Malcolm Gladwell, “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”

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Reviewed by Femflection

Malcolm Timothy Gladwell, (born September 3, 1963) is an English-born Canadian journalist, bestselling author, and speaker. He has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He has written five books and all of them were on The New York Times Best Seller list. Gladwell’s books and articles often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences and make frequent and extended use of academic work, particularly in the areas of sociology, psychology, and social psychology. Gladwell was appointed to the Order of Canada on June 30, 2011.

Some “Tipping Point” quotes:

  • “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
  • “I am explicitly turning my back on, I think, these kind of empty models that say, you know, you can be whatever you want to be. Well, actually, you can’t be whatever you want to be. The world decides what you can and can’t be. And the appropriate place to provide opportunities is at the world level, not the individual level.”
  • “In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”
  • “It is those who are successful, in other words, who are most likely to be given the kinds of special opportunities that lead to further success. It’s the rich who get the biggest tax breaks. It’s the best students who get the best teaching and most attention. And it’s the biggest nine- and ten-year-olds who get the most coaching and practice. Success is the result of what sociologists like to call “accumulative advantage.”
  • “To build a better world we need to replace the patchwork of lucky breaks and arbitrary advantages today that determine success–the fortunate birth dates and the happy accidents of history–with a society that provides opportunities for all.”
  • “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.”
  • “Acquaintances, in sort, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are.”
  • These three characteristics—one, contagiousness; two, the fact that little causes can have big effects; and three, that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment—are the same three principles that define how measles moves through a grade-school classroom or the flue attacks every winter.” 
  • “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?”
  • “Epidemics are a function of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating.” 
  • “We are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate, context, and the personalities of those around us.”

“The Tipping Point” – The book:

When asked for the process behind his writing, Malcolm Gladwell said: “I have two parallel things I’m interested in. One is, I’m interested in collecting interesting stories, and the other is I’m interested in collecting interesting research. What I’m looking for is cases where they overlap”.

“The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” is the debut book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000.

Malcolm Gladwell is also the author of the #1 bestselling Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. He was a reporter for the Washington Post from 1987 to 1996, working first as a science writer and then as New York City bureau chief. Since 1996, he has been a staff writer for The New Yorker.

“The Tipping Point” is about change and how certain kinds of people make change happen.

The book is adopted as the 21st century cult book of marketing.

Let’s have a closer look at the contents:

The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.

Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate.

Gladwell explains the fascinating social dynamics that cause rapid change.

In order to get your product or idea to its own tipping point the following three points are important:

  1. The law of the Few;
  2. The Stickiness factor;
  3. The power of Context.

Ad 1.  The Law of the Few:

An epidemic begins when a few highly infectious individuals become viral vectors for a product or idea by adopting it themselves and spreading the word.

Gladwell identifies three key types of infectious opinion leaders:

  • Mavens are opinion leading consumer experts who spread influence by sharing their knowledge with friends and family.
  • Connectors are deriving their influence not through expertise, but by their position as highly connected social network hubs
  • Salesmen are the third type of opinion leading influencers. These are people with the power of persuasion, their enthusiasm rubs off on those around them.

Ad 2.  The Stickiness Factor:

An epidemic spreads when the product, is naturally infectious, or ‘sticky’.  (i.e.: A show is ‘sticky’ when we don’t want to switch channels).

Ten critical factors that make any product sticky or infectious:

  • Uniqueness: clear one-of-a-kind differentiation
  • Aesthetics: perceived aesthetic appeal
  • Association: generates positive associations
  • Engagement: fosters emotional involvement
  • Excellence: perceived as best of breed
  • Expressive value: visible sign of user values
  • Functional value: helps goal attainment
  • Nostalgic value: evokes sentimental linkages
  • Personification: has character, personality
  • Cost: perceived value for money

The implication from The Tipping Point is that we should develop products to fit this ‘sticky’ profile, because these are the critical success factors that can have a massive impact.

Ad3. The Power of Context:

Finally, the spread of an epidemic will depend on whether the context is right.  Ideas and products that fit the context into which they are launched spread fast and wide, whilst others that don’t fit their context, don’t spread.

‘The Tipping Point’ discusses how Hush Puppy shoes went from selling 30,000 a year in 1993 and then tipped to selling to 2,000,000 a year later which took the manufacturers by surprise as there had been no change in marketing. Gladwell looks at ‘crime waves’ and also the triggers, which caused a massive and dramatic drop in New York crime in the 1990s. He discusses education and what it was about Sesame Street that made learning infectious for young people.

The Tipping Point has shown that there is a vast market for non-fiction that explains life in an easy-to-understand way. The book itself ‘tipped’ and has become an international word of mouth best-seller.

I plan to read more of Gladwell’s work as this one was definitely encouraging.

Want to buy book

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