Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2000. Print.
Under all of that fro lies an intelligent man named Malcolm Gladwell. Born in England and growing up in Ontario, Gladwell currently lives in New York City with a degree in history from the University of Toronto. He started off as a reporter with the Washington Post covering both business and science and moving on to serve as the newspaper's New York City bureau chief from 1987 to 1996. Since 1996, Gladwell has been a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine. In 2005 he was named one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. Gladwell has successfully written 4 books, all of which were number one New York Times bestsellers. These include "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference," "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking," "Outliers: The Story of Success," and his most recent in 2009 "What the Dog Saw".
Why Name it The Tipping Point...?
An epidemic change starts off as something small until it builds and builds and finally reaches the "tipping point." Malcolm Gladwell's title of The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, pretty much summarize what the tipping point actually is. The tipping point is defined as the point at which a series of small ineffective changes acquire enough importance to cause a larger effective or significant change. Gladwell talks about many of today's society's "tipping points." The most important message he sends is his belief that text influences peoples' behavior over general character of something turning into the tipping point. Generally, the tipping point is an overall pattern or cycle society cannot dodge.
The Important People and Entities of The Tipping Point
Many nonfiction novels focus on a particular person but The Tipping Point offers a view on many different people. Each chapter begins with a new epidemic story that has experienced "the tipping point." Gladwell introduces the book by starting off with the story of the classic American suede shoes called Hush Puppies. Hush Puppies were nowhere near popular. They were usually only sold in local family stores. The company making Hush Puppies were on the verge of canceling sales when a strange tipping point occurred. Suddenly Hush Puppies began to appear in hip clubs and bars all across downtown Manhattan. How could shoes that were so evidently out of style abruptly make a comeback? Soon designers began selling Hush Puppies again. Sales went from 30,000 pairs a year to a whopping 430,000 pairs a year. No one was trying to make the Hush Puppies a trend, yet they instantly became so popular across the nation. Gladwell starts the book off with this story because it illustrates the 3 rules for the tipping point and generalizes it all; little causes have big effects.
One important person that Gladwell introduces to readers is a nurse name Georgia Sadler. He doesn't talk about her until the conclusion chapter, but does so because he uses her to tie everything about the Tipping Point together. Sadler wanted to increase knowledge and awareness of diabetes and breast cancer in the black community of San Diago so she started her own campaign. Her campaign started off in black churches but had disappointing results. People began to get tired of the service and only a handful would stay. Sadler couldn't seem to get the message outside of that small circle. She realized what she needed was new context, a stickier way of presenting the information, and a new messenger. Her solution ended up to be one of women's most popular gatherings, the beauty salon. Stylists were naturalists when it came to conversations. They knew how to communicate easily, and stay connected. Sadler assembled a group of stylists and trained them with knowledge on breast cancer and diabetes. These natural conversationalists took this knowledge and began a constant cycle of passing this information through their customers. Messages spread quickly. She soon turned a little into a lot. Gladwell uses this story because it has what many of the stories he tells in The Tipping Point in common, modesty. Sadler's word-of-mouth epidemic had to be solely concentrated on the Law of the Few. By changing her context, she had to think outside of the box on the way we think about the world. Reaching just a few people can completely tip the way we shape the world of social epidemics.
Settings described in The Tipping Point
In the early 90's as dusk would arrive, the streets of New York City's Brownsville and East New York became abandoned. It was almost as if the city had turned into a ghost town. Children didn't play in the streets as they did in the daytime, ordinary citizens didn't roam the sidewalks, and senior citizens no longer sat on their porches or park benches. Nightfall became fearful to almost all citizens. Gangs and drug trade dominated the streets which made everybody coop up in their homes for safety. As police cars drove by you could hear their dispatchers full of banter between the officers about the dangerous crime that was occurring at this time. Violence and crime ran the city. Sirens could be heard throughout the night, the lights would flash through citizens windows.
