Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

Posted by nliakos on September 26, 2012

by Malcolm Gladwell (Little, Brown 2000)

I think The Tipping Point was actually the first Gladwell book to have been suggested to me, but it has turned out to be the last one I read. It’s about the notion that a small thing or a few people can be responsible for “tipping” something–an epidemic, a fashion, a trend, or a crime rate–from negligible to noticeable, even huge.  Gladwell illustrates his point using Paul Revere and William Dawes (who???); the AIDS epidemic; the crime rate in New York City; Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues; Bernhard Goetz’s shooting of four teen-aged thugs on the New York City subway; Airwalk shoes and Hush Puppies; and a rash of suicides among  teenagers in Micronesia.  He shows how in each case, a small group of people (sometimes even one person) or a seemingly small or unrelated action can result in a big change. For example, he claims that the sudden drop in  New York’s crime rate in the 1990s was due to cleaning up the graffiti in and on the subways.

Gladwell’s “Law of the Few” claims that three kinds of people–Connectors (people who know lots of other people, “Masters of the Weak Tie”), Mavens (people who collect knowledge and like to share it), and Salesmen (people who are gifted at the art of persuasion)–are responsible for the sudden popularity of certain trends and fashions. The quality of “Stickiness” is what makes something memorable. Context (as opposed to character) is responsible for more than we realize, and the Fundamental Attribution Error is the mistake we make when we overestimate the importance of character traits to the detriment of context when interpreting people’s actions. Finally, 150 is the maximum number of people that work well together.

If these claims seem incomprehensible, I’m afraid you’ll just have to read the book, because Gladwell makes it all perfectly clear (as he always does).

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