The Tipping Point
After venturing in the trippy world of Neuromancer a book so rooted in reality as The Tipping Point was just the thing. I rarely read non-fiction – and when I do, it’s never something even remotely related to marketing…so this was a first. But it’s actually quite interesting – not necessarily for the theory behind it, but for the case studies.
The theory seems very much like a rule of thumb in its obviousness: in every “epidemic” (be it of the medical, entertainment, fashion or social variety) there it always a tipping point: that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Gladwell argues that there are 3 main aspects to finding this point: the law of the few (which has these exceptional people divided into connectors, mavens and salesmen), the stickiness factor and the power of context. Like I said – they’re all fairly obvious and nicely detailed on Wikipedia if you fancy a read through.
The people populating the “Law of the few” chapter are pretty alienish to me – those so interested, not just in the world around them, but in the people populating that world, that it gets me exhausted even to think about the effort of maintaining so many social relationships. And it’s amazing the kind of influence (be it overt or less so) those who have it in them to pursue such a life seem to have even on our daily lives. After all, this is basically a book about manipulation: a book that explores how people think, what and how they react to and tries to point out ways of taking advantage of these reactions. The very famous case of Kitty Genovese is used by Mr. Gladwell as the perfect example to illustrate the power of context: people change their behavior patterns based on what their immediate situation is, and not on absolutes such as good or bad. You have to provide the adequate circumstances for your message to get through. Same goes for the New York crime rate reduction in the late 1990s – when a group of people started tackling the seemingly small issues (graffiti, jumping turnstiles in the subway etc) in order to change the environment and thus people’s behavior patterns.
You can read a couple of excerpts here or read a summary here – to me, I guess, the most surprising things were the history behind Muppets and Blue’s Clues (and what kids seem to respond to) and the weird (slightly inappropriate, too) parallel between a rash of teen suicides in Micronesia and teen smoking trends.