The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
First of all, I really enjoyed this book. I think it was very well-written and I liked all of the anecdotes that were fitted nicely into each chapter. The book explains how social epidemics (trends, spreading of ideas, etc.) follow the same path as actual medical epidemics. Gladwell explains this in the introduction using the spread of syphilis in Baltimore in the 1980s as an analogy.
The book is divided into three main sections. The first section discusses the types of people in society. Gladwell states that there are three main types of people who tip social epidemics. The first personality type is a Connector. A Connector is socially gifted and is able to spread ideas easily from person to person. A Connector is someone who not only knows many people, but who knows the most important people in each social group. For example, Gladwell says Paul Revere was a Connector. Revere heard that the British were coming, so he rode to many different towns spreading the word by telling the most important men in that town. I know many people who are Connectors. One of my close friends seems to know everyone in our small college town. I know to go to him if I need to get in touch with someone from a certain social group. The second type of person is a Maven. A Maven is someone who is almost a savant about a certain product. Mavens typically know all the best deals. They are where the Connectors get their information to spread to the masses. Gladwell says in the book that he has a friend named Mark Alpert who is a Maven. Gladwell believes people listen to Mavens because Mavens have a passionate disinterest in their subject. They are helpers by nature, but they don’t want to force anything down anyone’s throat. The third type of personality Gladwell describes is that of a Salesman. The Salesman is someone who is very charming, energetic, and enthusiastic. They are the people who persuade other people to do something. Gladwell says he has a friend named Tom Gau who is the ultimate Salesman.
The second section of the book is devoted to the concept of “stickiness” i.e. what makes something stick in a person’s mind. In order for an idea to be sticky, it must be memorable. In one anecdote from the book, two different advertising firms are competing for the same account. One firm used prime time TV slots to advertise while the other resorted to interactive advertising where consumers had to find the gold treasure chest on coupons to get the deal. The firm who used interactive advertising had way more success because people liked the fact that they had to search for the gold chest; it became a game. Gladwell mentions the very popular children’s show Sesame Street. The show was so popular because the creators tested when children weren’t watching the show. They found that children looked away from the TV whenever they were confused by a concept on the show. They also learned that kids prefer story lines over random activities and “flash and dash” onscreen. Some of the people who worked on Sesame Street eventually went on to work on Blue’s Clues, which was only focused on children and was much more interactive than Sesame Street.
The third section of the book was about the Power of Context. The idea is that epidemics are successful in part because of the time and location where they take place. Gladwell says Paul Revere’s ride to warn the countryside probably wouldn’t have been as successful if he hadn’t ridden at night time when most people were home from work and able to receive his message. The chapter also discusses the Broken Windows theory – if there is a broken window in a neighborhood that isn’t replaced, then people think no one cares and may break more windows. It shows a breakdown in authority and control. Gladwell theorizes that anti-crime epidemics can be tipped by small changes. For example, the New York Subway system was in an extreme state of disrepair in the 1980s. Cars were covered inside and out with graffiti and there were many cases of assault and robbery. Once the transit system focused on small changes – cleaning the subway cars and arresting fare-beaters, they found that there were far fewer cases of assaults and robberies. By concentrating on small, easily attainable goals, the transit police were able to convey the message that they were cracking down and crime would no longer be tolerated on the subway.
The last part of the book concentrates on teen smoking. Gladwell makes an interesting point by saying that kids don’t smoke to be cool, they smoke because the “cool” kids smoke. There is a study mentioned in the book saying that most hardcore smokers are extroverted people who enjoy partying and hanging out with friends. These people are social and charming and other people naturally want to be more like them. Gladwell also mentions theories and studies that say there are genes that determine who will become a hardcore smoker versus who will experiment with cigarettes and then quit. He says that anti-smoking companies should stop trying to fight experimentation completely and instead focus on making sure that simple experimentation doesn’t turn into addiction.
All in all I liked the book and I encourage anyone interested in business, marketing, or advertising to read The Tipping Point. In fact my roommate is an advertising major and I am letting her borrow the book.