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The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can…

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (2000)

by Malcolm Gladwell

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The publisher describes this book as being an exploration of that “moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.” The book was published nearly 15 years ago, and as best I can tell, Gladwell’s findings have mainly been used by marketers to sell stuff. Gladwell writes about many different things in the book – Paul Revere’s midnight ride to spread the idea of resistance against the Red Coats, nicotine and education about smoking, children’s television programs, crime reduction, and yes, selling shoes.
I read the book with one purpose in mind. I am deeply concerned about climate change/global warming. My question is: how do we get to the tipping point where concern about climate change and a willingness to act on that concern spreads like wildfire. In short, what’s it going to take to get humans off their fannies and start addressing the most serious problem the human species has ever known?
Brief summary: Gladwell first writes about 3 kinds of people who contribute to the tipping point: connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Mavens are the most important in bringing about the tipping point. They are connected, they are informed, they are interested, and they are very influential. Second, he discusses the “stickiness” of a message – those qualities that make the message stick in people’s heads so that they start to take it seriously enough to act on it. Third, the power of context is key as well. People are deeply influenced by their context and by their peers. One of Gladwell’s findings is that we function best in groups of 150 people or fewer when considering context.
So what about climate change?
We don’t have any mavens. We have a lot of scientists who for a long time were very circumspect about their warnings. That’s changed now and 99% of them are sounding the warnings repeatedly. We have some charismatic figures like Neil DeGrass Tyson, and great writers like Bill McKibben, and at least once scientist-activist James Hansen who talk about climate change. But so far, we have no mavens who have the information, the interest, and most importantly, the extensive influence over others. Add to this lack of mavens is the problem that a concerted, well-financed effort to undermine the scientists’ warnings has been functioning well for years (Faux News, willfully ignorant deniers, fossil fuel industry reps.
Stickiness of the message? Again the reticence of the scientists plus a serious ignorance among the public about really basic atmospheric science has made it far too easy for people to just tune out. Recently the advent of super storms has begun to get people’s attention. So far, though, no one has crafted the message about climate change so that it sticks. And of course, we have that constant and well-funded campaign I just mentioned to undermine the message and preventing it from sticking.

Context. Well, if no one cares, then why should I? That’s been the context for years. However, this is the only place where I see any hope. No maven, no sticky messages, just a lot of people, one by one, who are coming into an awareness of the problem. They (we) are starting to live differently, and we are starting to talk about the problem with our 150 people.
If we manage to rescue ourselves from the self-created disaster, it may be that this is the way it will happen. One by one we creating are a context in which climate change starts being taken seriously. Maybe we, each of us, will create the tipping point. ( )
  C.J.Shane | Feb 23, 2019 |
Least fave of his books I've read. Nothing too outstanding uncovered. ( )
  gpratt | Dec 29, 2018 |
I think when the book came out it was pretty extraordinary.
Today, the points it makes seem obvious. ( )
  scottkirkwood | Dec 4, 2018 |
Small benefits people have over others can sometimes push the scales heavily on their side. There comes an inflection point in many situations after which the whole situation takes an entirely different turn. Again tactful narrative and interesting examples make this an engaging read from Gladwell. ( )
  Varun.Sayal | Nov 15, 2018 |
Scrawled across the back cover it reads, “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. That attention-getting statement was my “tipping point” and so, I bought the book.

The subtitle of "The Tipping Point" is “How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. The premise of the book is that there are several very important factors that go into setting trends, creating an epidemic of any kind of activity, and driving the population in consumerism and cultural activities. Malcolm Gladwell sites a wide variety of examples- the popularity of TV shows, books, fashion, gun violence in schools, suicide, and teenage smoking.

There is nothing astonishing about the content of this book. The information is all very interesting but useless for the common layman, although there are some good marketing tips if you are a small business owner or entrepreneur trying to market a new product.

Common sense tells us that to promote something new it takes a person with a large variety of connections… what we used to refer to as “movers and shakers”. It takes experts and specialists on the product, service, or particular topic of interest. And it takes reliable credible sales people.

In advertising it all boils down to the “power of the content”. Sometimes rather than scrapping a failed marketing campaign, a little creative tweaking of the original content can make all the difference. Memorable messages are critical.

Gladwell expresses some valid points, like the power of social connections and the contagious effect of being around a socially up-beat person.

One interesting subject Gladwell addresses is how to promote and control positive changes in society. Some negative trends in cultural behavior are hard to reverse, but it has been done successfully and several examples are cited. One in particular regards the high crime in New York City throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. The author reveals the tipping point that led the city back to low crime. He details how it all revolved around a campaign to rid the bad neighborhoods of the city and subway system of graffiti. He claims that the significant reduction of graffiti proved to be the tipping point. That is an interesting concept and no doubt, it was effective. Maybe that was the on-set of reversing the high crime, but he fails to mention that in 1994 Rudy Giuliani became the Mayor of New York City. And in 1995 George Pataki became the Governor. For the first time in 20 years New York City had a Republican Governor and Mayor. Perhaps that was the true tipping point.

It makes me wonder what other critical information Malcolm Gladwell conveniently omitted- or skewed- to get his “tipping point” theory across. ( )
  LadyLo | Aug 19, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 277 (next | show all)
I wish Malcolm Gladwell had chosen to use his considerable skills as a journalist to describe more examples of actual tipping points. In reaching instead for theory, he reaches well beyond where he, or anyone else, can safely travel.
What Mr. Gladwell has to say is instructive. If he hasn't got all the answers, he certainly offers a fresh way of looking at the problems.
Gladwell's narrative voice is so chummy and seductive, it's easy to get drawn into his worldview.
But still: $1 million ... Here's a tip: Don't believe the hype.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is both interesting and engaging. It is a medicine chest of a book, full of seemingly unrelated concoctions, each available for strategic application to manipulate the equilibrium.

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gladwell, MalcolmAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gladwell, MalcolmNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sandin, GunnarTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For Hush Puppies -- the classic American brushed-suede shoes with lightweight crepe sole -- the Tipping Point came somewhere between late 1994 and early 1995.
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In this brilliant and groundbreaking book, New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell looks at why major changes in out society so often happen suddenly and unexpectedly. Ideas, behavior, messages, and products, he argues, often spread like outbreaks of infectious disease. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a few fare-beaters and graffiti artists fuel a subway crime wave, or a satisfied customer fill the empty tables of a new restaurant. These are social epidemics, and the moment when they take off, when they reach their critical mass, is the Tipping Point.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316346624, Paperback)

"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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:45 -0400)

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An introduction to the Tipping Point theory explains how minor changes in ideas and products can increase their popularity and how small adjustments in an individual's immediate environment can alter group behavior.

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