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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference Hardcover – Kindle eBook, February 29, 2000
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"The best way to understand the dramatic transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life," writes Malcolm Gladwell, "is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do." Although anyone familiar with the theory of memetics will recognize this concept, Gladwell's The Tipping Point has quite a few interesting twists on the subject.
For example, Paul Revere was able to galvanize the forces of resistance so effectively in part because he was what Gladwell calls a "Connector": he knew just about everybody, particularly the revolutionary leaders in each of the towns that he rode through. But Revere "wasn't just the man with the biggest Rolodex in colonial Boston," he was also a "Maven" who gathered extensive information about the British. He knew what was going on and he knew exactly whom to tell. The phenomenon continues to this day--think of how often you've received information in an e-mail message that had been forwarded at least half a dozen times before reaching you.
Gladwell develops these and other concepts (such as the "stickiness" of ideas or the effect of population size on information dispersal) through simple, clear explanations and entertainingly illustrative anecdotes, such as comparing the pedagogical methods of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues, or explaining why it would be even easier to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with the actor Rod Steiger. Although some readers may find the transitional passages between chapters hold their hands a little too tightly, and Gladwell's closing invocation of the possibilities of social engineering sketchy, even chilling, The Tipping Point is one of the most effective books on science for a general audience in ages. It seems inevitable that "tipping point," like "future shock" or "chaos theory," will soon become one of those ideas that everybody knows--or at least knows by name. --Ron Hogan
From Publishers Weekly
The premise of this facile piece of pop sociology has built-in appeal: little changes can have big effects; when small numbers of people start behaving differently, that behavior can ripple outward until a critical mass or "tipping point" is reached, changing the world. Gladwell's thesis that ideas, products, messages and behaviors "spread just like viruses do" remains a metaphor as he follows the growth of "word-of-mouth epidemics" triggered with the help of three pivotal types. These are Connectors, sociable personalities who bring people together; Mavens, who like to pass along knowledge; and Salesmen, adept at persuading the unenlightened. (Paul Revere, for example, was a Maven and a Connector). Gladwell's applications of his "tipping point" concept to current phenomena--such as the drop in violent crime in New York, the rebirth of Hush Puppies suede shoes as a suburban mall favorite, teenage suicide patterns and the efficiency of small work units--may arouse controversy. For example, many parents may be alarmed at his advice on drugs: since teenagers' experimentation with drugs, including cocaine, seldom leads to hardcore use, he contends, "We have to stop fighting this kind of experimentation. We have to accept it and even embrace it." While it offers a smorgasbord of intriguing snippets summarizing research on topics such as conversational patterns, infants' crib talk, judging other people's character, cheating habits in schoolchildren, memory sharing among families or couples, and the dehumanizing effects of prisons, this volume betrays its roots as a series of articles for the New Yorker, where Gladwell is a staff writer: his trendy material feels bloated and insubstantial in book form. Agent, Tina Bennett of Janklow & Nesbit. Major ad/promo. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
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 150...it 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.
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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