I just recently devoured author Malcolm Gladwell’s first book “The Tipping Point” (2000) and now I am one third of the way through his latest book “What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures” (2009), leaving his two other books, untouched for now, and noticed we have 3 things in common. Firstly, we are both Canadian. Secondly, we both have Nigerian roots. Thirdly, but hardly the least most important is we are both writers. Me on this blog and an possible e-book (if I can get off my butt and make it happen) and him and his aforementioned 4 books, as well as a distinguished career as a journalist at The New Yorker. That’s a lot to like, but I rather just say love, because after reading The Tipping Point, you can’t come away not loving the book, as well as Gladwell. He is an amazing writer.
Whether you have heard of the term “tipping point” before or not it doesn’t matter. Gladwell explains the concept really simply, something that he is able to do with everything we encounter in The Tipping Point. What Gladwell looks at are social epidemics are things which start off small and but spread extremely quickly, through word of mouth, that they “tip”. Examples of social epidemics that Gladwell references in the book, are Paul Revere and his midnight ride to warn Americans of the incoming British invasion in the late 18th century (American Revolution), the rise of Hush Puppies as a fashion trend, and the spread of sexual transmitted diseases in Colorado Springs.
Gladwell continues by pointing us in the direction of three special personality types he wishes to highlight: “Connectors”, “Salespeople”, and “Mavens” and their influence in making social epidemics tip. These people are elite activists in what their name description implies, really exceptional people (as you will read in the book), that are able to help social epidemics reach the masses as well as direct people to information. Gladwell also talks about “The Stickiness Factor” which helps to show why Sesame Street was so successful. In the case of Sesame Street, Gladwell talks of the way in which in the early days of the show, the 1960s, the creators tested children’s attention spans. What they did was have a slide show which ran random slides such as a rainbow or a leaf floating through ripples of water, every 7 seconds. Then, children would be brought into a viewing room, in pairs, to watching an episode of Sesame with the slide show running as well. The creators then would take note of when the children looked at the slides or Sesame. Every time the slide changed, the staff would make a notation. From this information, they would have a very detailed account of what shows held the attention spans of children, The Stickiness Factor, thus allowing them to create shows that would capture children’s hearts for decades.
In addition to having Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople and The Stickiness Factor, the final thing which aids social epidemics in tipping is what Gladwell says is “The Power of Context”. Gladwell describes this as being the how our surroundings, shape the lens in which we view the world, and how they may actually have more impact than our individual personality traits and dispositions. This is the whole nature/nurture debate and Gladwell expertly dances us through this idea using case studies, which are very gripping and perhaps some of the most interesting parts of the book. For example how an murder on a subway in New York City in the 1980s started a crime revolution in the city and the reason why children are increasingly smoking cigarettes.
Add all these concepts together and this is the essence of what the The Tipping Point is all about. Gladwell is able to shed light onto why things happen in this world, that things are not merely of random coincidence, and how small things lead to big changes or social epidemics. What you take away from reading the Tipping Point, is you become more aware of the world around you, as perhaps the numerous preconceived notions you may have had on things are broken down by Gladwell’s logical analysis and interaction with experts in a variety of fields.
Gladwell is able to weave all these pieces together so well, which makes reading the Tipping Point a breeze. His storytelling, without unnecessary words or jargon, is one I can appreciate, with every sentence making a point and leaving you eager to read the next. In my eyes, Gladwell’s agenda is a simple one. By sharing The Tipping Point, he is able to empower you with knowledge of the world around us, an extremely valuable resource in our ever increasingly complicated and interconnected world.