The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

“To appreciate the power of epidemics, we have to abandon this expectation about proportionality. We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly.”

Malcolm Gladwell became one of the best known non-fiction writers in the world with The Tipping Point. This was a blockbuster of a business book, which was educational, practical, uncomplicated as much as it was entertaining and fun.

Written in a breezy manner of writing one has come to expect from all Gladwell books, The Tipping Point stayed on top of the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction books for almost a year. Millions of people all over the world have read it and millions more do each year. It’s a book that has still not lost its magic even after years after it was first published.

Indeed, The Tipping Point marked the start of a new generation of business books that were well written, targeted at a general audience, rather than at the traditional readers of business books. The new way of writing business books saw other successful publications such Thomas Friedman with his The World Is Flat, and Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner with their Freakonomics and Gladwell himself with his next book, Blink.

So, what’s the book about? It is essentially about the Tipping Point – the point at which an idea or a product suddenly becomes extremely popular. As Gladwell explains “[i]deas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do.”

Viral growth, in other words. Gladwell analyzes three ways in which an idea becomes popular, just as an epidemic spreads around the world. First, there is contagiousness; then, there will be little causes that have massive effects; and then lastly, the change happens, not slowly or gradually, but suddenly – a massive change which sees the idea taking over the world, just as a virus takes over the body.

Once an idea reaches its Tipping Point, it grows using geometric progression. What does exponential growth really mean? Gladwell explains while people like to take everything gradually, a viral epidemic spreads exponentially – and that is how a business or idea goes from being accepted to being wildly popular.

Gladwell talks about the principles that lead to this phenomenon. They are, Law of the Few; the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. The Law of the Few states that there are really three social groups that ensure a product’s viral growth: the Mavens, the Connectors, and the Salesmen.

The Mavens are brilliant people to whom we look for answers; Connectors are people who know people; Salesmen are described as people who have “the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.”

 The Stickiness Factor is going directly to the audience during a pre-release of a product, gauging the reaction and using the data to create even better products. 

The Power of Context states that that an epidemic does not occur in a complete vacuum, so there has to be context before a product spreads virally. 

Ultimately, it is about the simplicity and accessibility of the message or the product. As Gladwell says, “the Tipping Point is the biography of an idea, and the idea is very simple.” It’s a fascinating book that throws deep insight into customer behavior.

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