The Tipping Point (Malcomb Gladwell)

I just finished The Tipping Point by Malcomb Gladwell.  For a non-fiction work, this was quite a page-turner for me.  Fascinating.  Thought-provoking.  Intriguing.

  • How do eccentric tastes suddenly become a mainstream movement?  Seemingly overnight?
  • tipping_point1What is it about trendsetters that makes them able to set off trends for the rest of us?
  • What does an epidemic flu or AIDS or teenage smoking have anything in common with shoe fashion, kids television programming, or crime sprees?
  • Ever notice how great and innovative ideas seem to flounder despite our best efforts — until the right person sees it?  Or until the right environment exists for it?  Why is that?
  • Is there a way for us mere mortals to start epidemic movements of our own?

Gladwell sets out to answer some of these questions.  He tries to put some of the pieces of this puzzle together for the reader in a journalistic style.  He has collected information from scores anecdotes, historical accounts, and psychological experiments to build his case.

The book is compelling.  He starts with a premise and builds the rest of his argument on that premise — which is that ideas, products, messages, and behaviors behave the same way that viruses do.  And when a catchy idea, product, message, or behavior gets in the hands of the right kind of person, and when it is shared in the right environment — that idea can spread like wildfire.  (Like mono spreading through a high school….)

The quintessential example that Gladwell uses to illustrate this idea of a tipping point is that of Paul Revere.  The story of Paul Revere on his midnight ride through the Massachusetts countryside to spread news that the British were coming is interesting.  With this warning, many of those communities had time to prepare for the arrival of the British regulars.  What makes it fascinating is that another man made a similar journey at the same time, but had very little effect.  What made the difference?  That question is at the crux of this The Tipping Point.

At some points in the book, Gladwell’s original premise shines through so strongly, it leaves one wondering if he has selectively chosen specific experiments to prove his point.  In the midst of reading his book, his case is made so strongly, that the reader could be excused for concluding that all Change  (personal, societal, cultural, etc) behaves like an epidemic.  I disagree on this point.

Having said that, this book is still insightful and can be useful.  For those who are in the business of changing group behavior, there are ideas in The Tipping Point that could help.

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