The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwel

The term Tipping points refers to the “the levels at which the force for change becomes unstoppable” (Walsh, 2007).  A tipping point is defined by Gladwell as a sociological term: he moment in a social interaction when social behaviors or ideas spread like an epidemic (Gladwel, 2000). This book describes and explains the “mysterious” changes in the society that take place in our every day lives. Gladwell seeks to explain that the social trends of a society behave like epidemics and understanding them is helpful and counter-intuitive. The examples of changes cited by Gladwell in his book are the rise in sales and popularity of Hush Puppies shoes in the 1990s and the dramatic drop in crime rates in the New York City after 1990.

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The main theme explored by Gladwell in this book is change and more importantly the “three rules of epidemics” showing how viruses spread giving clues to how social change occurs. The three agents of change as explored by Gladwell are: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. The Law of the Few, as Gladwell suggests is the "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" (Gladwell, 2000) where change is incited by certain exceptional people. This law is referred to as the 80/20 Principle by the economics; in any situation, approximately 80% of work is done by 20% of the participants. These participants are connectors, mavens and salesmen. Connectors are individuals who link us up to the world with the ability to bring the world together. They are able to establish big social networks and collect acquaintances. They ca make a social network of over a thousand people who are not necessarily their friends and their ties are usually “weak.”

Mavens are persons who specially collect information and they provide us with new information. They collect knowledge, particularly about the marketplace and then share it with other people. Gladwell gives an example of a store that has merchandise on sale but does not decrease its prices, Mavens find out such an information and spread it. Mavens begin a “word-of-mouth epidemic” (Gladwell, 2000) due to their social skills, knowledge and ability to effectively and freely communicate. What distinguishes mavens from the rest is their ability to broke information by sharing and trading it.

Salesmen are charismatic people with powerful persuasion and negotiation skills. A salesman possesses the ability to persuade you to act on the information he shares with you. The example given by Gladwell is the Californian Businessman Tom Gau and a news anchor, Peter Jennings and uses several studies about the persuasive effects of non-verbal cues. Salesmen have the charm, likeability and enthusiasm that enable them to win others to their manner of thinking. Most of the time salesmen send slight persuasive signals that their listeners are not aware off but have a power that is not very influential.

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The Stickiness Factor relates to a specific content of the message that makes its effects memorable. Television programs like Blue’s Clues and Sesame that pioneered the characteristics of the stickiness factor therefore advancing the successful retention of the message content in cycles with the entertainment value attached to it. The messages are usually memorable with an ability to incite change and may involve the use of deices like puzzles, a quiz or a lumpy mail to make them memorable.

The Power of Context refer to the human behaviour influenced by the communication environment. Gladwell asserts that "Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur." He gives the example of the zero tolerance efforts to deal with minor crimes such as vandalism and fare-beating in New York that led to a decline in more violent crimes across the country. He explains the bystander effect showing how Dunbar’s number plays into the tipping point with reference to Divine Secretes of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood a book by Rebecca Wells. He also discusses the 150 rule which holds that the maximum number of people in a society that one can really relate to is150 (Potter, 2009). The “bigger things” can take place rapidly and easily by paying attention to the “little things.”

I found the book to be “important and profound” bridging between the True Believer and the Influence. This is a book that got me thinking and taught me some new things. For example, the discussion on the power of context was a whole new thing to me and I found it very fascinating. It also made me understand that the power of context in combating crime is not without limitations. It represents very interesting concepts on how children can learn and how their kind of learning is distinguished from adult learning. The spread of epidemics or information or trends within a particular society, as I learnt from the book, involves a cascade of changing activities that eventually circulate in the entire society. The book makes an evident proof that big changes can be initiated by small changes and they have a lot to do with how children learn.

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The writer also uses very goof examples that helped me to create an involvement that connected me to the text. Paul Revere, for instance, became incredibly influential in the American revolution because be had all the three aspects of the Law of Few: he was a maven, a salesman and a connector. Other issues like the promotion of political change and marketing messages and all the things involved in the solving social problems all need a deeper understanding of the human behaviour in the context which they are found as Gladwell explains in this book. Is the belief that social epidemics can be manipulated and even understand the limits of the manipulation. If we want to decrease underage drinking for example, we can use the three Rules both to put in place the resources where they are known to work and avoid the wasting money on such promotional campaigns like adverts.

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