Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Review 5: The Tipping Point

How little things can make a big difference
by Malcolm Gladwell

The aim of this book is to explore how, when and why small things (ideas, trends, social behaviors) can, under certain conditions, cross a treshold, tip and then spread like wildfire. Since I've always been curious about exactly this phenomenon I had to buy it on the spot.

At the beginning the author introduces the result of his analysis: the "Three Rules of Epidemics". Those rules being the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. According to the author they offer a way of making sense of epidemics.

The chapters of The Law of the Few introduce and detail the main actors who usually start and trigger these events or behaviors: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. Gladwell gives precise examples of each type and these real stories really make you understand the concept and how it explains a lot of what's going on around us in our everyday lives.

Next come The Stickiness Factor chapters which are about why some trends stick and grow while others wither away. The success and the efficiency of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues are dissected and it's amazing to see how the creators of those shows used their own knowledge and scientific results to make learning so much more interesting for children. And sticky.

And then Gladwell explores the one remaining law: The Power of Context. Here he analyzes, for example, the events that resulted in the amazing fall of crime in New York during the 1990s. This chapter especially is very captivating since it makes you realize that indeed small changes can have enormous repercussions and be the key to a solution that everybody before was convinced wouldn't even exist (it would also be interesting to see how this fits with the Freakonomics' theory about the same subject; I guess both theories played a role in the crime drop).

As a conclusion Gladwell applies his theories to the fight against smoking and shows why this fight has failed so far and how it could be ameliorated. It would be worth a try I guess.

Like you probably have noticed, I liked the book very much and Gladwell's style is very enjoyable to read, combining the serious, underlying research with colorful examples and anecdotes. Of course I can't judge if everything's completely correct or the only explanation, but his arguments seem reasonable, logical and well-documented. Which is good enough for me at this point. And after having read this book, you definitely see the world with different eyes.

Some information about the author: Malcolm Gladwell is a former business and science writer at the Washington Post. He is currently a staff writer for The New Yorker.


Blogger Pastor Scott Stiegemeyer said...

I agree that "The Tipping Point" is an awesome book. I'm now reading his new one: "Blink."

Blogger CT said...

Good Times...

Blogger Daldianus said...

Pastor: 'Blink' is on my to-read list as well.

tb53: I'm sorry?

Blogger carrie said...

sounds interesting

Anonymous ResoluteReader said...

I would be interested in whether the book refers to Marxist Dialectics at any point. One of the basic points in Marx's reasoning, following on from Hegel etc, was that very small changes can build up to a change that was much greater than the sum of small changes "Quantity into Quality".

This brief comment, before I am shot down in flames by all sides, isn't intended to be a thorough explanation of dialectics by the way. Just an observation and question :-)

Blogger EuroYank said...

Greetings fellow Luxembourger

Blogger Daldianus said...

ResolutReader: No, there is no mention of Marxist Dialectics in the book.

As for Marx, he did have some points. Even though in the whole it couldn't work out.

Blogger tehume said...

very interesting... I will ge this one.
Have you read the new Kundera ?


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