In Newark, Delaware lies a privately held, multimillion-dollar high-tech firm called Gore Associates. Here they make water-resistant fabric as well as floss, coatings for computer cables, etc. As you walk into this building, there are no tiles lining the floor. Everybody here is referred to as "associate", a plain business card will be given to you no matter how high they are in the business. As much money as they have the business cards are just plain. The executive offices don't take up much space with broad furnishings that align a very narrow corridor. Every Gore building seems to have free spaces in corners or are just held as conference rooms. The headquarters are nothing near fancy. They just stand as discreet red-bricked buildings; you wouldn't be able to point out what they are without a sign. Gore Associates small plants hold parking spaces only big enough to hold their current amount of employees. "When people start parking on the grass, we know it's time to build a new plant." (Page 185)
Ten Epidemics; Ten "Tipping Points"
Like the characters, The Tipping Point doesn't tell one specific story with chronological events. Instead it tells many stories leading to answer one question, Why do some ideas or behaviors start epidemics and other don't?
1. Hush Puppies
The Hush Puppies was part of the Law of the Few. They were very uncommon until a tipping point occurred. They first started off on the feet of poor east village children in Manhattan. Soon they were being worn in hipster clubs and bars in the downtown area and ended up being one of the biggest trend setters in the early 1990's. How could they of gone from just a couple ordinary kids on the streets to fashion designer stores? It was due to a social epidemic that occurred from just a few kids.
2. Disease Epidemic in the City of Baltimore- Syphilis
In 1995 to 1996, the number of children born with syphilis increased by 500 percent. There are people who transmit it, the disease itself, and the environment the epidemic occurred in to consider. It started in the poor side of the city but only a few had it. Even with little changes like decreasing the number of physicians available in the city which had lowered the amount of people getting checked for STD's, this huge epidemic had occurred rapidly.
3. The Story of Paul Revere
Paul Revere had almost everything the Law of the Few had. Not only was he a connector, but he was also a maven. As a connector Paul knew just about everybody, especially the revolutionary leaders in each of the towns he traveled to. He had an instinct that easily related him to the people he was trying to send the message to which helped him become more successful than Dawes. Also, he was a maven. Revere was able to collect efficient information about the British.
4. Why Is Yawning So Catchy?
Epidemics can also occur because of what society has already planted in our brain or what our instinct is when we think of something. When we think of something as contagious, we instantly already think of illnesses or diseases. Kind of like when we read the context of something like when you read yawning. It triggers something in your brain and you start to think of it. Am I tired? Your body will probably yawn on instinct already. Contagious isn't it?
5. Sesame Street and Blue's Clues
The creators of these 2 child-loving television shows created "stickiness factors" that had many parent's kids so easily hooked. The more intellectual the show is, the more the child was engaged. Sesame Street successfully did this by using repetition in its shows that weren't too complex so the kid always seemed to be paying strict attention to the show. For example, the repetition of their songs wanted kids to come back and listen for more. Blue's Clues had done the same thing only making it "stickier."
6. Bernie Goetz- The Rise of New York City Crime
The moment when New York City's Crime rate tipped when the shooting of Bernie Goetz and 4 black teenagers occurred. The Power of Context clearly states that children are greatly influenced by their external environment. The things we see, the people we meet and everything else that involves in the physical environment greatly affect us. We may not realize it but even having a cleaner environment shapes us into a better person. Seeing graffiti and broken windows can shape poorly.
7. The Magic Number of One Hundred and Fifty
In order for a tipping point to happen, a decently sized number of people need to accept it. Certain sizes and certain types of people can also affect an epidemic. Gladwell states that groups less of 150 seem to be more understanding together than groups over 150. It can be demonstrated in campaigns and organized structures.
8. The Rise of Sneakers
Airwalk sneakers didn't necessarily start off popular until they tipped. The company successfully tipped due to the dramatic advertising they decided to use. Viewers were drawn to the weird way Airwalks were used in the photographs. Social messages were signaled out. In one of the ads, a girl was using the Airwalk sneaker as a mirror to apply her lipstick. Weird way to use a sneaker huh?
9. Suicides being contagious?
Studies show that suicides can lead to more suicides. It intrigued experimentation in young adults rebellion. One sucidal epidemic occured in the South Pacific islands of Micronesia by a boy named Sima. In the 1960's, suicide in these islands was unheard of. After he had hung himself, suicide rate in Micronesia had peeked above everywhere in the world. It sparked much confusion and started to become almost like a ritual.
10. The attack of Teenage Smoking Epidemic
Smoking epidemics are very similar to suicides, scarily contagious. Only a few started this large epidemic but that is all it took. It is a great example on demonstrating the Law of the Few and the Stickiness Factor. Teenagers keep experimenting and soon enough they become addicted without even knowing. Then friends start to see them and think "Well why can't I do it?," only to experiment with it and get hooked themselves. Teenagers often think of it as memorable and the habit continues to stick.
