It is hard to write a review for a book about which so much has been written. It was one of the most fascinating books I read in recent times. Malcolm Gladwell is an amazing writer. I bought his other book, Blink after reading this one.
The Tipping Point is an analysis of an idea and how it spreads. Galdwell examines an idea in terms of three dimensions which he calls the three laws of tipping point
1) The law of few – analyzes the kind of people who have huge influence on the ideas ability to catch-on.
2) The Stickiness Factor – Deals with the quality of message which makes it stick.
3) The Power of Context – Talks about the conditions and circumstances that cause an idea to spread.
All these ideas are presented as series of case studies. Of the three laws, I found the “The power of context” very powerful. It says people’s behavior is as much a product of their circumstances as their character. By making subtle changes to the circumstances we can bring about huge changes in their behavior and beliefs. He illustrates this point with several examples. One was about how the crime rate in New York City dipped dramatically in 1990s. The other example was of a research conducted by two psychologists at Princeton University. This research was inspired by the story of Good Samaritan which is about a low caste man who helps a wounded person on the road while a priest and a noble man pass him by, without helping.
The psychologist met individually with a group of theology students. Each of them was given a topic to speak about. Some of them were given the story of Good Samaritan, other were given some other topic from the bible. They were informed that they would have to go to the nearby building a give an extempore talk on this subject. To some of them they said, “Oh, You are late, they were expecting you few minutes ago, you better hurry”, to others they said “It will be a few minutes before they are ready for you, but you might as well head over now”.
Along the way to the presentation, each student ran into a man who had fainted in the alley. They wanted to find out who would stop and help this man. We would assume that the person who is going to be speaking on the “Good Samaritan” would be most likely to stop and help the man. However, it did not have any significant impact on the helping behavior. The only thing that mattered was whether the student was in a rush. Only 10% of those who were rushed stopped to help the man as against 63% of those who knew they had time.
What this study implies is that your convictions or even your immediate thoughts seem to be less important than the immediate context of your behavior. To me, this was a very radical notion. A huge paradigm shift. There are several such examples in the book, each with startling new revelations.
The only draw back I found was that the book used deeply American examples, like Paul Revere and his impact on American Revolution, the TV programs Sesame Street and Blue’s clues. People who are not exposed to American history and television may not be able to relate to these. I think this is one factor that would prevent it from becoming a truly global book, like Seven Habits or Road Less Traveled. Otherwise it is a great book. I was wowed by every chapter and loved its implication that it is possible to change the world. In words of Gladwell, “Tipping Points are reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It seems like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push, in just the right places it can be tipped.”