Monday, October 4, 2010

Book Review: The Tipping Point

This is Chris again with another book review for my MBA class. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions you might have!

Malcolm Gladwell in The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference captivates and entertains his audience as he explains how little things can start a “social epidemic” such as spreading a fashion trend or lowering a city’s crime rate. 

Gladwell relates the spread of a social epidemic to the spread of a virus.  As Gladwell states, “Epidemics are a function of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating.  And when an epidemic tips, when it is jolted out of equilibrium, it tips because something has happened, some change has occurred in one (or two or three) of those areas” (18).  Gladwell calls these the three agents of change and entitles them (1) the Law of the Few, (2) the Stickiness Factor, and (3) the Power of Context.

The Law of the Few states that certain people, which Gladwell calls Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen can bring about change.  Connectors are people who belong to many different social groups, people who know an enormous amount of people.  Mavens are people who know and collect a lot of information.  Mavens would tell you what hotel to stay in and what price to pay if you were planning a trip.  Lastly, Salesmen are the type of people who convince others to take action.

“The Stickiness Factor says that there are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable” (25).  Not only does the message have to be memorable, but it has to be so memorable that it elicits change.  Gladwell gives an example with the show Blues Clues, in which the producers of Nickelodeon would play the same episode of Blues Clues five days in a row.  On the first day children would try to solve the clues, but would struggle getting to the answers. By the fifth day the episode was run the children were shown to have progressively built up confidence and had learned the message the show was trying to get across. 

“The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem” (29).  In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s New York City’s crime rate was one of its highest in history.  One of the subtle ways the city dramatically reduced a rising crime rate was by adopting the Broken Windows Theory, a theory that argues crime is the result of disorderBy focusing on little things such as cleaning the subway trains from graffiti and cracking down on fare-beaters (many of whom had previous criminal history) the city’s crime rate began to decrease.  By focusing on little things and demanding order in areas that were in chaos, the bigger issues of the city began to clean up as well.

Throughout the book Gladwell shares numerous real life examples that keep the reader engaged and wanting to read more.  Not only does Gladwell break down a seemingly complex subject into layman’s terms, but he does so in a way that makes the reader examine his own life and the people he is connected to.  Who are the people (connectors) that I go to advertise an event?  What friends (mavens) do I ask about hotels when I travel?  Who convinces me to try something new (salesmen)?  This book is more than sharing a marketing message, but it’s about human behavior. It’s about understanding the human person in the stages of a social epidemic.  It’s about life and the way we interact with our environment and those that we meet.  If you have a free moment pick up The Tipping Point, it’s an easy read and you won’t be disappointed.

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