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9. What’s going on around you?

The Power of Context is the third of Gladwells three key factors. He illustrates this by a ‘Good Samaritan’ experiment which was undertaken at a US campus with theological students. This showed that whatever the personal attitudes of the subjects and how caring they were, the propensity to help someone was driven mostly by whether they were in a hurry or not!


Similarly, serious crime in New York began to drop when the context was changed by stamping down hard on minor crime: graffiti and fare-dodging, for instance. It is as though tolerance of this gave ‘permission’ for more serious crime. The reverse has also been studied – there is a greater propensity for an individual to act in a dangerous situation than a group, because in the group the non-activity of others seems to give permission for any individual to do nothing.


Are we getting a long way from lessons for small business? Not really. Some small businesses have become big businesses on these processes. The Tipping Point comes when enough of these factors are right to create a self-reinforcing cycle. When the key few people have a sufficiently sticky message in the right context things can develop at an amazing pace  On the macro scale, it is why some businesses suddenly take off exponentially, but on a micro scale it also explains why one local restaurant or accountant may be much more popular than another.

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