आम आदमी: The Tipping Point

Most investors find it difficult to truly appreciate the mind-boggling effect of the power of compounding. Financial companies keep touting how 5000 rupees invested regularly will give you 1 crore in 25 years, but most people don’t quite get it.

The human brain has a problem with understanding geometric progression. The reason, perhaps, is that the effect seems completely disproportionate to the cause. And our brains don’t seem to be wired for that kind of sudden change.

The same kind of disproportionate effect that the power of compounding and geometric progression causes, apparently, also characterizes social epidemics.

Malcolm Gladwell, in his famous book ‘The Tipping Point’, claimed that successful social epidemics have three things in common: first – Contagiousness, second – Little things causing Big effects, and third – Dramatic and Sudden Change.

He defined the tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

The Aam Aadmi Party with its idea of ‘honest politics’ seems to be on its journey of becoming a social epidemic.

With the foundation of the ‘Anna movement’, and songs and slogans like the one below that followed its political plunge, they set the stage for a ‘Contagious’ idea.

After its Delhi success when it won 28 seats against anybody’s wildest expectations, they probably realized the impact of how little things can cause big effects.

That kind of success where a small but focused execution of a powerful, contagious idea paved the way for a disproportionate impact of setting them up for government.

Is that the Tipping Point for the Aam Aadmi Party and its idea of honest politics?

That time will tell. But it surely seems to have the potential to be one.

But there are many examples of epidemics that reached the ‘contagious phase’ but could not go on to cross over to ‘dramatic change.’

There are numerous examples of people, organizations, products and ideas that held promise and captured the initial ‘contagious imagination’ but failed to cross over the threshold of the tipping point, and fizzled out.

The reasons are many – from the message being diluted, to the messengers not creating stickiness, to dissonance after initial promise, to competitors hijacking the message, or a combination of these.

Gladwell goes on to suggest that while the overall ‘social epidemic phenomenon’ is largely unpredictable, some of it can be managed on seeing the signs of it – primarily by focus and belief in the core message and scaling it correctly using the right messengers.

For the Aam Aadmi Party, it might mean staying true to ‘honest politics’ and scaling it up with the right people and the right messages around ideology and policy.

Be that as it may, but the emergence of a tipping point truly does promise the opportunity to seize the tide of a social epidemic, which if captured well and at the right time, is likely to lead to everlasting change. Like Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar:

‘There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.’
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