How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
by Malcolm Gladwell
There has been so much discussion about this book and about “tipping points” in general that I finally decided to stop reading things about Gladwell and read his book.
Gladwell has an easy, conversational style and he’s unafraid to repeat himself when driving home a point. To avoid interrupting his narrative, he puts citations and notes in the back. Great details are buried in some of these notes, such as the measurable educational impact of watching Sesame Street on children more than a decade after they regularly watched the show.
Gladwell identifies three types of actors important in social epidemics: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors know more people across more social categories than other people may think is even possible. [One exercise he includes is a random list of last names from the Manhattan phone book. Connectors will know one hundred people with these names; introverts like yours truly will fall short of ten people.] Mavens know more about the marketplace than anyone else — when things go on sale at the supermarket, how to pay the least for a hotel room — they are the people who call those 800 numbers listed in small print on consumer packaging. Salesmen are compelling, and they can convince people of almost anything, as they are that much more charming, charismatic, and persuasive than others.
Without the right type of person connecting with the right kinds of information and taking the right kinds of action, a social epidemic won’t get off the ground. What exactly are these right connections, information, actions? Gladwell cites examples of epidemics spanning from the resurgence of Hush Puppies shoes, to drug addicts in clean needle programs, to crime in New York City. In each case, Gladwell considers the small causes — such as the “broken windows” theory of crime (a broken window sends the message the area isn’t watched carefully and invites bad actions) — instead of larger, broad-scale reasons.
This is what makes Gladwell’s book so intriguing: the idea that individual people, and not adverstising accounts with multimillion dollar budgets, are what effectively get a message out and cause it to “tip” from insider knowledge into maintstream consciousness.
The Tipping Point is the kind of book that seems common-sensical enough when you read it, yet it shifts your perspective on real-world causes and conditions. Highly recommended, particularly for folks with an interest in the dissemination of ideas, meme-generation and propagation, and social epidemics.