What Makes Things Tip?

The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell has been on my radar for a few years now, but I never really had the chance to sit down and read it. I also tend to lean towards fiction more  than non-fiction when reading on my own. So this particular had been sitting on the back burner until I pulled it off the bookshelf last week and decided that it was time to see what it was about.


In The Tipping Point, journalist Malcom Gladwell explores what makes things popular. How do trends start and spread to the general public? Gladwell looks into a few fads and movements that were successful over the years – everything from Paul Revere’s famous ride, to Sesame Street, to lowering the crime rate in 1980’s New York City, to Airwalk sneakers. What Gladwell wants to know in his book is what made these movements or epidemics a success?

Gladwell methodically takes his reader through his thought process. He lays out the three important factors of an epidemic, which he calls The Law of the Few, The Stickiness Factor, and The Power of Context. In other words Gladwell looks into the people that make a trend happen, what about the trend makes it popular, and the trend in its greater context. Each of these elements makes up a chapter of the book, and is supported by empirical evidence.

Gladwell looks into a variety of psychological and social experiments that were conducted over the years. But he does more than pile on the statistics and technical jargon; instead he creates a story from the research set before him. Gladwell describes the characters that he interviewed. He tells the reader what they were wearing, what they said, how they presented themselves, or how they laughed. Not only does this make the book more readable, it also makes the study or interview come to life in a way that pure statistics and results could not.

Gladwell sets out to show how a trend becomes big, but in the process he does a lot of analysis on human nature. After all, when someone wants their product to become big they are aiming it at a certain type of person, or at the general public as a whole. Therefore, it is essential to look at what motivates us, what interests us, and what affects us on a day to day basis. Many of the studies Gladwell references, such as the 1970’s prison experiment, I have read about in my various Psychology classes, but it was interesting to revisit them in a different context.

As I said before, Gladwell does not limit himself in terms of the examples he uses to explore fads and epidemics. Therefore the experiments that he references are equally varied in topic, ranging from Developmental to Social Psychology. Gladwell proves himself to be a man that is genuinely interested in the human condition.

All in all, Gladwell has put together a fairly comprehensive and entertaining study of trends, fads, epidemics, and the people that bring them into existence.



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