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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference Paperback – January 7, 2002
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About the Author
Malcolm Gladwell is also the author of the #1 bestselling Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. He was a reporter for the Washington Post from 1987 to 1996, working first as a science writer and then as New York City bureau chief. Since 1996, he has been a staff writer for The New Yorker.
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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.
Malcolm Gladwell begins by describing how several items including the rise and fall of Hush Puppy shoes can be viewed as an epidemic. He goes on to describe the mechanics of the spread of epidemics. Unfortunately, Malcom Gladwell never comes back and does anything to demonstrate that his assertions have any basis in fact.
In one example, Mr. Gladwell asserts that there were documented outbreaks of AIDS at the beginning of the 1900s, but that the disease did not "stick." So, we are led to believe then that AIDS disappeared, apparently without victims for another 70 years plus.
Mr. Gladwell continually asserts that a statistical correlation implies cause and effect. Statistically teenage boys have more accidents than teenage girls. Does that mean that we could prevent accidents by performing sex change operations? You get the point.
Some of his assertions are interesting, and they would have made interesting topics around the family dinner table. My objection is that without any level of proof Gladwell's "Tipping Point" does not deliver on what it promises. While interesting, the book did not present any testable or conclusive proofs of its premises. As such, it is dismissable.