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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Tipping Point
by Malcolm Gladwell

How quickly things change in a split second.  In an instant, life is altered, the momentum of a game, or the success of a product, is determined.  What brings about those instances and events?  What are the determining factors of the outcome?

Malcolm Gladwell in his book, The Tipping Point, attempts to explain the rules that determine the success or failure of a movement or message.  His book, composed mostly of history lessons and social science experiments, argues that the success or failure of an entity is largely defined by three rules, which he spends a chapter on.

The first rule is the Law of the Few.  Using the story of Paul Revere’s ride as a case study, Gladwell compares the success of the message “the British are coming” was dependent largely upon the man carrying it.  William Dawes carried the same message, but the towns he alerted were not “set afire” like those that Revere went too.  The difference was in the type of men that they were.  Revere was what Gladwell called a connector, someone who knows everyone they’ve ever met and can remember their names.  Revere was involved in everything that pertained to the colonies prior to his ride; which is what lent itself to success.  Revere was also a Maven, which is a fancy word for a collector and dispenser of knowledge.  Mavens are the people who know everything about a product and a situation.  They are the type of people you call when you are wanting to buy a TV and they rattle on about pixels, ambient lighting, and led’s.  These people not only know everything but want to make suggestions.  The last type of person needed for a tipping point to happen is the salesman, who persuade people.  Kind of anti climactic huh?  Still these three type of people show that is not the the number of people needed to start a revolution but the type of people.

The second factor is the stickiness factor.  Tracing the teaching of Seasame Street and Blues Clues, Gladwell points out that a message must be both enticing and clear for it to be sticky.   As he traced the studies of sociologists, who studied both kids and adults, Gladwell put together the research to show both the ability of a person to grasp a message and to understand a message.  The stickiness factor is the difference between a movement that takes off and one that doesn’t.  To be sticky ideas must be memorable an to be acted upon…how clear these two factors are is how stick the movement is.

The final factor was the Power of Context.  The point of this section was that “epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.”  Gladwell notes how replacing broken windows on city blocks will decrease crime and eliminating graffiti on subway cars had the same effect.  Habits, movements, and messages, are fragile things.  They are sensitive to their surroundings.  Like bacteria in a petrie dish, the culture in which a message is given is vital to the success.

Gladwell’s book was rife with statistics and studies.  One thing is for sure, this book was extremely well researched.  His points, structure, and outline was well developed and he moved his thesis along throughout.  The book was a bit wordy at times and hard to follow during some of the more obscure studies, but it was a solid read.


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