Blink was the first Gladwell book I published in Finnish, thanks to mr. Marko Parkkinen, then an CEO of Bob Helsinki, an advertising agency. Parkkinen wanted to sponsor the translation and donate a bunch of the books to economics students. So we did just that.
I’ll write you about Blink, later. Gladwell’s first big book hit was Tipping Point. I had the honor of meeting mr. Gladwell at the Frankfurt Book Fair – and being the publisher of this book’s Finnish translation, too.
As the lighting match on the book cover suggests, the tipping point is that moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior lights up and starts to spread like wildfire. Covid 19 is a terrific example, but the same phenomena applies to fashion trends, new or retro items becoming popular – products like Soda Streamer and spinning widget. The spreading of the American Revolution is explained, too.
As wonderful narrator, Malcolm Gladwell illuminates brilliantly the tipping point phenomenon with fascinating example stories. As the Dutch journalist wrote in his superb book Humankind: A Hopeful History, some of Gladwell’s stories don’t hold water after fact checking. One example is the zero tolerance in New York `s crime policy, which – despite of its good intentions – has had extremely harmful, even racist side effects. Nevertheless, The Tipping Point is an absolute brain candy.
We learn, what kind of personality types are natural pollinators of new ideas and trends. These are the people – Connectors – who create the phenomenon of word of mouth. Connectors are the people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions. A connector is essentially the social equivalent of a computer network hub. These Connectors are naturally curious and usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles. The constantly introduce people who work or live in different circles.
Gladwell digs into fashion trends, smoking, children’s television, direct mail, and the early days of the American Revolution for clues about making ideas infectious, and visits a religious commune, a successful high-tech company, and one of the world’s greatest salesmen to show how to start and sustain social epidemics.
According to Gladwell, the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. Economists call this the 80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants. Connectors are not the only important influencers. There are also Mavens, information specialists, who connect us with new information. A maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own – thus starting word-of-mouth epidemics. Then there are Salesmen, charismatic persuaders with powerful negotiation skills.
Then there is the Stickiness Factor, which refers to the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable.
According to Gladwell, epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur. So, don’t try to copycat the book’s examples in Your revolution or guerrilla marketing strategies. But you will get inspired by the book.
As wonderful of Gladwell’s analysis of Tipping point phenomena is, one has to acknowledge, that there are controversial examples. In Freakeconomics, another highly entertaining book, economist Steven Levitt claims that fixing broken windows kind of zero tolerance was not reason for declining crime rates in NYC – but a drastic increase in the number of police officers trained and deployed on the streets and hiring a new police commissioner. Another reason was a decrease in the number of unwanted children made possible by abortion decision of the case Row v. Wade in the US Supreme Court. Crime dropped nationally in all major US, even in LA.
Be that as it may, The Tipping Point is an essential read for anyone who wants to market ideas, services or products. Virtually anyone who wants influence others and make a difference.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
By Malcolm Gladwell (Back Bay Books 2002)
Review by Jan Erola