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'The tipping point: how little things can make a big difference'.

Tipping point, noun. In epidemiology, the concept that small changes will have little or no effect on a system until critical mass is reached. Then a further small change "tips" the system and a large effect is observed.

English-born, Canadian-raised writer Malcolm Gladwell takes readers on an intellectual adventure in "The Tipping Point." The book draws from psychology, sociology and epidemiology, with fresh examples from the worlds of business, education, fashion and mass media.

A former bureau chief for The Washington Post and now a staff writer with The New Yorker magazine, Gladwell examines social epidemics that surround us. The flu, for example, can be held in check for long periods of time without becoming an epidemic. But suddenly, once a determined threshold in the number of people infected is crossed, things get very bad, very quickly.

Gladwell's premise is that this viral phenomenon is observed in many other situations. The book is filled with examples, from the rage for Hush Puppies shoes to the popularity of Sesame Street educational television to an epidemic of teen suicides in Micronesia.

If we understand how tipping points are reached, Gladwell believes we can use the information to market products, push for social change and even understand ourselves better.

Eight chapters explain the three rules of the tipping point: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. The balance of the book takes these ideas and applies them to puzzling situations and epidemics in motion and at rest on the planet.

The most interesting part of the book, and what should be mandatory reading for communicators, is the Law of the Few.

The Few is made up of three types of people--Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen--and each group in its own right is critical to social epidemics. Connectors are the kinds of people who know everyone, Gladwell notes. Connectors are important for the number of people they know and the kinds of people they know. Mavens are knowledge accumulators and, more important, they want to share their inside knowledge with others. Another select group, Salesmen, is critical to tipping points because of their ability to persuade the skeptical.

"There are plenty of advertising executives who think that precisely because of the sheer ubiquity of marketing efforts these days, word-of-mouth appeals have become the only kind of persuasion that most of us respond to," Gladwell writes.

Not so, Gladwell contends. He believes that we often fail to give these Law-of-the-Few types proper credit for the roles they play in our lives. To illustrate his point, he uses the historical example of American Revolution legend Paul Revere, whose midnight ride through the towns north of Boston is purportedly responsible for rousing an entire region to arms. Gladwell contrasts this with Revere's fellow revolutionary William Dawes' ride to the west on the same night, which was so ineffective in sounding the battle cry that it has been left out of Revolutionary folklore. "If it were only the news itself that mattered in a word-of-mouth epidemic, Dawes would now be as famous as Paul Revere," Gladwell writes. Instead, it is the Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen who tip the epidemic.

Precisely because he leaves the reader questioning, "Am I a Connector, a Maven or a Salesman?" this book should be on everyone's to-read list.

It's not so much that Gladwell provides new tools for better job performance, but that almost everyone at some point will experience a tipping point and, with this book, perhaps have a better chance of understanding what is happening and why.

If you want to "tip" an epidemic and get Connectors and Mavens to deliver the message, make sure the content is sticky enough to be remembered, don't underestimate the power of people in groups and remember, the little things make a big difference.
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Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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