Here's another of those sociological books that elaborates
on a single recently-discovered concept that can apply to many areas
of life. However, unlike The Cluetrain Manifesto, also reviewed
here, The Tipping Point succeeds because it stays focused, clear,
and compelling, and doesn't overstep its bounds.
The concept here is how little things can make a big
difference. It describes how epidemics spread, how fads catch on, how
suicide can be as catchy as Sesame Street.
In any bell curve of spreading ideas or increasing
numbers, there is a point where the graph just takes off. Gladwell calls
this the tipping point. A good example is a population graph of the world.
It slowly builds for millennia until about 1850, then skyrockets, doubling
exponentally (as it continues to do.) Here, ~1850 is the tipping point.
Gladwell's book explains the multiple factors that
contribute to a tipping point: The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor,
and The Power of Context. The Law of the Few explains how ideas become
mainstream when certain key individuals (for example, the "in-crowd")
spread it disproportionally. So it's not one person passing it on to
another, to another, but certain rare people passing it on to forty or
a hundred. If the idea never hits one of these people, it probably won't
become mainstream, but will just stay small or fade away.
The Stickiness Factor describes the idea itself - how
compelling is it? How memorable? There is a lot of great stories from Sesame
Street and Blue's Clues, two shows that do extensive market
research in order to make sure their programs stick with kids. There
are also great details about smoking and how it spreads among teenagers.
The Power of Context describes the world that the idea
inhabits. Sometimes things will reach the tipping point simply because
it's "their time," as if through some collective unconscious. This also
reminds us that there are always many, many factors that come into play
when trying to deduce when a tipping point will hit.
This book was an incredibly quick read for non-fiction,
with an abundance of vigor and a compelling pace that keeps you reading.
It works as a concept because the author doesn't try to overstate it,
he explains that his ideas are simply that and that there are always
many factors involved. The concepts here apply not only to marketing
but to sociology, politics, technology and history. Unfortunately, he
describes everything well but doesn't conclude with many ideas for figuring
out the tipping points in real-world situations. Maybe if others respond,
this book will be just the tip of the iceberg for a realm of new ideas.