Business book review of the month -Tipping Point

4 min

Malcolm Gladwell has turned into one of the biggest writers of our times with his critically acclaimed books such as Outliers, Blink and Tipping Point to name a few. He is a Canadian journalist, a public speaker and also a thinker who has been working as a staff writer for the New Yorker since the year1996. All of his books have appeared on the New York Times Bestsellers list he has been awarded with the Order of Canada. A common theme in all of his works is the use of academic, research in the fields of sociology, psychology and social psychology. The Tipping Point was the first book written by him.

The main theme of the book was a look at crime and criminality through the perspective of epidemiology. According to the Galdwell, the inspiration for the books came from the sudden drop in crime rates in New York City. He critically analyzed the various methodologies used by the New York state police department and commented upon their implementation of “broken windows theory” in policing. The broken windows theory refers to the practice of policing based on visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior or any kind of suspicious activity. Here citizens can be stopped and frisked simply on the basis of their appearance or the police’s discretion. 

The word tipping point is taken from the field of epidemiology and denotes the stage of an epidemic when the virus explodes and spreads at a much faster rate. He first came across the principles of epidemiology while working for The Washington Post. He was covering the AIDS epidemic and realized how differently epidemiologists viewed the world. Gladwell decided to expand the scope of the scope of the book beyond crime and policing methods and looked at ways in which little things add up to cause major changes.

An overview of the Book

Just like the name suggests the book examines phenomena that grow over time due to little yet persistent contributions until it reaches a “critical mass.” The books tell stories of seemingly unimportant incidents that add up to contribute to far greater consequences. The tipping point as described by Malcolm Gladwell, is the point in time when an idea finally catches on and starts to spread. The metaphor of epidemics has been used to examine and investigate such phenomenon further. The main question that is posed in the book is -why do certain ideas or behaviors or even products start an “epidemic” and others don’t. What are the various parameters that are under control and how to go about instigating a positive epidemic? 

The success of this book lies in the ways Gladwell illustrates these principles with intriguing and thought-provoking explanations. There are various chapters focusing on numerous epidemic triggers such as Paul Revere, cigarettes, the Columbia House gold record advertising campaign, Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Sesame Street, subway shooter -Bernie Goetz, Airwalk sneakers and teen suicide in Micronesia. These examples have been used to demonstrate what contributes to Tipping Point and the various components of it.

The three rules of Tipping Point

Malcolm Gladwell discusses the three components or rules of Tipping Point of any epidemic and how to manage them. There are three main rules or factors to any tipping point. A brief overview of the three rules is mentioned below.

The law of the few- The law of the few basically states that the success of any kind of social epidemic depends on the involvement of the right kind of people with specific skill sets and qualities. Economists often call this the 80/20 principle which states that 80% of the vital work is done by 20% of the people. These people of the right qualities are categorized into three specific groups based on their functionality and qualities.

  • The connectors- Connectors are individuals who are well-connected within the society and know people who have a habit of making introductions. A connector is something analogous to a network hub in the world of computers. They know people across various social, professional and cultural circles. They have the habit of introducing people who come from such diverse conditions. They bring the world closer together and make the right connections between people for things to happen. They have a gift of making friends and have huge social networks. 
  • The Mavens- Mavens are the collectors of information. They are the ones who supply ideas or processes with new thoughts and avenues. They constantly gather knowledge especially about the target marketplace and share the information with others. A Maven can be thought of someone who solves other’s problems by solving their own.
  • The Salesmen- A salesman or a “persuader” is someone who possesses extremely strong negotiating skills. They are extremely charismatic people who have the ability to grab the attention of others.

The stickiness factor- This refers to the impact that the idea has on society and how well received it actually is. Some of the examples quoted in the book regarding the stickiness factor include sesame street and blue’s clues.

The power of context- The behavior of humans has a strong correlation with the environment. Actions made within the right context often have rippling effects. For example, the crackdown in New York on petty crime and vandalism led to a decrease in major crimes across the city. However, through the lens of Epidemiology, the power of context is extended to seemingly unrelated fields. The relevancy of incidents is to be identified through the power of context as they add up to cause the tipping point. 

Tipping has come under scrutiny for the exaggeration of certain concepts, for example, the broken windows policy of New York has shown little effect on crime, the reasons for crime have been in reality tied to levels of lead in the atmosphere. Despite this, the concepts presented in this book remain practical and workable. The work remains valid and applicable to all kinds of modern societies.


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