It’s never boring in the boardroom.

At the later part of the 1990s, “paradigm shift” emerged as the buzz phrase, popularized as business speak until it was overused to the point of becoming meaningless.

So in 2000, it was time for The Tipping Point, in which author Malcolm Gladwell argues that social epidemics are spread by a small number of special people, whom he calls mavens, connectors and salesmen. “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips and spreads like wildfire,” Gladwell was quoted.



Then it was Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s time as the charmed wunderkinds of boardrooms nationwide with their 2007 book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. For ideas, products, systems and concepts to be sticky, they must be refined down to a simple unexpected concrete credentialed emotional story.

At ISC West this month in Las Vegas, more than a few folks will boast about the stickiness of their technology.

But will such claims become contagious?

Jonah Berger sure hopes so. He is the latest soothsayer in the guru parade of Gladwell and the Heath boys. Berger, an assistant professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, just released his own business shout out – Contagious: Why Things Catch On. More important than the messenger, Berger points out, is the message. He identifies six ingredients that are associated with messages, products or ideas that go viral. Summarized as his “STEPPS,” they are:

•  Social currency – making people feel that they are cool insiders;

•  Triggers – everyday reminders of an item or idea;

•  Emotional resonance – making people want to share the experience with others;

•  Public observability – a highly visible item sells itself;

•  Practical value and usefulness – people like to share practical or helpful information; and

•  Storytelling – embedding a product or an idea in a narrative enhances its power.


While some may say it’s a Berger bag of bunk, there is no doubt that boardrooms and exhibit booths will be abuzz, in one way or another, with this newest kick. And it all will once again rub off on enterprise security leaders, one way or another, too.

Berger writes, for example, that Steve Jobs debated whether the Apple logo on the cover of an open laptop should be right-side up for the user of the computer or right-side up to onlookers. He decided that the element of “observability” was more important and flipped the logo.


A Sweet Space Treat

In another example, Berger reports that NASA’s Mars Pathfinder project boosted sales of Mars candy bars such as Milky Way as a “trigger” to remind consumers of the candy. And more people talk about Cheerios than Disneyland because so many more people eat the cereal every day than go to the theme park.

This parade of prognosticators reminds me of Marshall McLuhan, in my day, the darling of communication theory. McLuhan is known for coining the expressions “the medium is the message” and the “global village,” sorry Hillary, and for predicting the World Wide Web almost 30 years before it was invented.

By the way and speaking of the Web, according to a number of security system and service providers, 2013 may be the year of a paradigm shift, a tipping point, as things get stickier and contagious with a move to the Internet – or is it Mars?   


This article was previously published in the print magazine as "From Paradigm Shift to Tipping to Sticky to Contagious."