Gladwell's Tone on Page 218
On page 218, a very serious topic is discuss. Gladwell's tone sounds straightforward and bitter. As he discusses the epidemic of the suicides on the South Pacific islands he is very straightforward. He doesn't beat around the bushes. His sentences are short and to the point leaving out nothing. "Unconsciousness follows. Death results from anoxia- the shortage of blood to the brain." Gladwell is almost bitter. He doesn't seem to feel sympathy towards the victims, he just presents the information as straightforward and blunt as anyone can be.
Best Section of The Tipping Point?
In my opinion, the best section of The Tipping Point is Section 2 which explains the Law of the Few. It states that out in the world there are certain people who make the tips happen. They are called the connectors, mavens, and the salesmen. Connectors are the ones who spread the message. They typically know a bunch of people and they are natural at social connections. Connectors can easily find a pattern in interactions. They also have to be able to distinguish between the different social worlds but still make a connection. Mavens provide the message. They are usually the ones who know a lot of information about things but are not the persuaders. Additionally, they are socially driven. The last type of person is the salesmen. These people are the persuaders. They can affect people using emotions instead of just plain context. I really liked this section because it showed how easily things can be tipped. Everything in the world can be highly contagious. The littlest things can come out with the biggest tipping point.
What Really is The Tipping Point?
The Tipping Point doesn't just tell one story, instead it tells many stories of people and epidemics. What really is the tipping point? It can be defined as one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once. But the overall message is bluntly stated directly in the title, "How the Little Things Can Make a Big Difference." All epidemics have tipping points. In the world of tipping points, the impossible becomes the possible and unexpected becomes expected.
In The Tipping Point, Gladwell discusses three keys to epidemics; The Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. The Law of the Few plainly states that only a few people can make a tip in an epidemic. In the social world, to make a tip you have to know people, know information, and be able to persuade the people. Gladwell uses the example of the popular tale of Paul Revere that most of the readers can relate to. In the story Paul Revere knows everybody especially the most important leaders in every town who were the revolutionary leaders. What a lot of people didn't know was the other key character in the tale named William Dawes who was also on the journey to spread the same message Paul Revere was trying to spread. He may of visited as many towns as Paul Revere had, but the thing Dawes lacked was he didn't know the right people to tell. Gladwell demonstrates the Law of the Few efficiently through this popular tale.The second key to tipping points is the Stickiness Factor. This is defined as how well the message "sticks" with you. Most of it should be straightforward. We may find ourselves trying to make sure what we say is remembered. In the world of marketing, getting the message to you isn't the hard part. The difficult part is getting the consumers to actually stop and read the ad, then remember it and act. Marketers create a dozen of different versions of the same ad and then run them in a dozen different cities. They take the results and compare the response rates. To validate this factor, Gladwell uses the example of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues. Both shows were designed with lessons that would stick to the child watching. The creators used repetition and narrative strategies to keep the child engaged throughout the show. Research showed that kids who regularly watched Sesame Street had a GPA increase of 0.25 in high school. Blue's Clues took a step beyond Sesame Street and made it even more "stickier."
The last key to tipping points that Gladwell states is the Power of Context. This says that environments greatly affect the way people behave or act. An example illustrating this that Gladwell provides is the shooting of Goetz and 4 other teens. He explains how surroundings have a great effect to behavior like graffiti, panhandlers, and fare beaters. While Goetz and the 4 other teens were greatly influenced by graffiti, the other passengers were simply sitting and not committing any crimes. The crime rate on the subway dramatically increased with a period of violent graffiti.
In the world of epidemics, anything can be possible. The littlest things tip epidemics further than what we imagined. By finding just a few special people, we can shape the course of social epidemics. Everybody has potential and it just takes the matter of finding it within. "With the slightest push- in just the right place- it can be tipped."
If You Want a Book to Make You Think, Pick it Up but Not For This Project
I definitely suggest this book to others to read, but not for this specific project. The positive thing about The Tipping Point is it gives you a great insight on epidemics and the world around us. It takes only the smallest changes to shatter an epidemic's equilibrium and only a few amount of people can achieve it. The negative is its very hard to stay focused while reading this book due to the massive amount of information and things to ponder on. Also, the questions given for this project are very hard to answer because it tells many different stories so I had to tweak the questions a tad. Other than that, I enjoyed reading The Tipping Point.