The Tipping Point Review

Do you ever stop to think about where fads come from? I feel as though I woke up one day and every one around me was eating avocados, wearing chokers and watching Game of Thrones. While my generation calls things in this category “basic,” Malcom Gladwell’s The Tipping Point explains them through epidemics which are governed by distinct rules and actors.41usQnvp5iL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

Gladwell describes his book as the “biography of an idea.” He kicks it off by discussing the resurgence of hush puppies and the crime drop in New York City. The most important thing to make note of in these two separate cases is that both phenomenons were not gradual- they happed dramatically. He observes that humans have trouble processing drastic and exponential change. The three characteristics he attributes two epidemics are 1) contagiousness 2) the fact that little causes can have big effects and 3) that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment. He refers to that one dramatic moment as the Tipping Point.

Gladwell makes note of three rules that govern the Tipping Point: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. The Law of the Few deals with the nature of the messenger and is explained through Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. A Connector knows a lot of people of a certain kind and is able to initiate a social epidemic. Market Mavens are described as information brokers; someone who has information on products, prices and places that they are enthusiastic to circulate. Lastly there are the Salesmen, who are those skilled enough to persuade someone to join a social epidemic.

The second rules is the Stickiness Factor. As the title suggests, this deals with what makes epidemic ideas or messages stick. Ideas have to be memorable and move us to action. Gladwell pushes the idea that if you package information in the right circumstances, it can trigger a social epidemic. He draws upon Sesame Street and its head of research, Ed Palmer, as a prime example of this. Ed Palmer created the Distracter, which tested which part of the episode kids were most interested in. The show was designed around these captivating elements and caused Sesame Street to persist from 1969 until today.

The last rule is that of the Power of Context. According to Gladwell, “Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.” He continues that we are extremely sensitive to changes in context. Crime is used as the dominant example for this rule. He cites James Q. Wilson and George Kelling’s Broken Windows theory that argues that crime is the inevitable result of disorder.

Gladwell concludes the book by declaring that the underlying element to successful epidemics is a “bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus.”

Overall I very much enjoyed this book. I started off thinking I was on the sidelines of social fads, but am now heightened to my personal behaviors that are influenced or contribute to them. I really appreciate Gladwell’s reliance on examples and case studies as they illustrated his message very clearly. I would recommend this book to all, but especially those who aspire to have a career in communications, business or science.

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