By Yonatan Gordon
Andrew Mason started Groupon as a more commercial offshoot of a social action site called The Point. To understand Groupon, then, we first need to explore the ideological underpinnings of The Point. Let’s first take a look at the book that inspired The Point: “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell.
“The Point offers a new approach to leveraging the influence of groups and making things happen.” – ThePoint.com
While Groupon was Mason’s way of enabling collective action for products and services, The Point focused more on social concerns. The idea of both is that in order to act on something, a group of people needs to be assembled. Or as Gladwell puts it, the “tipping point” for change occurs when “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” is reached.
“People want a way to make a difference, but feel powerless to solve the problems that can’t be solved alone.” (continued)
What made Groupon so marketable was actionability. While The Point was more conceptual, the effect of Groupon’s daily deals was more readily apparent. Instead of waiting for a critical mass of people to gather around a cause, Groupon sought to recreate the tipping point experience on a daily basis.
In order to bring lasting peace, we, the Jewish People, must first be “together” ourselves. Only when we are united, with unconditional and unbounded love for one another, and living together in the way of the Torah, can we have a positive influence on the rest of the world.
This fluctuation between The Point and Groupon is indicative of our desire to benefit humanity both conceptually and materially. But in order for group action to be effective, as Gladwell mentions, there needs to be some public frustration that forces a solution.
Striking the Match
The cover image on Gladwell’s book is a single match, a reminder that to begin any “tipping point” experience, one first needs to start with light. While God is beyond our apprehension, we can seek Him out by our exertion of faith and effort down here below. This is the frustration that precedes the tipping point. This exertion then leads to the passion to reveal and experience God. While it all starts with inspiration (the strike of the match), we properly integrate our initiative through the discipline of waiting.
When we are first inspired to spread light, we feel the exhilaration of experiencing God beyond what we have known before. But to counter possible conceit, we are cautioned to remember the insignificance of our accomplishments by saying, “What (mah) do we really know? What (mah) has our quest unearthed?” This double negation is our way of purging the ego, and in doing so, bring about honest revelations.
The deeper reason why Groupon is more accepted could be due to this negation of the physical. While God created the physical from nothing, it is our job to return the physical back to nothing. We strip products of their ego by turning them into messages for future growth instead of price tags on the shelf.
Companies enlist Groupon to promote themselves not for the immediate gain, but to reap the reward of increased branding and market awareness. This is the Groupon version of the “what” (mah) experience. To turn something sedentary into a moment of exhilaration.
Of course the day after, these companies ask, “What (mah) do we really know? What (mah) has our quest unearthed?” Meaning, did this marketing blitz generate the desired results?
The fact that we don’t see “daily deals” in our personal growth is only from the outside. While our efforts seem to have no lasting effect, the leaps of growth become manifest at some critical point in the future (the tipping point). The difference is that while Groupon makes daily progress seem easy, true progress comes from stripping away layer after layer of our ego’s sense of self-importance.
The talented educator knows how to inspire his students. He first excites them through candy or more sophisticated or subtle inducements; then he pulls back so that they can actively pursue their own interests.
This delicate balance is a daily theme presented by Groupon. On the one hand, all the choices are made ready for the picking. But the plethora of choices can be overwhelming. The proper educator teaches his students how to internalize each layer. Like a daily deal that is no longer new, each day presents itself with new opportunities to both be excited by and integrate into our service of God.
The byline of The Point is “make something happen,” our efforts need to yield something potent. This occurs when the opacity of our egos stop obscuring the weightlessness of the idea. When we submit ourselves selflessly to God, we’ve reached point zero or our own personal tipping point.
The daily deals on Groupon remind us of the progressive (and daily) revelation of truth in the world. Educators train us to diminish our ego so that we can see the light of these daily gifts.
When we turn aside from ourselves, we transition the weight once placed within ourselves to those weightless ideas in need of tipping. The convergence between (tipping) points and (match) sparks occurs when our pintele yid, the quintessential point or spark of leadership in the soul of every Jew, is ignited together with others.