Book Review: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (Part I)

My doctoral thesis was concerned with understanding the spread and impact of economic ideas. I took on board perspectives and frameworks from economists, political scientists, sociologists, and others – and, ultimately, made my own contribution to help move forward our understanding of the spread and impact of economic ideas.

It was with some interest, therefore, that I read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – a work concerned with the spread and impact of ideas and behaviours.

As it asserts on the book jacket, The Tipping Point is about

. . . that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviours cross a threshold, tip and spread like wildfire.

The central ideas presented in The Tipping Point

The central ideas presented inThe Tipping Point are relatively straightforward to summarise.

Gladwell’s major thesis is that ‘fads’ can be understood in much the same way that epidemiologists understand the spread of viruses, and that an astonishing range of social phenomena from smoking to suicide to fighting crime in New York City can be addressed using this metaphor.

To understand the social spread of ‘viral’ ideas or behaviours, Gladwell tells us, we need bear in mind only three simple ‘laws’: the ‘law of the few,’ the ‘stickiness factor,’ and the ‘power of context.’

The ‘law of the few‘ asserts that “the efforts of a handful of exceptional people” are at the core of social epidemics, and these exceptional people are defined by how well connected they are and the degree of influence they have.

Gladwell identified three particular kinds of people with particular influence: ‘connectors‘ (people who know a lot of people and are in a position to influence a lot of people or spread an idea and make it visible to a lot of people), ‘mavens‘ (people with a focused interest in particular areas, be it where to get the best prices or the relative merits of the newest features of the latest release electronic goods, and a willingness and interest to share that information with others) and ‘salespeople‘ (people with a talent for persuasion, and for changing our minds and making us see or act differently).

The ‘stickiness factor‘ asserts that ideas, to be disseminated effectively and become ‘viral,’ need to ‘mutate’ into a form where they readily penetrate and people can ‘catch the virus’ and absorb or adopt the idea or behaviour. Gladwell, with reference to TV shows such as Sesame Street and Blues Clues, argues that stickiness can be deliberately cultivated and refined to maximise the impact and ‘spread’ of content or behaviour.

The ‘power of context‘ asserts that small changes in environment can make a big difference to outcomes – that people are “extraordinarily” attuned to their environment and respond in different ways following what might appear to be very minor changes.

See part II – were Gladwell’s Tipping Point ideas original?

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.

Book Review: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell (Part I)

My doctoral thesis was concerned with understanding the spread and impact of economic ideas. I took on board perspectives and frameworks from economists, political scientists, sociologists, and others – and, ultimately, made my own contribution to help move forward our understanding of the spread and impact of economic ideas.

It was with some interest, therefore, that I read Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference – a work concerned with the spread and impact of ideas and behaviours.

As it asserts on the book jacket, The Tipping Point is about

. . . that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviours cross a threshold, tip and spread like wildfire.

The central ideas presented in The Tipping Point

The central ideas presented inThe Tipping Point are relatively straightforward to summarise.

Gladwell’s major thesis is that ‘fads’ can be understood in much the same way that epidemiologists understand the spread of viruses, and that an astonishing range of social phenomena from smoking to suicide to fighting crime in New York City can be addressed using this metaphor.

To understand the social spread of ‘viral’ ideas or behaviours, Gladwell tells us, we need bear in mind only three simple ‘laws’: the ‘law of the few,’ the ‘stickiness factor,’ and the ‘power of context.’

The ‘law of the few‘ asserts that “the efforts of a handful of exceptional people” are at the core of social epidemics, and these exceptional people are defined by how well connected they are and the degree of influence they have.

Gladwell identified three particular kinds of people with particular influence: ‘connectors‘ (people who know a lot of people and are in a position to influence a lot of people or spread an idea and make it visible to a lot of people), ‘mavens‘ (people with a focused interest in particular areas, be it where to get the best prices or the relative merits of the newest features of the latest release electronic goods, and a willingness and interest to share that information with others) and ‘salespeople‘ (people with a talent for persuasion, and for changing our minds and making us see or act differently).

The ‘stickiness factor‘ asserts that ideas, to be disseminated effectively and become ‘viral,’ need to ‘mutate’ into a form where they readily penetrate and people can ‘catch the virus’ and absorb or adopt the idea or behaviour. Gladwell, with reference to TV shows such as Sesame Street and Blues Clues, argues that stickiness can be deliberately cultivated and refined to maximise the impact and ‘spread’ of content or behaviour.

The ‘power of context‘ asserts that small changes in environment can make a big difference to outcomes – that people are “extraordinarily” attuned to their environment and respond in different ways following what might appear to be very minor changes.

See part II – were Gladwell’s Tipping Point ideas original?

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.