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Book Review: The Tipping Point




‘Riveting’ is not a word usually used by a reviewer to describe non-fiction. However, it precisely describes how I feel about Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping point. Brilliant anecdotes and food for thought make this book a lucid read. I know this book was out in 2002 but it slipped my radar until very recently.

What causes the tipping point for something to break the thresholds and multiply exponentially, not over a period of time but in one short burst?What do the following things have in common? An unstoppable disease that ravages a population, a TV program that glues millions of kids to the screen or a sudden decline in crime in a large city?

All of these examples, argues the author have some common factors: A few individuals or entities with certain traits, a factor that enables the spread to persist which the author calls the stickiness factor and finally a context for the spread to survive.

Critics of the book argue that this book does not have the ‘how-to’ factor. It does not tell you how to spread or stop the spread of a phenomenon but offers a mental pattern that one may be able to adapt to his situation (or context). This book makes no claim to be a business book and must not be interpreted as one. I have little doubt however, that a smart individual could use the patterns here to promote a product or service.


The Law of the Few


The individuals or entities who spread the word or disease , Gladwell postulates are few in number and fall into three categories. There are the connectors who are in touch with a lot of people but may be close to few. Gladwell insists that the famous six degrees of separation theory is made possible, thanks to some of these well connected people.

He categorizes another group of people as Mavens. These are the dynamic knowledge banks who are ready and willing to spread a phenomenon for no real monetary gain. Finally, to spread the phenomenon on a large scale, one needs efficient salespeople.


The Stickiness Factor


Gladwell explains the stickiness factor in great detail. He uses two children’s TV shows to make his point, Sesame Street and Blues Clues. While Sesame street banked on the short attention span of its young audience to break its show into disconnected segments. Blues Clues used the opposite strategy using a single story line narrated by its host and both were phenomenal successes in their times. I love the way Gladwell disects the motivations behind these shows to make his point.





The Power of Context

Next he explains what he means by the power of context. Wayne Dyer once quoted someone’s great saying that circumstances do not create men, they reveal them. However, Gladwell argues that quite the opposite is true. A person’s reaction to any situation will be determined by his environment and not his intrinsic personality. This means that by simply cleaning up the graffiti on the walls in your neighborhood, you could make it gang free in no time.

The book features numerous case studies and examples to illustrate Gladewell’s framework. This is one of the most informative books I have read in a while.

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