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608 of 649 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2000
I read this book in part of one day - it's a good, quick read. Unlike some of the people who didn't care for the book - I never read the New Yorker article. It may be that the book doesn't add enough new info to excite folks who have read that article. But to me the book threw out a good number of new ideas and concepts very quickly and very clearly. I found his ability to draw a nexus between things that, on the surface seem very divergent, was very interesting, and he did it smoothly, without jumping around a lot.
The thrust of the book is that there are three things that can converge to bring about dramatic and perhaps unexpectedly fast changes in our society. These are the context (the situational environment - especially when it's near the balance or 'tipping point'), the idea, and the people involved. His point is that very small changes in any or several of the context, the quality of the idea (which he calls 'stickiness', ie how well the idea sticks), or whether the idea reaches a very small group of key people can trigger a dramatic epidemic of change in society.
"In a given process or system some people matter more than others." (p.19). "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts." (p.33).
He divides these gifted people into three categories: Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople. "Sprinkled among every walk of life ... are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors." (p. 41). "I always keep up with people." (p. 44 quoting a "Connector"). "in the case of Connectors, their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy." (p.49). "The point about Connectors is that by having a foot in so many different worlds they have the effect of bringing them all together." (p.51).
"The word Maven comes from the Yiddish, and it means one who accumulates knowledge." (p. 60). "The fact that Mavens want to help, for no other reason than because they like to help, turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone's attention." (p.67). "The one thing that a Maven is not is a persuader. To be a Maven is to be a teacher. But it is also, even more emphatically to be a student." (p.69).
"There is also a select group of people -- Salesmen -- with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing." (p. 70). He goes on to describe an individual named Tom Gau who is a Salesman. "He seems to have some indefinable trait, something powerful and contagious and irresistible that goes beyond what comes out of his mouth, that makes people who meet him want to agree with him. It's energy. It's enthusiasm. It's charm. It's likability. It's all those things and yet something more." (p. 73).
He then goes into the importance of actually gathering empirical data about ideas, and not just relying on theory or assumption to determine quality, or as he calls it, 'stickiness.' He gives examples of where assumptions have been debunked with data. "Kids don't watch when they are stimulated and look away when they are bored. They watch when they understand and look away when they are confused." (p.102). "Children actually don't like commercials as much as we thought they did." (p. 118) "The driving force for a preschooler is not a search for novelty, like it is with older kids, it's a search for understanding and predictability." (p. 126) Hence why your three year old can watch those Barney videos over and over until the tape breaks - it becomes predictable after the third or fourth viewing. This is probably also why Barney suddenly falls out of favor when predictability is less important than novelty.
Finally, there's a point he makes he calls the rule of 150. He starts with some British anthropologists idea that brain size, neocortex size actually, is related to the ability to handle the complexities of social groups. The larger the neocortex, the larger the social group that can be managed. She then charts primate neocortex size against known average social group sizes for various primates, other than humans. Then she plugs human neocortex size into the equation, and out pops 147.8, or about 150. Now that would be not so interesting, except that he goes on to talk about this religious group, the Hutterites. They are clannish like the Amish or Mennonites, and they have a rule that when a colony approaches 150, they split into two and start a new one. He follows that by noting that Military organizations generally split companies at 150-200. And then he talks about Gore - the company that makes Goretex, among other things. They have a ~150 employee per plant rule.
"At a bigger size you have to impose complicated hierarchies and rules and regulations and formal measures to try to command loyalty and cohesion. But below is possible to achieve the same goals infomally." (p.180)
"When things get larger than that, people become strangers to one another." (p.181)
"Crossing the 150 line is a small change that can make a big difference." (p. 183)
On the whole, I thought the book sparked thought and converstaion, and will make me look at life and business a little differently. To me that's a good book.
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926 of 1,036 people found the following review helpful
on December 22, 2006
