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The Tipping Point

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating
User Rating 5 Star Rating (1 Review)


Malcolm Gladwell's 2000 bestseller, The Tipping Point, has exhibited such enormous staying power on the bestseller lists that one supposes that Gladwell harnessed the very principles of social epidemics that he outlines therein. The Tipping Point purports to answer two questions, "Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don't? And what can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?"

What is a social epidemic? Gladwell has a number of examples - an inexplicable overnight resurgence in popularity of Hush Puppie shoes; a tragic rise in teen suicide in Micronesia; a startling decrease in the New York City crime rate -- Gladwell uses all of these to illustrate what he defines as the three principles of social epidemics: the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context.

The law of the few is roughly comparable to the 80/20 rule, that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. Gladwell attributes the success of social epidemics to the efforts of three types of individuals: connectors, mavens, and salesmen.
The Law of the Few

Connectors are people who because of their personalities and their ability to exist in numerous worlds and cultivate weak-ties with a variety of individuals, make the world a smaller place by bringing people together. They are the ones responsible for the six degrees of separation theory.

Mavens are shoppers. It doesn't matter what the market is - cars, computers, clothes - the maven is the person with her finger on the pulse of the industry, the early adopter. Mavens accumulate knowledge about the industry; the maven is the guy in the cubicle next to yours who knows exactly what the next version of the iPod is going to look like and do. He's also the guy who has one first.

Salesmen are people who through the shear persuasiveness of their personalities are able to sell ideas, products, practices without even trying. We buy what they buy and do what they do because they make it seem so appealing, and we just want to be more like them.
The Stickiness Factor

The second principle of social epidemics is the stickiness factor; it is the impact that something has, it's ability to stick, to grab your attention, to stay on your mind. Gladwell purports that there are "relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring" of an idea that can make it more sticky, and he uses the creation of hugely successful children's television shows, Sesame Street and Blues Clues, to illustrate this point.

The Power of Context

Gladwell's third principal is the power of context, the notion that epidemics are sensitive to the context, or the time and place, in which they occur. In a compelling example of how during the 1990's the crime rate in New York City dropped precipitously and without explanation, Gladwell points to something called the Broken Windows theory, theory of two criminologists based upon the notion that, "if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will bee broke, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a a signal that anything goes."
Through the efforts of a few key governmental figures, Broken Window theory was applied to crime in New York by addressing the most minor and superficial yet highly visible infractions with seriousness and vigilance, the result being a marked reduction in more serious crimes.

Gladwell harnesses other compelling examples and social theories to support his own. I particularly liked his illustrations of social channel capacity, the idea that human beings are less effective in social groups of more than 150 individuals.

The Tipping Point is a powerful and fascinating book that cuts across a variety of fields of interest. Within, Gladwell constructs and details ideas that change the way we perceive social trends we might not otherwise think to question.
User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 5 out of 5
How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, Member Marrbro

This book brought lots of intuitiveness and insight into the world of marketing. Looking at the different spectrum that are compared and how one can tie them together was quite ingenious. Specifically looking at “rules of epidemics” and the content that makes these rules is fascinating. The law of the few was right on; it described how connectors, mavens, and salesmen are the key to the development. Whether dealing with an outbreak or marketing ploy. From there we entered into “the stickiness factor” or the ability to get something to stick in one’s mind. How clever and insightful this was blew me away. The correlation between Sesame Street (a show I watched as a child) and Blue’s Clue’s (a show I watched with my children) was extremely relatable and clearly evident to me as I read. The power of context I struggled with a little, when Gladwell contends that the small changes in the environment affected the crime at a higher level I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical. I can’t see how cracking down on graffiti and other small violations is going to have a major effect on major crimes, don’t misunderstand me I am not disagreeing just have a hard time seeing it. However the power of context I did find rather intriguing was group size of a 150. With the less being more closely tied to idea, project, or topic, while it clearly starts to fade when the group size exceeds 150. The Airwalk shoe example was something I could relate to personally, I vividly remember my older brother being extremely excited about his rare, cool than yours, custom shoes. I also remember my first pair of Airwalks and how they were run of the mill, same as the next guys and the comment my brother made as those are so yesterday as he strutted around in his Vans which were the next cool thing. The book in all was very well written and very easy to relate to ones personal life and even at times I was emerged in the book trough the products and case studies suggested and how they tied me, the reader, into the book. I never felt like I was on the outside looking in and always felt like I was on the inside track with an advantage to see things with the author’s unique way of displaying them. I would highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a business / marketing edge as a tool to catapult the individual to a better understanding of the need for the three rules Gladwell described.

6 out of 8 people found this helpful.

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