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Where the tipping point missed the point

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Damon Centola’s work unpacked assumptions in networks that related to how ideas/behavior spread through networks via “strong vs. weak” ties.  For many years, and argued well in Gladwell’s Tipping Point, the belief was that all ideas spread like viruses through networks. Daemon’s work points out that what is important is the distinction between simple contagions (ideas/actions that requires a single contact) vs complex contagions (ideas/actions that require multiple contacts and social reinforcement).

Many cultural practices require social reinforcement, particularly when there is uncertainty & risk, run against norms, or interdependence with other technologies. What is important to know is how complex the idea/action is in how it spreads. When looking at how ideas/practices diffuse, weak ties and small worlds may inhibit diffusion of complex idea/practices. To spread them, what is key is creating “clustered” models in which people are socially reinforcing behaviors. In clustered networks, you see more rapid diffusion of complex.   Moreover, clustered networks create more engagement and commitment to the adapted idea/behaviors. I wonder: How might we know what ideas/behaviors will require social reinforcement? Is it more likely that simple and complex contagions happen simultaneously within a social system? Can we pilot ideas/behaviors in a way in which we can learn how difficult adoption is then change our strategies?

Harvard Graduate School of Education