Thursday, September 15, 2005

Why isn’t it tipping?

``The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire… The tipping point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point…It is the name given to that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all that once.’’

Those definitions are from the bestseller and page-turner ``The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Different’’ by Malcolm Gladwell. (His latest is ``Blink’’.)

I think of the tipping point this way: Imagine holding a tray with a handful of marbles on one side. You tip the tray at an angle but the marbles seem unwilling to roll over to the other side. You tip some more. Then at a certain angle of the tray the marbles suddenly all roll in unison to the other side.

At that tipping point, movement takes place. This example, similar to the seesaw, illustrates in a physical way the so-called tipping point phenomenon which political watchers—in barbershops and beauty salons, political circles, cockpits, churches, academe--are anticipating.

When would it happen? How would it happen? Why isn’t it happening? ``It’’ is some kind of People Power 3, reminiscent of the previous two that saw a long-staying dictator and a president, just two years in office, removed dramatically.

Just an aside. ``The tipping point’’ has found its way to the lips of politicians who love the phrases ``at the end of the day’’ and--this one will make Einstein and editors cringe--``at this point in time’’.

Since Day One of the political crisis engulfing the Arroyo administration, spawned by the so-called ``Hello, Garci’’ tapes, people have been anticipating, either with eagerness or with dread, PGMA’s downfall. Many thought it would be in early July when a series of events happened in one day. There were bold moves, such as cabinet resignations, protests in the streets and louder calls for PGMA’s stepping down, with no less than former Pres. Cory Aquino in the lead.

That day the clamor seemed to be peaking and the balance seemed to be tipping. And if you based your predictions on the way things appeared on TV, it was just a matter of hours or days, even as loyal local government officials from the provinces made the opposite move and came to the President’s rescue.

PGMA didn’t resign. The tide against her wasn’t forceful enough to topple her.

The impeachment process in Congress took place. The much-watched process was nipped in the bud early on during the longest-in-history plenary session. More than 200 valedictories with immortal quotations–from Mother Teresa, Saint Paul, Aristotle, Newton to Cardinal Sin--yielded 158-52-6.

Again, street protests, led by Mrs. Aquino and a mix of ideologically and politically incompatible and divergent bedfellows linking arms, ensued.

Still, the balance didn’t tip. People Power 3 wasn’t happening. Why?

Tired of waiting for it to happen? Relieved that it hasn’t happened? Baffled and befuddled?

Maybe we can learn a thing or two from Gladwell’s explorations on how social epidemics spread, whether these are fashion trends, diseases, behavior patterns or crime. As journalist Deirdre Donahue said: ``One of the most interesting aspects of Gladwell’s book is the way it reaffirms that human beings are profoundly social beings influenced by and influencing other human beings, no matter how much technology we introduce into our lives.’’

That seems to be telling us not to trust the texting brigade too much that we forget there are other more effective ways like, um, word of mouth and having the right people say the right things. The right people to cast the first stone.

Gladwell does not just propose answers from out of the blue. He explains away by investigating true-to-life events that showed how the tipping point phenomena occurred. How did Hush Puppies regain its popularity in a spontaneous way? Why did the Baltimore syphilis epidemic peak? What was it about Paul Revere and his midnight ride across Boston in 1775 that resulted in the routing of the British and the start of the war known as the American Revolution? Why did Paul Revere’s warning tip while another crier’s did not?

Gladwell also expounds on the results of experiments conducted by social psychologists, such as the one by Stanley Milgram who wanted to find an answer to what is called the ``small-world’’ problem. How are human beings connected? Do we all belong to separate worlds or are we all bound up together in an interlocking web? How does an idea, or a piece of news—the British are coming!—travel through a population?

The results were confounding.

Gladwell summarizes the rules of the Tipping Point into three: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context.

The Law of the Few says that through social connections, energy, enthusiasm and personality, word spreads.

The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable; there are relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information that make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.

The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.

So why is it not tipping? Or to use another situation, why is the cake not rising? Maybe the ingredients are old, stale and spoiled. Maybe the ingredients are incompatible.

``The Tipping Point’’ is also about changing one’s way of looking at the world. I did that two weeks ago by attending a seminar on the Quantum World under Dr. Ibarra ``Nim’’ Gonzales.