Now I'm getting the chance to read books I didn't have time for before. Think of me whenever you see the slogan "So many books, so little time!" Now I've got the time. Cheers, Fred.
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
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Malcolm Gladwell was a reporter for the Washington Post for 10 years, as a science writer, then as NY City bureau chief. Since 1996 he’s been a staff writer for The New Yorker. The Tipping Point of this gift book is marketing. (For his books I’ve read, click on his name.)
The back cover says “The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. Just as a single sick person can start an epidemic of the flu, so too can a small but precisely targeted push cause a fashion trend, the popularity of a new product, or a drop in the crime rate. This widely acclaimed best-seller, in which Malcolm Gladwell explores and brilliantly illuminates the tipping point phenomenon, is already changing the way people through the world think about selling products and disseminating ideas.”
Of the 26 quotes of acclaim at the beginning of this book, I find the following, from Newsday’s Casey Greenfield, most worth quoting: “In a compelling blend of scientific and cultural analysis, Gladwell argues that trends – in fashion, art, and politics – spread just as germs do. …The most notable thing about Gladwell’s style, both in writing and in person, is the excitement with which he approaches subjects.” Had Greenfield left out the word scientific, I would strongly agree with what he said. His writing style is indeed exciting, with some very interesting anecdotes to support his argument, but a collection of selected anecdotes is not adequate science. After enjoying his story about a tipping point to start a new trend of wearing Hush Puppies shoes (seemingly first among rich kids in NYC), I began to see what was missing in Gladwell’s account. As interesting as it is, he fails to offer alternative accounts (like radio, TV, or the WWW) for tipping points. The friend who gave me this book said he felt that something important was missing but he couldn’t figure out what it was (which is why he gave me this book). But now he agrees with the failure to discuss alternatives. But before discussing this I first need to summarize the types of people Malcolm Gladwell argues are essential for a social tipping point.
To see the titles of this book's eight chapters, you can use the option Click to LOOK INSIDE on the book's Amazon.com website:
His Introduction raises two questions: “Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don’t? And what can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?” In Ch One – The Three Rules of Epidemics – he discusses “agents of change” he calls “the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.” Briefly, ‘social epidemics’ (what the book is about) are “driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people” and “stickiness is a critical component in tipping. Unless you remember what I tell you, why would you ever change your behavior or buy my product or go see my movie.” In Ch Two – The Law of the Few – he introduces these few by interesting examples, then calls them “Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.” He says “connectors know lots of people. They are the kinds of people who know everyone.” (Yes, he did say ‘everyone’.) Paul Revere was a Connector, and he was also a Maven. “To be a maven is to be a teacher. But it is also, even more emphatically, to be a student. Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know.” He introduces Salesmen by summarizing: “In a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people – Salesmen – with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups.”
For the most part, the remaining of his first seven chapters are examples (the calls case studies) to convince the reader that his three rules and three types of special people are all one needs to explain his examples – without, as I said above, considering any other explanations. One case study in particular caught my attention – Gladwell tells us that the drop in crime in the NYC subways was due to keeping them clean and with a nightly painting over of subway graffiti. However, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner in “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything” (book 263) examined several arguments in the media “explaining” the large decrease in crime in the 1990’s (not just in NYC) and found the one that works best is shocking – the legalization of abortion, which led to fewer births under the living conditions most likely to breed criminals. I found that the arguments in “Freakonomics” to be reached by very careful and thorough study, which I found to be more convincing than the mostly anecdotal basis for Malcolm Gladwell’s explanations. (But they were both bestsellers!) Book 351’s stories are indeed quite interesting, as is a word-of-mouth tipping point, but Gladwell’s failure to consider other explanations causes me to give his book a ‘skim-it’ rating of 3 stars. I highly recommend “Freakonomics” – a 5 star book. Compare my reviews and you’ll see why.