I know negative reviews tend to get dismissed or lost in the shuffle, especially for wildly popular books such as Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point; however, I think it's important to chime in on how this book fails to deliver on its basic premise. In essence, the Tipping Point describes how certain types of people (who Gladwell refers to as connectors, mavens, and salesmen), and certain circumstances (the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context), can help turn fashion, books, television shows into epidemics, and turn crime waves and smoking trends upside-down. And here is where Gladwell's Tipping Point fails: he uses the data of real-life examples to reason backwards in the formation of his theory. When read closely and critically, Gladwell only describes THAT things `tip' and not WHY they `tip'. As Karl Popper said of Freudian Theory (and of all science), it must be falsifiable. Here it seems unlikely that any observation or experimental paradigm could be developed to falsify the theory of The Tipping Point, which again, makes this book not very scientific. For example, if a person or circumstance met one of Gladwell's criteria, but failed to tip the item/situation, would it call his theory into question? You see where I'm going with this? If something was `sticky' (which the law of stickiness says makes certain information at certain times, irresistible) but didn't tip, does that mean it was never `sticky', or does something need to tip in order for it to be deemed `sticky'. And now we're talking circular logic, maybe backwards logic; the type of theory written on the back of a cocktail napkin at 2am that sounds like it explains everything. Again, not good science. I was really looking forward to this book, but the over-simplifications, sheer repetitiveness, and poor execution of writing scientifically made for a highly disappointing read.
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814 of 921 people found the following review helpful
on May 7, 2000
Malcolm Gladwell, a staff writer for New Yorker Magazine, in The Tipping Point, writes a fascinating study of human behavior patterns, and shows us where the smallest things can trigger an epidemic of change. Though loaded with statistics, the numbers are presented in a way that makes the book read like an exciting novel. Gladwell also gives several examples in history, where one small change in behavior created a bigger change on a national level. He also studies the type of person or group that it takes to make that change.
Gladwell's first example is the resurgence of the popularity of Hush Puppies, which had long been out of fashion, and were only sold in small shoe stores. Suddenly, a group of teenage boys in East Village, New York, found the cool to wear. Word-of-mouth advertising that these trend-setters were wearing the once-popular suede shoes set off an epidemic of fashion change, and boys all over America had to have the "cool" shoes.
Galdwell also examines the difference in personality it takes to trigger the change. For example, we all know of Paul Revere's famous ride, but how many of us know that William Dawes made a similar ride? The difference was that people listened to Revere and not to Dawes. Why? Revere knew so many different people. He knew who led which village, knew which doors to knock on to rouse the colonists. Dawes didn't know that many people and therefore could only guess which people to give his message.
There are several other phenomena that Gladwell examines, showing the small things that spark a change, from the dip in the New York City crime rate to the correlation between depression, smoking and teen suicide. If you want to change the world for the better, this book will give you an insight into the methods that work, and those that will backfire. It's all in knowing where to find The Tipping Point.
Jo @ MyShelf.Com
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504 of 574 people found the following review helpful
on March 7, 2000
Despite an earlier reviewer poo-pooing this book for shallow insights, I beg to differ. This book is a fascinating and original take on what makes people behave in a certain way en masse. Tying together Paul Revere, Hush Puppies and many other very accessible ideas makes this book, that is in some ways very academic, read like a thriller. I read it in three sittings. It has an impact on several levels. One, as a marketer, it gave me insights into how word-of-mouth really works. I'll be experimenting with these concepts for years. Second, as a member of society, I gained insight into why I am pulled this way and that by trends. If you enjoyed this, you'll also enjoy the groundbreaking book by Robert Cialdini called "Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion." It makes some of the same points. Finally, it makes me think that some savvy activists will find some ways to use these principles to start societal epidemics that will ultimately have a positive effect. I believe Gladwell has introduced a concept, "the Tipping Point," that will have a wide-ranging impact on how we view the world and human behavior.
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140 of 159 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2005
This book has no substance. There is one central idea - if a phenomenon reaches a certain critical mass, it will grow exponentially. Gladwell then "backs up" this idea with anecdotal fluff that is mildly entertaining, but a waste of the reader's time. If your'e interested in viral marketing or similar ideas, read "The Anatomy of Buzz". It has far more substance.

