The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

August 31, 2010

Summary: In The Tipping Point, journalist Malcolm Gladwell sets out to identify the major elements that need to be in place for an epidemic to ensue. This could either be a health-related epidemic, such as the outbreak of syphilis in Baltimore in the mid-1990s, or it can be something far more innocuous, such as the reemergence of Hush Puppies shoes as a desired brand about a decade ago.

Basically, Gladwell argues that epidemics hinge on the following three factors: Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. Law of the Few refers to how certain individuals seem to be responsible for great change. These individuals are connectors, mavens, and salesmen. They’re the ones that have the widest circle of acquaintances, have the most influence, and end up setting trends. They range from Paul Revere warning that the British are coming to Manhattan club kids wearing Hush Puppies and hip students using Acer Aspire netbooks. Epidemics don’t happen without their approval.

The Stickiness Factor refers to how well something stands out, its memorability. A midnight ride to alert folks of the Brits’ impending attack was more memorable than a midday one. Airwalk ads featuring kids using connecting with their shoes in odd ways were more memorable than traditional ads. Context refers to the external environment and how things must be aligned in just the right way for these epidemics to take hold. Cutting down on petty subway crimes in NYC, for instance, helped revitalize the entire transit system from the ground up.

Liked:

  • Gladwell uses a number of interesting examples throughout the book. I enjoyed hearing about Airwalk, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Hush Puppies, and the other success stories he highlighted.
  • Gladwell presents this book in simple terms that laypeople can understand. I’m sure I could find a sociology textbook that addresses these very same issues, but that wouldn’t be half as fun to read, now would it?
  • I think Gladwell was mostly spot-on with his arguments. It’s hard to disagree with the factors that combine to create that elusive tipping point.

Disliked:

  • This book was so short that it’s kind of hard to find something worth disliking. If I had to pick, though, I’d say it’s the fact that Gladwell doesn’t really provide any earth-shattering insights here. I think most of what he says is merely common sense. Sure, he’s giving specific names and descriptors for these phenomena, but it’s not as though he’s the first one to “discover” the tipping point theory or put everything together like this.

Rating:

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell is an interesting enough read. I don’t think it’s the kind of book that will open many eyes, insofar as the information is basically commonsense stuff, but nevertheless it’s worth spending a few hours on. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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