Tipping Points: How Introverts Spread Big Ideas
The gist: Big ideas need not be championed by big personalities. Introverts are equipped to create tipping points by quietly influencing large groups from within.
If you’ve spent any time listening to the politicians, CEOs, and gurus of the world, you’d be forgiven thinking that, to lead people or get them to listen to your big ideas you have to be an outgoing extrovert who spends every waking moment shaking hands and kissing babies. You have to get in front of everyone.
But is it true? No, it is not.
You don’t have to go on a world tour or try to evangelize to everyone you meet to be a leader and make a difference in people’s lives. Actually, you can make big things happen just by connecting with a few people. When you connect with the right people, you can share your idea, sell your product, get people to use your app—whatever it is you want to influence—without overwhelming yourself.
When you have a great idea and you communicate it to the right people in the right way, you can achieve a tipping point—the point where your idea will continue to spread without any effort from you—quickly and without burning yourself out.
If you’ve always thought you had to pretend to be an extrovert to get people to pay attention to your ideas, this could be a life-changing realization.
In fact, introverts have a natural advantage when it comes to sharing powerful ideas. They’re hard-wired to build deeper connections with fewer people, so we naturally reserve our energy and focus it on the people who are most aligned with us.
In fact, if you want to get better at creating tipping points for your ideas, products, whatever, then you’d benefit from learning to be more like an introvert.
But how do you get started? How do tipping points really happen, and what do you need to do to make sure your ideas have the best shot at reaching one?
Let’s dig in.
How Do Tipping Points Work?
Remember when you were in school? It’s the last class of the day and everyone watches the clock tick off the minutes while your teacher struggles to keep your attention. Someone in the back who’d given up on the lesson an hour ago starts to quietly pack their bag. They try to stay quiet and avoid attention, but someone else notices and starts packing up, too.
Then, a third person notices the two others and does the same. Finally, a fourth person notices the third person and starts putting her books away. Seconds later, the entire class is packing up. I call this the Professor Problem.
What just happened? A tipping point. Pay attention to that fourth impatient person. What made her pack up? It was the influence of the third. That’s an important distinction because, until her, everyone else packing had been influenced by the original—the person who started it all.
Three steps into the chain reaction and 30 people are packing their bags. Most of them have no idea where it started. Many of them don’t even know why they’re doing it. They’re just following along.
Tipping points happen when the people you influence start influencing others. You no longer have to do anything to share your idea. If you disappear into oblivion, your influence will continue to spread because the idea doesn’t rely on you anymore.
This is the sign of success for anyone on a mission to share an idea.
In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, he describes in great detail how tipping points form and what people with ideas worth spreading can do to get attention.
So, we know you can spread an idea beyond yourself and your own connections by creating a tipping point, but what actually goes into doing that successfully? How can you engineer your idea so it’s influential and ready to spread like wildfire?
In my own research about how to create tipping points and share ideas—especially for introverts who have a limited amount of social energy to invest—I found some promising ideas in a place I hadn’t considered before: crowd psychology.
What Is Crowd Psychology?
To understand how people are influenced by ideas, you have to understand a little about crowd psychology.
Put simply, we behave in profoundly different ways when we’re alone and thinking for ourselves versus when we’re in a group or we identify as part of a community. We all like to think we’re in control of our actions, but the truth is that when we’re around others—or even when we associate ourselves with others—we make decisions differently.
And the way we make those decisions (and how our strings can be pulled to make them in the way someone wants us to) has been uncovered by an enlightening study funded by the United Kingdom. The goal of their research is to better manage crowds in emergency situations1, but what they uncovered is incredibly useful for introverts who want to take their ideas as far as possible without having to become a leader who is involved every step of the way.
Here’s what they learned and how you can use it.
Make Your Ideas Feel Like the Easiest / Safest Options
If you want people to listen to your ideas, they have to feel easy and safe.
One of the most important discoveries the UK researchers made is that people tend to choose the easiest and / or safest route to get where they need to go.
They noted that we’re basically shortcut machines and will always take routes with the fewest bends and the clearest views and will get us to our destination as quickly as possible.
I think back to my college days at Portland State and this is intuitively true. It’s a beautiful, urban campus with a park in the center. The defined pathways are simple and straight, but often inefficient. Where the trees aren’t dense and you can see from one side to the other, the grass is worn down into a dirt trail because everyone takes shortcuts. Why follow the path when it’s faster and just as safe to go a different way?
If you’re saying to yourself, “Well, that’s obvious!” you’re right. It’s completely obvious… for walking.
But what about ideas and how they spread? So often, in an attempt to make ourselves appear smarter or more unique, we over-complicate our ideas, adding unnecessary details for no good reason. In trying to make ourselves stand out, we make the “route” harder and longer for others to follow. So, fewer people follow.
Want people to listen to your ideas? Make it easy for them!
Focus on the Immediate, Short-Term Benefits
It’s not impossible to persuade people to listen to a complex idea, but it takes work.
Another finding from the crowd control research was that, when necessary, you can get people to choose a more difficult path, but you have to do a lot of convincing to make them choose it. For instance, groups will choose a longer, less direct path if it’s well-lit, inviting, clearly marked, and clean.
We’re afraid to make wrong moves. We don’t like taking paths where we can’t clearly see the end because we’re afraid we won’t end up where we actually want to go. It’s a human tendency to fear what you might lose more than appreciate what you might gain.
