There is an unusual fountain in my home town (Liverpool) that I used to sometimes go to watch for a few minutes during my lunch breaks when I was working in the city. It works by piping water into specially shaped buckets. They slowly fill up and at a certain point become top heavy. They then tip over depositing their contents into the fountain’s reservoir.
For me, this fountain, which was designed by Richard Huws and built in 1967, provides an analogy for the way that significant change often occurs by reaching a tipping point.
Staying with the theme of water, producing steam is another example of reaching a tipping point. When your water is 99 degrees Celsius, you have very hot water indeed, but when it is just 1 degree hotter, you have steam with all the possibilities it brings. Steam engines once powered railway trains, turbines and ocean liners but you can’t do any of that with very hot water.
In studies on climate change, it has been suggested that major disruption to ecosystems will take place when certain tipping points are reached. Lisa Moore’s blog provides a useful summary of nine such tipping points that relate to environmental change. As she says, this evidence provides really compelling reasons for cutting emissions as soon as possible.
It has also been suggested that social change often occurs when a tipping point has been reached. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, he is most concerned with examining the spread of information and ideas in the same way that an epidemic occurs. What he calls a social epidemic has been used, in recent years, in clever marketing campaigns to spread sales messages virally.
The occurrence of brake fade, when a braking system completely fails, is an example of reaching a tipping point. This is something that actually happened to me whilst descending a very long, steep hill on the way to Lynton sometime last year. This was a very frightening experience that was not made any better by local people managing to put a name on the phenomenon.
Recently, I wrote about how the Wright Brothers‘ finally managed to get their machine to fly by making a very small final adjustment. Again, making this final adjustment is an example of reaching a tipping point. The difference between being able to fly and not being able to fly is indeed significant, but the adjustment that made it all possible was a minor one.
In another post, I wrote about the difference between being an average-to-good player and being a world-class player is not as much as you might think. Again, this is a good example of a tipping point.
Does all of this make you think? I hope it does because what I would like you to think about is what you need to do to get to the next level of performance in your chosen field and the point I want to make is that you may not have to do very much to get there. Sure you will need to identify what needs to be done and get on with it, that’s true. But you may be operating, right now, at somewhere near a tipping point.
It may be that you just need to continue with what you are doing, but simply increase the intensity by a small amount. Or it may be that you need to continue doing what you are now doing but also adding some small additional factor into the mix. Again the point is that the change you need to make might very well be a very small change in order to produce a very large effect.