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Letter to the Editor

The Tipping Point

Simon CrossAn eight hour flight delay, luggage already checked in, have passed through security so no escape from the departure lounges. Batteries on the iPod are running low and the charger is in the hold luggage. Visit the bookshop, bypass fiction (after all none of it is true), my eye is caught by a book in the business section: The Tipping Point - How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, it claims to explain social epidemics of fashion and behaviours.
Three hours later I am completely engrossed and oblivious to the hardness of the airport seats. Author Malcolm Gladwell takes a number of examples of social epidemics, such as how Hush Puppies suddenly became a fashion item in the US, or how AIDS spread, and analyses the necessary factors for this to happen. He describes three types of people required to transmit a social epidemic - Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople.
Connectors have huge numbers of acquaintances and act as amplifiers of any initial trend through their networks. Mavens accumulate knowledge about things and they constantly monitor and evaluate new trends, the sort of person you go to ask about which digital camera is the best buy when you can’t be bothered to read the magazines or web reviews yourself. However Mavens don’t seek to persuade people or change their views, they just provide information, leaving those tasks to Salespeople. He argues there are other factors which are necessary besides the human infrastructure, an idea must have a ‘stickiness factor’ which helps people remember it and which means it stays around in a community long enough to be noticed, and it must be delivered in a receptive context.
Why would you want to read this book? Well it’s intrinsically a very interesting story that is well-written and contains fascinating examples from many different parts of society, but there are also many principles from it which can be applied to academic pathology. We all have only a limited amount of resources available to do the things we want to do so it makes sense to use these in a context that will have the greatest effect.
Quote1Mavens will know how many MD students complete within 3 years with particularQuote2
supervisors, how many papers they get published in which journals etc.
Take starting out in research as a trainee, how can we go about making sure that our efforts will pay the maximum dividend? Firstly we need to actually start on some research project and to do that we will very probably need to find a supervisor and some collaborators. We should identify people who are Connectors in the institutions where we work who will put us in touch with appropriate people, we might want to consult some Mavens to check that these are people who are going to be a help, and not a hindrance, to our project (Mavens will know how many MD students complete within 3 years with particular supervisors, how many papers they get published in which journals etc.). We might have to take on the role of Salespeople ourselves to engage collaborators in our project. Once we have some preliminary data then we need to use that to raise our profile in the research community. The PathSoc meetings are of course a great method of spreading information about the research we are doing and an oral presentation in the plenary session is probably going to have a greater effect than a poster. We can think about how to improve the ‘stickiness factor’ of our results. Business cards are an age old, but still very effective, ‘stickiness’ aid but what about A4-sized prints of the poster to hand out to interested people? You can also amuse yourself at PathSoc by trying to classify participants as Connectors, Mavens or Salespeople (some people have large elements of all of these) but do remember that classifications aren’t everything and they are human beings as well.
PathSoc as a whole might want to look at ideas from this book which could be used to raise the profile of the Society and aid the recovery of academic pathology in the UK. Jim Lowe and Peter Hamilton have done a fantastic job of revamping the PathSoc website but is there anything else we could do to make it ‘stickier’ (a bank of downloadable images for teaching? illustrated case study questions for medical students?). Who are the big Connectors in pathology and are they already working in PathSoc? (answer yes I would think) Are we doing enough as Salespeople for PathSoc? What are the best contexts within which to promote PathSoc? Malcolm Gladwell.
The Tipping Point. Abacus Books, 2000. ISBN 978-0-349-11346-3
Simon Cross
Reader in Pathology, University of Sheffield
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