The Tipping Point

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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference  
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Author Malcolm Gladwell
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Little Brown
Publication date 2000
Media type print (paperback)
Pages 304
ISBN ISBN 0-316-34662-4, ISBN 0-316-31696-2 (first edition)

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (ISBN 0-316-31696-2) is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000.


[edit] Overview

Tipping points are "the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable."[1] Gladwell defines a tipping point as a sociological term: "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point."[2] The book seeks to explain and describe the "mysterious" sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, "Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do."[3] The examples of such changes in his book include the rise in popularity and sales of Hush Puppies shoes in the mid-1990s and the precipitous drop in the New York City crime rate after 1990.

[edit] The three rules of epidemics

Gladwell describes the "three rules of epidemics" (or the three "agents of change") in the tipping points of epidemics.

  • "The Law of the Few", or, as Gladwell states, "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social skills."[4] According to Gladwell, economists call this the "80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the 'work' will be done by 20 percent of the participants."[5] These people are described in the following ways:
  • Connectors are the people who "link us up with the world ... people with a special gift for bringing the world together."[6] They are "a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack [... for] making friends and acquaintances". [7] He characterizes these individuals as having social networks of over one hundred people. To illustrate, Gladwell cites the following examples: the midnight ride of Paul Revere, Milgram's experiments in the small world problem, the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" trivia game, Dallas businessman Roger Horchow, and Chicagoan Lois Weisberg, a person who understands the concept of the weak tie. Gladwell attributes the social success of Connectors to "their ability to span many different worlds [... as] a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy."[8]
  • Mavens are "information specialists", or "people we rely upon to connect us with new information."[9] They accumulate knowledge, especially about the marketplace, and know how to share it with others. Gladwell cites Mark Alpert as a prototypical Maven who is "almost pathologically helpful", further adding, "he can't help himself".[10] In this vein, Alpert himself concedes, "A Maven is someone who wants to solve other people's problems, generally by solving his own".[11] According to Gladwell, Mavens start "word-of-mouth epidemics"[12] due to their knowledge, social skills, and ability to communicate. As Gladwell states, "Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know".[13]
  • Salesmen are "persuaders", charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They tend to have an indefinable trait that goes beyond what they say, which makes others want to agree with them. Gladwell's examples include California businessman Tom Gau and news anchor Peter Jennings, and he cites several studies about the persuasive implications of non-verbal cues, including a headphone nod study (conducted by Gary Wells of the University of Alberta and Richard Petty of the University of Missouri) and William Condon's cultural microrhythms study.
  • The Stickiness Factor, the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable. Popular children's television programs such as Sesame Street and Blue's Clues pioneered the properties of the stickiness factor, thus enhancing the effective retention of the educational content in tandem with its entertainment value.

[edit] Other key concepts

Gladwell also includes two chapters of case studies, situations in which tipping point concepts were used in specific situations. These situations include the athletic shoe company Airwalk, the diffusion model, how rumors are spread, decreasing the spread of syphilis in Baltimore, teen suicide in Micronesia, and teen smoking in the U.S.

[edit] Criticism

Some of Gladwell's analysis as to why the phenomenon of the "tipping point" occurs is based on the 1967 "Six Degrees of Separation" study by social psychologist Stanley Milgram. Milgram distributed letters to 160 students in Nebraska, with instructions that they be sent to a stockbroker in Boston (not personally known to them) by passing the letters to anyone else that they believed to be socially closer to the target. The study found that it took an average of six links to deliver each letter. Of particular interest to Gladwell was the finding that just three friends of the stockbroker provided the final link for half of the letters that arrived successfully.[15] This gave rise to Gladwell's theory that certain types of people are key to the dissemination of information.

In 2003, Duncan Watts, a network-theory sociologist at Columbia University, repeated the Milgram study by using a web site to recruit 61,000 people to send messages to 18 targets worldwide.[16] He successfully reproduced Milgram's results (the average length of the chain was approximately six links). However, when he examined the pathways taken, he found that "hubs" (highly connected people) were not crucial. Only 5% of the e-mail messages had passed through one of the hubs.

Watts pointed out that if it were as simple as finding the individuals that can disseminate information prior to a marketing campaign, advertising agencies would presumably have a far higher success rate than they do. He also stated that Gladwell's theory does not square with much of his research into human social dynamics performed in the last ten years.[17]

Economist Steven Levitt and Gladwell have a running dispute about whether the fall in New York's crime rate can be attributed to the actions of the police department (as claimed in The Tipping Point). In his book Freakonomics, Levitt attributes the decrease in crime to a decrease in the number of unwanted children because of Roe v. Wade.[18]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Walsh, Bryan (2007-10-12). "A green tipping point". Time Magazine.,8599,1670871,00.html. Retrieved on 2007-12-29. 
  2. ^ Gladwell, p. 12
  3. ^ Gladwell, p. 7
  4. ^ Gladwell, p. 33
  5. ^ Gladwell, p. 19
  6. ^ Gladwell, p. 38
  7. ^ Gladwell, p. 41
  8. ^ Gladwell, p. 49
  9. ^ Gladwell, p. 19
  10. ^ Gladwell, p. 66
  11. ^ Gladwell, p. 66
  12. ^ Gladwell, p. 67
  13. ^ Gladwell, p. 69
  14. ^ Gladwell, p. 129.
  15. ^ Travers, Jeffrey; Stanley Milgram (December 1969). "An Experimental Study of the Small World Problem". Sociometry 32 (4): 425-443. 
  16. ^ Chang, Kenneth (2003-08-12). "With e-mail, it's not easy to navigate 6 degrees of separation". The New York Times. Retrieved on 2008-08-06. 
  17. ^ Thompson, Clive (February 2008). "Is the tipping point toast?". Fast Company. Retrieved on 2008-08-06. 
  18. ^ Gladwell, Malcolm (2006-04-30). "Steven Levitt". Time Magazine.,9171,1186920,00.html. Retrieved on 2008-12-29. 

[edit] External links

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