What does this mean for creating a tipping point and sharing an idea?
It means you can overcome objections to your idea by refining it to make it more attractive. It’s more work but, if you’re committed, you can spend more time educating people about your idea. This will give them that “clear path” they’re hard-wired to look for.
Right now, I’m standing as I type this. My legs hurt a little and I’m struggling to keep my mind on my work. Why would I do that when it’s so much easier to sit? Because, a few weeks ago, a friend sent me an article about how sitting for a full work day is destroying my body. But it didn’t stop there. He also showed me a few smart things to do—including standing up—to counteract it and get some benefit from the change right away.
He explained his alternate solution and dressed it up so I would have everything I need to actually do it. And I did.
To convince people to listen to a difficult idea, you have to do more than just show them how things will be better in the end. You have to show them how following that path will make things better right now. Just like someone walking to the store would choose the clean sidewalk on the well-lit street over the dark, narrow shortcut because it’s more attractive.
Look for Small Groups—Not Big Ones—to Share With First
My dad is really good at saving money. When I was a kid, he used to tell me, “Watch the dimes and the dollars will take care of themselves.” What he meant is if you want to save a lot of money, look after what’s in your pocket. If you do, you’ll always have plenty in your bank account.
That saying applies perfectly to how gaining influence with a big community works, too.
If you ask most people, you’ll find hardly anyone likes being alone in a sea of people. Even in a big group, it can be lonely to be on your own. Most people—introverts and extroverts alike—prefer being surrounded by people they know.
And that’s what the UK commissioned crowd study found as well. Most crowds aren’t just a big collection of individuals. They’re actually a collection of numerous subgroups: friends, families, organizations, and other small but tightly grouped people in the same place as many others.
If you want to influence a big group of people and share your idea, what you actually need to do is influence the smaller, individual groups within the crowd. This is great news for introverts, because we’re much more comfortable building rapport with a smaller, intimate group than a bigger one. It’s also easier to get the attention of a small community.
And as the small groups go, so goes the crowd. To create a tipping point, your goal should be to influence enough small groups to sway the overall opinion of the crowd.
For a more practical example, look at how this website works. Riskology exists to help introverts become better leaders. But there are many different kinds of introverts and many different types of leaders. I can’t speak to every one in each article. It wouldn’t work. But there are hundreds of articles in the Riskology archive, and different pieces appeal to different readers. Each one—on its own— may only be appealing to a small number of people but, together, we’ve grown a community of millions of readers.
To harness your introvert powers and share your big idea, focus on the micro-groups. Once you reach enough of them, the entire community will notice. That’s when you’ve hit your tipping point.
Blend in and Lead From the Center
When you think about leadership, you probably think of the brave leader, standing at the front of a big crowd, making some inspirational speech. When you think about how an organization is structured, you likely picture a pyramid with one spot at the top that trickles down to many others.
This is the default model of leadership throughout much of the world and it’s hard to imagine it another way. But there is another way and, dare I say, it’s better.
It’s the central leadership model, and it’s not just better for introverts who feel uncomfortable putting themselves at the front of a movement, it’s also a faster way to share an idea and influence change.
Think of it the way bee or ant colonies work. The queen is at the center of the colony directing operations.2
She’s surrounded by the entire colony, but still only closely connected to a few other bees. When she moves, the few bees around her notice and spread the message outward to the rest.
According to the crowd psychology research from The UK, this is how really effective leaders share their ideas, too. They found a crowd can collectively decide how to act from the actions of just a few people in the crowd and that the message spreads faster when it comes from the center.
When you try to influence from the top down, you get to keep more control over the message, but you do so at the cost of speed. And speed is a key ingredient in reaching a tipping point. The faster an idea can be shared, the faster the scale will tip and an idea can spread like wildfire.
Want to get your message out faster? Blend into the crowd and influence from the center.
Recap & Action Points
It’s a myth that you have to be an extrovert shouting from the rooftop to share an idea. From what we know about crowd psychology and how tipping points work, introverts are naturally poised to become leaders and share their ideas with big audiences.
If your idea is good, you don’t have to tell everyone about it to reach a tipping point. As long as you share it with a few of the right people in the right way, it will go far with or without you.
Let’s recap the few important things you should do when you want to share an important idea:
- Make your idea as simple as possible. When an idea is simple, it feels safe—not just to do, but to share.
- Show people the immediate payoff. You can persuade people to accept a complex idea by showing them how it will make their lives better right now.
- Focus on the few, not the many. Big communities are influenced by the smaller groups that make them up. Win a few of them over, and you’ll make a lot of headway quickly.
- Lead from the center. Information travels faster when it comes from the center instead of the top.
The real lesson at the end of all this is that—to make a big impact—forget about what you’ve seen work for others. The model of leadership that you see on TV and in the news is highlighted because it’s sexy and we’re a culture dominated by extroversion.
But what the research tells us is that there’s another way to achieve the same outcome and get to a tipping point with an important idea even faster. It’s not widely known and no one is making sensational movies starring Leonardo DiCaprio about it but, if you’re an introvert, it will take you where you want to go in a sustainable way.
And that’s reason enough to ignore the mainstream and get started today.
- Source: Understanding Crowd Behaviors
- This is just metaphor to illustrate central leadership. Queen bees and ants don’t actually “call the shots.” Curious what a queen bee does and how a colony works? Check this out.