Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Short Book Club ---- The Tipping Point

I missed the last meeting of the Short Book Club, due to being in the infectious stage of a horrible cold and not wanting to pass it on I stayed home, so I had no input into the choice of book. It turned out to be The Tipping Point, which I had certainly recommended earlier on as a suitable book for the club.

I first became aware of Malcolm Gladwell when I read Blink which appealed to me greatly. Immediately I followed it with his earlier successful book, The Tipping Point. First published in 2000, somehow I had missed it and even then it was two years after I read it that it made it into the book club. So a very quick re-read was necessary before I was able to remember it enough to be able to discuss it.

Subtitled How Little Things can Make a big Difference, the title of the book comes from the study of epidemiology where the tipping point is reached when an infectious disease reaches the crucial point when it passes into the epidemic stage. Gladwell calls it a book about change and he proposes the idea that trends and changes in social behaviour and the acceptance of new products behave like social epidemics. Thus they have a tipping point which changes them from a small event into something which makes an enormous difference.

He says he got the idea for the book when he was a reporter covering the Aids epidemic and heard the expression for the first time. He asked himself, "What if everything has a Tipping Point?" So began his search for the Tipping Point in a social and business context and other non-medical areas.

During his research into various fields and industries and areas of study, he identified three key factors that influence whether something will "tip" into success or popularity and he discusses these at length, using specific examples where they have worked.

The first is the Law of the Few in which he proposes that only a small group of people, admittedly very specific people, are needed to champion something for it to tip. These he calls the Connectors, the Mavens and the Salesmen. Connectors are people with widespread ties to many others in different groups, Mavens are foremost gatherers of information and use it to help others while Salesmen are charismatic people who persuade and influence others in buying decisions and behaviour.

The second is the Stickiness Factor which is a more ephemeral concept to define. What makes something "stick" in the minds of the public and become an influence or a success when we are bombarded by so many choices in today's world? He uses children's television, Sesame Street in particular, for his in-depth analysis.

The third factor, according to Gladwell is the Power of Context. For the Tipping Point to be crossed the environment or the moment in time is crucial. One of the examples he uses to illustrate this point is the reduction in crime in New York city in which some small changes in the environment were able to "tip" into a major reduction in the crime rate.

He has many case studies in the book to illustrate his conclusions and I found it a very easy and interesting read. His study of the problem of teenage smoking is quite enlightening although I do not agree with his conclusion that it is a rather benign experimentation only.

In an afterword he considers the Internet and email as well as the use of the telephone. He suggests the overuse of these technologies produces a kind of "immunity". The same is true of advertising. Who watches the ads on TV or reads them in magazines? Once again people are turning to the Connectors, the Mavens and the Salesmen and so word of mouth is just as important as ever.

I don't know if this is a great book, however it certainly attained great popularity and I have to say that I found it very interesting myself. I think it is a worthwhile read and it provoked a very good discussion at the Short Book Club and I don't think you can ask for more than that, do you?


Tai said...

OOOH! Book suggestions!
Must. Run. Out. And purchase!

It sounds very interesting, thanks!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

You make it sound a fascinating book, jmb, and yet again you make me want to read it. These authors should pay you for your excellent and incisive reviews!

Anonymous said...

I think that he makes a lot of sense, one thing to do would be to see if there are new examples where a tipping point has been artifically reached, e.g. by advertisers of marketers. Then it gets a little harder to find any..

Gledwood said...

Talking of epidemiological issues... new flu viruses... do they always arise first in birds and THEN attack human beings... I mean, the 1918/whatever Spanish flu... would THAT have begun as a bird flu some years earlier too?

Casdok said...

I read this book awhile ago and quite enjoyed it.

Eurodog said...

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I have memed you! Have a look on my blog.

leslie said...

Sounds like an interesting read. Sorry to hear you've a bad cold, but check out my site for an award I've given you! ;D

jmb said...

Hi Tai,
Did you miss this one too when it first came out?

Hi Welshcakes,
I thought it was an interesting read for sure, as is Blink. No money changes hands in these book reviews, except me paying to buy them.

Hi Mutley,
I thought it was a sensible hypothesis. I could not help but think about the tipping point of the iPod which came out after the book.

Hi Gledwood,
I don't think these things always come from birds or other animals but I don't know the origin of the Spanish flu virus, what made it so virulent.

Hi Casdok,
I was a bit late to this book although I did read it some years ago.

Hi Eurodog,
I'll be over to have a look. I'm not great with memes, you know. Is it about dogs?

Hi Leslie,
My cold was long ago but it was when this book was being chosen so I did not have a say in it. Thanks for the award.

Thanks to all of you for visiting and commenting.

CalumCarr said...

A few days ago I came across an article somewhere - I can't remember where - which gave the background to "Blink". I didn't even make the connection when I read your post but today I walked into a bookshop and I stopped right in front of "Tipping Point" and "Blink". I bought "Blink"