“The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, similar to his other bestsellers, doesn’t disappoint. The main idea revolves around examining how “epidemics” start and spread. More specifically, what makes certain things—deceases, fashion, books, TV shows—famous while others can never hit the mainstream. Malcolm Gladwell examines all the ways to make an idea “stick.”
The book is written in the author’s signature style—containing multiple real-life stories and examples, and it is quite a delightful and easy read. The so-called three “rules of epidemics” are reviewed in great detail—The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context. All these elements together can help anyone or anything— from an individual to a company to a new fad to even crime, to tip—i.e. to reach its boiling point, the place where things start to change—for the better.
The Law of the Few—In order to make anything popular, we need two kinds of people: Connectors, and Mavens .Connectors are people that know a lot of other people. We all know someone like this—they are extroverts, outgoing and can start a conversation with anyone, anywhere. It is a special skill. We all need to have one of those—their significance is in telling all their acquaintances about us, our idea, a trend, or what-have-you. Simply put, they can spread the word to many others. Mavens, on the other hand, are individuals that have knowledge. They know where someone can find the best deals, for instance, and how much anything is worth paying. Information and knowledge are power. Such people can make a great case for why we should always take their advice and we usually do. Both types of individuals have tremendous influence over starting an “epidemic” since they both have the power to start a word-of-mouth.
The Stickiness Factor—this is another prerequisite for tipping. It is simply the way the message is presented that makes all the difference. For instance, small changes in the means or method for communication can make something tip overnight. Certain experiences become so powerful and memorable, that we can’t let them go. They simply stick with us.
The Power of Context—the idea behind this concept is that every epidemic spreads because it, obviously, it becomes contagious. People pick it up from other people and so it carries on. The premise relates equally to crime rates, suicides, teen smoking, books or any other tangible or intangible thing that “infects” others quickly.
One of the great and most fascinating ideas of the book, that I found quite interesting, is the “Rule of 150.” The rule is based on the human channel capacity—that is, the limitation of the human brain to remember only that much information. 150 is the number of people we can have a social relationship with, by knowing who they are and how we are related. Above that number, we start to forget who’s who. The rule is evidenced by many studies. Even some ancient colonies inhibiting Europe and North America have long relied on this principle—one their group reaches 150, it splits. It is the best way to keep people from becoming strangers to one another.
In the end, the theory of the tipping points is quite straight-forward: it helps us understand how small things or ideas become great. In other words—how a kitten can become a lion. It can explain idiosyncrasies such as the Hush Puppies, Sesame Street, suicides, the spread of deadly viruses and violent crimes, such as the epidemic of shootings at high schools.
But it is mostly about how anyone, anywhere can change the world. All we need is knowing the proper people, constructing the right message and finding a unique way to make it stick. It is that simple.