The Tipping Point


Malcolm Gladwell




Date Reviewed:

November 8, 2006

ere is a bestseller that deserves its tremendous acclaim, I award this book a five star rating without any reservations. It is an very interesting read.

The "tipping point" that Gladwell talks about is when an idea catches hold in a society and suddenly it is every where. He starts the book describing hush puppy shoes - an old fashioned style that sold a few thousand pairs a year. Yet despite the fact that the manufacturers made no marketing campaigns, nor sales incentives, suddenly the demand for hush puppies skyrocketed - they became hip, they couldn't keep up with the orders. How did it happen that hush puppies became so popular - how did they cross the tipping point? Gladwell answers the question by describing three types of people who are crucial for ideas to work their way through society.

The first group of people described by Gladwell are "connectors". Connectors are people who seem to know everyone. They belong to societies and organizations, they remember names of everyone's family member, they are charismatic. Everyone knows connectors, but isn't necessarily their close friend. Indeed, many connectors seem to thrive on many casual acquaintances rather than a few intimate relationships. The connectors are important because they spread ideas quickly through society.

The second group described by Gladwell are "mavens". Mavens are authorities on particular subjects, such as gardening, electronics, automobiles or books. A maven will tell you where you can get the best price on a stereo system, or which cars have lousy repair records. (The Car Talk guys on NPR are mavens for everything about automobiles.) In the Tipping Point, Gladwell describes Paul Revere as both a Maven and a Connector. Because he knew so many people, and was such an authority, he was respected throughout New England. When Paul Revere rode his famous midnight ride, he roused much of the countryside to confront the redcoats. But Dawes also rode that night, with the same message - but the towns he warned failed to turnout in large numbers - Revere knew who to talk to in each town between Lexington and Concord, and his message was treated with alarm. But Dawes didn't know who to contact, and so his impact was much smaller.

The third group described by Gladwell are "salesmen". These people influence the opinions and practices of those around them.

The real fun of this book is the stories Gladwell tells to illustrate his points. He talks about the Six Degrees of Separation. He talks about the Rule of 150. He talks about the different approach to children's television taken by Sesame Street and then Blue's Clues. He talks about venereal disease epidemic in Philadelphia, Bernard Goetz and crime in New York City, copy-cat suicides after the deaths of celebrities, seminarians who are rushing to deliver a speech on the Good Samaritan ignoring an actor who lies at their feet emploring for aid... there are so many interesting stories in this book. I don't know if the conclusions Gladwell draws are true, but he is an enormously interesting writer. I will have to pick up Blink now, and read that too. I have the impression Gladwell can write about any subject and make it fascinating.