the pedestal long enough. In a new article in Fast Company, a researcher from Yahoo questions the concepts behind the Tipping Point - especially the concept that there are a small number of influencers who create or drive new trends. Researcher Duncan Watts suggests that what drives trends is less about who is driving the trend, and more about how susceptible people are to the trend.
In the article the author seeks balance and contacts Gladwell for a response. In typical Gladwellian fashion, Gladwell neither accepts nor rejects Watt's theory. Well, which is it? Are trends driven by a very small cadre of people who advocate new ideas and communicate them broadly throughout their network? Or can anyone create a trend as long as people are ready and susceptible?
It would seem that there are several other rationales for why an idea, a trend or a fad gets spread and how quickly it is adopted or rejected. For instance, how easily accessible is the trend? Hush Puppies are available in many shoe stores, so they are ubiquitous in that sense. Another factor is the cost of acquisition and trial. Hush Puppies don't cost all that much, and we all need shoes. I think another factor is the "fun" factor - is the new idea really different and does it make your day more interesting or more "fun"? I don't know if Hush Puppies did that. Finally, it would seem that how communicable the trend or idea is would have an impact as well.
It would also seem that these theories should be easy to test. If Influencers do drive most of the adoption of a new trend or idea, let's run an experiment where they advocate a really crazy or hideous idea - for example, pink angora sweaters with lime green trim. If theses Influencers drive others to purchase these sweaters, then we can assume the Influencer model is correct. I tend to have my doubts however.
Gladwell's book is interesting and a great read, but on further consideration it should have been clear all along that a number of factors play into whether or not an idea or trend takes off. We as managers or marketers like the idea of influencing a few people who then communicate and influence a much broader swath of people, and to an extent that concept is still true, but there are a number of other attributes that come into play that we need to take into consideration when marketing a product or service.