Epidemic. When most people hear that word, they think of an illness or a disease spreading throughout a population like wildfire.
There was an influenza epidemic in 1918 that killed fifty million people worldwide. What if sickness wasn’t the only thing that spread through society like an epidemic? What if ideas, trends, and social behaviors spread in the same manner as an epidemic?
This is what Malcolm Gladwell argues in his book, The Tipping Point. In 1918, only a few people caught the flu.
As time progressed, more and more people slowly were infected with the virus until, suddenly, there was a tipping point and the flu spread over the entire world incredibly fast. Gladwell shows that ideas, trends, and social behaviors act in the same way.
In fact, he seeks to answer two important questions: Why is it that some ideas or products start epidemics while some do not and what can we do to purposely start and control positive epidemics of our own?
Gladwell has come up with three rules of epidemics and The Tipping Point is conveniently broken down in such a way that each rule has its own chapter followed by two case studies. Each chapter is full of real-life examples and stories that demonstrate Gladwell’s theory.
The first rule is The Law of the Few. Social epidemics require the involvement of a particular group of people with a rare set of social skills.
Gladwell calls these people Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Each one of these people has a different skill that is useful in creating a social epidemic. A Connector is someone who knows an unusually high number of people from all different walks of life. A Maven is an expert in a particular area, such as cars.
What makes a Maven different is that it is more than an expert because an expert merely studies cars because he loves cars. A Maven studies cars because he loves cars, but also because he loves you and wants to help you in your decision of which car to buy.
Lastly, there are Salesmen. These people are persuaders. They have an uncanny ability to sway people’s emotions without even saying a word.
The Law of the Few is important for starting word-of-mouth epidemics, but the second law is just as important.
This is The Stickiness Factor. The Stickiness Factor is what makes an idea stick, or stay with a person long after they hear it. In this chapter, Gladwell talks about Sesame Street and Blues Clues, two of children’s television shows that had a similar goal: to educate children. He talks about what made these shows sticky and also the improvements Blues Clues made upon the ideas of its predecessor.
The last rule is The Power of Context, which is broken down into two sections. In the first section Gladwell writes about the “exquisite sensitivity” humans have to small changes in their environment.
He concludes that the contextual changes that can tip an epidemic over the edge are very different from what one might expect. In the second section Gladwell explores the power that small groups of people have in social epidemics.
Throughout each chapter, Gladwell makes use of examples including the fall of crime in New York City in the 1990s, the rise of The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood to best-seller lists, the unintentional and subconscious influence that Peter Jennings had on the 1984 presidential campaign, and many more.
He has one case study on the rise of the shoe company, Airwalk, and one case study on the stickiness of cigarettes.
The insight and thought that Gladwell puts into each real life example makes it hard for one to put the book down.The Tipping Point is an amazingly interesting book, but one might ask what use it has in their personal life. In other words, when am I ever going to need to start a social epidemic?
The short answer is that most people will never make a book rise to the best-seller lists or make crime fall in their city, but this book can still serve a very important purpose in the everyday person’s life.
When one knows about Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen, one can find and use these people to help achieve their own goals. More importantly, understanding the Stickiness Factor and the Power of Context will help one communicate more effectively in daily life.
Plus, if you ever did want to lower the crime rate in a city, now you will know how to do it.