Gladwell's success lies in knowing what people want to believe and finding a gimmicky way to title his books. His new book "Blink" tells us that snap decisions are better than considered ones. I should have applied that to the purchase of this book. Every time I scanned it in a bookstore, I thought it wasn't worth reading beyond the introduction. Finally I bought it. I read it, and made a snap decision. It's the only book I've returned to the bookstore in 10 years.
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68 of 76 people found the following review helpful
on July 1, 2000
This relatively short book is a very pleasant surprise. Usually I am quite skeptical of new theories and concepts that attempt to explain human behavior, since the thinking, embedded in pompous language, often proves shallow and the primary goal seems simply to grab attention and book sales. Instead I found Gladwell's book well written, fast paced, interesting and thought provoking. Subject to translating its ideas successfully into practical actions, I believe it is potentially very useful in social sciences and business.
Gladwell's use of examples from very different fields adds to the interest in and credibility of the factors that contribute to a sudden "epidemic" - good or bad - of a behavior, an idea, a product or a belief. I am particularly intrigued by his concept that the true underlying causes and explanations for what we perceive as extremely complex social issues, for example, can be "tipped" with simple, direct actions in the right place at the right time. All too often governments and companies try to solve their big problems with excessively expensive, but ineffective programs or projects. I agree with him that attempted solutions frequently fail to address basic motivational factors and that the best solutions are often counterintuitive.
For those of us in business, I think the concepts in this book, properly applied, could make us more effective. Gladwell's business examples, his linkage to Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" and his brief discussion of the "magic 150" make the book worth reading. Far from being a "how to" handbook, considerable thought will be required to apply it practically, which I believe will be a good learning experience.
As I read the book I realized that many analogs of this concept exist in the physical world. There are many examples from stereo amplifiers to martial arts in which relatively small forces or energy inputs at the right place and time cause large differences in outcomes.
Why five stars? The book gave me a new perspective for thinking how and why things happen in society and business. It presents interesting observations and information about trends that affect us. I think it will be useful in my business. It is well written. And, it is unpretentiously short.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Tipping points are those places where geometric increases follow, that are temporarily unbounded by other limits. For example, when lily pads cover a little more than half of a pond, the rest of the pond's surface will soon follow. That last doubling will cause almost more surface to be covered than all of the prior growth, but will take only a fraction of the time. Although this book focuses on tipping points, it is really about systems dynamics -- how related phenomena build on each other in feedback loops (for example, how adding food to the environment for rapidly growing species expands their populations). This subject is an essential part of books like The Fifth Discipline, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, The Dance of Change, and The Soul at Work. Because the book never makes that connection to systems dynamics, most readers won't either. That's a problem because you will need the tools from these other resources and disciplines to apply this book's thesis of pushing the tipping point. Missing this connection is the book's main weakness.
For people who are interested in how to start (or stop) trends, this book is a useful encapsulation of much of the best and most provocative behavioral research in recent years. Unless you follow this subject closely (someone the author would call a Maven), you will find that much of this is new to you.
On the other hand, if you have been involved in the marketing of trendy items or stopping medical epidemics, this will seem very elementary and old hat.
I found the book to be a pleasant and quick read of how behaviors move from equilibrium into disequilibrium, caused by some factor that creates the tipping point to expand or decrease the behavior. If you are like me, I suspect you will, too.
If you want to apply these lessons, you will probably find the book's explanation of the concepts to be just a little too general for your real needs. A good related book to fill in your sense of how human behavior works is Influence by Robert Cialdini.
Essentially, the book's thesis is that trends grow by expanding the base of those who will spread the word of mouth and be listened to, aided by powerful messages that stick indelibly into the mind and an environment that psychologically encourages the trend.
The weakness of that argument is that it fails to fully address the physical needs that might be served to support the trend. Sure, psychology is important, but so is physiology. To the author's credit, the examples clearly deal with physiology (such as the smoking and children's television sections), but the book's thesis does not really do so. It is a strange omission. I think some people will be confused about what to do as a result.
Clearly, this book is about identifying what causes behavior through careful measurement. The examples are especially interesting because the common sense causes are seldom the right ones. For example, some children do not seem to pay much attention to a given educational television show while they play with toys. Actually, these children are picking up as much information from the show as those that do pay undivided attention, because no more than partial attention is needed for these viewers. This reminds me of the lessons about human behavior in the beer game example in The Fifth Discipline where role-playing beer retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers willy-nilly over order and over produce beer because of misinterpreting a temporary shortage as a permanent one, creating a long-term disaster for all concerned. The obvious is often obviously wrong.
Anyone applying these ideas needs to develop those causation-finding measurement skills. Since the book does not provide much guidance beyond examples of successfully and unsuccessfully using them, about all you can hope for is to remember to get expert help and double check the expert's conclusions with measurements.
Almost any reader will at least get a few great stories to use at the next cocktail party or dinner, assuming your companions have not yet read this book. Have fun, and enjoy more irresistible growth as a result!
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116 of 133 people found the following review helpful
This is the second Gladwell book I've read, and unfortunately its as bad as the first (Blink!). His basic point is that little things can make a big difference. Gladwell's problem, however, is that he doesn't know what he's writing about, and it's a fatal flaw.

