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Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is a book about epidemics. However, Gladwell is not writing about diseases. He is writing about how the behaviors and attitudes of a population change in much the way an epidemic spreads. As Gladwell describes, only one child has to go to school with measles. The next week, almost every child at the school can have measles. It only took one change in this one child to make a significant difference. This situation where seemingly small changes make big differences is the focus of the book. Gladwell uses the metaphor of a spreading virus to explain how ideas, products, messages, and behaviors can all spread in the same way. He explains how something can suddenly become an accepted fashion item, how people's behavior can change on a mass scale, how information can spread via word-of-mouth rapidly, and how new ideas can catch on and grow. In every case, there is a point where the situation retains its normal pace, and then a point where it tips and becomes an epidemic. In considering how this occurs, Gladwell argues that there are three agents of change. He calls them "the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context" (Gladwell 19). These agents of change explain what tips an epidemic, causing a small event to have a major impact. The Tipping Point and its major ideas will now be considered further by focusing on Gladwell's three agents of change.
The first agent of change is the law of the few. Gladwell (19) explains this idea saying that "in a given process or system some people matter more than others." This idea essentially explains that some people have more influence than others. There are several examples given to explain this. Gladwell describes how Paul Revere traveled through the towns of America and effectively raised the resistance against the British. Was this simply because of the message he was delivering or was there something relevant about the man himself as well? Gladwell argues that Revere was a connector and a Maven, which means that he was a strong connector of people and a strong collector of information. One of Gladwell's most interesting points is that another man named William Dawes did exactly the same thing as Revere, traveling through towns and delivering the same message. However, Revere made a significant difference, while Dawes made none. Gladwell argues that Revere's small actions resulted in major changes because he was a connector and knew who to talk to and who to give his message to. His actions had a ripple effect and his message spread like an epidemic. Another example given is the rise of Hush Puppies, with Gladwell showing that it was a small group of kids in East Village, New York, that started wearing the shoes, with this eventually leading to them becoming a national fashion trend. The basic idea communicated is that there are certain people who can have a significant difference. The examples given also show that there is a link between the type of person and the change that occurs. The change Revere made was related to delivering information and Revere was influential because this was his strength. The East Village kids made a change related to fashion and this was related to their place as urban teenagers with an ability to determine what is considered cool. Another example is given with an epidemic of gonorrhea in Colorado. Gladwell explains how 168 people were largely responsible for the outbreak. Gladwell (20) explains that these were the "people who go out every night, people who have vastly more sexual partners than the norm, people whose lives and behaviors are well outside the ordinary." In terms of their ability to spread a sexually transmitted disease, these people were highly influential. These examples show that it is not just that certain people are more important than others, but that certain people are more important than others in terms of certain changes. The overall idea is that a few people can influence many, with the ability of a certain person to be influential determined by the particular change that is occurring. Gladwell also refers to the importance of word-of-mouth in this section. One of the important ideas communicated in terms of word-of-mouth is that the spread of an idea by word-of-mouth is not determined by how many people are in the chain. Instead, it is determined by who is in the chain. It was noted in the gonorrhea example, that there were certain people in the chain who spread it to more people than was normal. The spreading of the disease was occurring slowing, with one person infected passing it on to one other person. Then the infection reaches a person that Gladwell refers to a connector. This person is having sex with a lot of people, so instead of passing the disease on to one other person, they pass it on to six other people. It is this person that leads the situation towards the tipping point. Returning to the subject of word-of-mouth, it is noted that the same process occurs. A connector knows a lot of people, so instead of passing the idea on to a few other people, they may pass it on to ten, a hundred, or even more. Gladwell notes that it is these people that turn word-of-mouth into an epidemic.
The next agent of change is the idea of stickiness. This refers to how much an event or an idea sticks. Gladwell uses the example of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues, showing how the two programs were designed with a stickiness factor. Through extensive testing, the creators of the shows tweaked the programs until they had children thoroughly engaged. In terms of this example, the stickiness factor was about having children glued to the screen, with their attention firmly on the show. This same concept relates just as easily to ideas. How does one concept capture a person's attention and stick, while another is hardly noticed? Another example is given that relates more to the epidemic, with this returning to a consideration of the flu. Gladwell notes that at every point in time, there is normally someone with the flu. However, if the rate of infection is balanced with the rate of recovery, it does not actually become an epidemic. Instead, there would always be a relatively small and unchanging number of people with the flu at any given time. Gladwell then describes how people spend more time in public areas during holiday times as they spend time shopping. With increased contact, the rate of infection goes up, while the rate of recovery remains the same. The end result is that the system starts to tip towards an epidemic. As more people get the flu, there are also more people to spread the flu and the system leans even more towards an epidemic. The virus continues to tip until it reaches epidemic levels. The main point is that a small change, in this case bought on by the time of year, makes the flu stickier than usual. The increased stickiness than has a spiral effect, where it pushes the whole system towards becoming an epidemic. The same situation occurs in the spreading of ideas. If an idea has the stickiness factor, it not only appeals to people but it sticks with them. This gives the person more time to spread the idea to other people. This explains how appeal for a product or an idea can grow in an epidemic way.
The third agent of change is what Gladwell calls the power of context. This refers to how small changes in the environment can lead to major changes.…[continue]
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