For example, early in this book he relates how a "small change" in Brooklyn policing strategies turned into a "large drop" in crime. In reality, Gladwell is wrong on both counts. "Broken windows" policing referred to by Gladwell was a large (not small change), and the "large drop" in crime Gladwell referred to had little or nothing to do with it.

The reality is that "broken windows" policing ended up going far beyond simply pursuing those with minor violations (eg. fare-beating) to include studying crime patterns (location, timing, etc.), setting improvement goals, and regular high-level follow-up. Secondly, "Freakonomics" research concluded that the crime-rate decline began BEFORE the change in policing, and that most of the decline was due to increased staffing.

Gladwell also attributed the decline to improved economic conditions - however, no such decline accompanied prior economic good times. Finally, Gladwell offered no explanation of why similar steep declines in crime occurred across the U.S. at the same time - without regard to any change in policing!

Another of Gladwell's problems is that he doesn't seem to understand anything about statistics. The fact that a change in policing suposedly occurred at the same time as a decline in crime rates seems to be "proof" of causation for Gladwell. One of the first lessons in statistics, however, is that "correlation does not imply causation."

Yes there are instances where Gladwell is correct - eg. a key group adopts a new product, and sales take off. But who wants to do research on the accuracy of each premise within a book?

Summarizing, the book starts out poorly, and goes downhill from there - increasingly boring, confusing, and totally lacking in credibility.

Don't confuse, aggravate, misinform yourself with this book!
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44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on October 20, 2004
This book explains how ideas, products and social trends can spread rapidly though the population until they reach "the tipping point" - the point at which the idea becomes mainstream. Author Malcolm Gladwell explains this phenomenon by comparing the spread of ideas to epidemics. He describes the three characteristics of epidemics, and the elements necessary to spread an idea from a small group of innovators to the general population.

Three Characteristics of Epidemics

The three characteristics of epidemics are contagiousness, small causes having large effects, and dramatic change happening all at once.

For a disease to become an epidemic, it must be contagious. A contagious disease can spread exponentially through a population by what scientists call Geometric Progression. If one person infects two people, who each in turn infect two more people, it takes only 28 cycles for the disease to infect 268 million people. To become an epidemic, a disease must be contagious and spread quickly enough to outpace the rate at which patients recover. The tipping point is the moment at which the disease spreads fast enough to explode into an epidemic.

Three Elements of the Tipping Point

Like epidemics, the spread of an idea or trend also has a tipping point. The Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context explain the requirements to achieve this tipping point.

The Law of the Few states that ideas are not spread by ordinary people, but by three types of special individuals: mavens, connectors and salesman. Mavens are naturally helpful people who enjoy collecting vast amounts of information on a subject matter to share with others. People look to mavens to validate an idea or trend. Connectors are outgoing people with a large, diverse network of acquaintances. If a maven shares a good idea with a connector, the idea can spread very quickly through the connector's network. But for the idea to spread beyond the network, salesmen must to use their persuasion skills to convince the masses to accept the idea.

The Stickiness Factor states that the idea must be memorable in order to spread. If an idea or product is not memorable, it will not be embraced by the people in the connector's network. Marketers must constantly devise ways to present products so that they are memorable. A rule of thumb in advertising is that a person must see an ad six times before it "sticks".

The Power of Context says that ideas are sensitive to the circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. An idea that works in a certain time and place may not spread in another. An idea or product may need to be modified to appeal to the environment in which it is being marketed.


The Tipping Point provides interesting insight into the author's theories on the dynamics of how ideas proliferate. While these theories are worth consideration, there is no scientific research to validate them. But despite this lack of research, the theories offered in The Tipping Point do merit further exploration. This book will provide great insight anyone who wants to spread an idea, launch a product or influence social trends.
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69 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2005
Malcolm Gladwell is a genius... in getting publicity for himself. As a writer for the New Yorker, he must have a lot of pull in the publishing and P.R. circles... in the publishing and P.R. capital of New York. I kind of like that wild hair, but I also see it as part of his publicity schtick. Definitely "brand recognition," there.

After about 75 pages I became bored with his long, long-winded storytelling. And I'm a fan of storytelling, but this was just over the top. A couple of his anecdotes I found interesting, but this is a classic example of a concept that could be expressed in 40 pages and he chose to make it book length.

I found Emanuel Rosenberg's "The Anatomy of Buzz" much more insightful... AND it gave you LOTS of recipes for HOW TO CREATE BUZZ. Gladwell's Tipping Point only told stories, with little translation in to WHAT'S IN IT FOR YOU, the reader.

I was disppointed after all that hype. I won't be buying his new book, "Blink," that's for sure. If a friend wants to lend me a copy, I'll leaf through it, but I can't justify the expense... monetary or time.
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