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The Tipping Point

Tipping Point

Author: Malcolm Gladwell

Review by Mark Tyrrell

The Tipping Point

This is the kind of book I love. The Tipping Point, whilst applying social psychology to ‘real world' situations such as marketing, neatly explores the notion of simple cause and effect.

It demonstrates how often a seemingly irrelevant or inconsequential influence can have major unforeseen impacts upon the world. The ‘tipping point' is that magic moment when ideas, trends and social behaviours cross a critical threshold and ‘take' causing a tidal wave of far reaching effect.

Gladwell looks at the dynamics of how ideas proliferate, likening them to infections that spread exponentially and at tremendous speed. For ideas to sweep through whole cultures like viruses certain ‘carriers' of trends or ideas have to be present within the community. In support, he cites historical accounts of ideas becoming infectious and examples of how rumours can carry ideas.

On the psychology front, he recounts much fascinating research, including that which showed that people are more likely to agree with an idea if already nodding their head when hearing it. Past ideas and personal history have less impact than whether you are currently engaged in head nodding!

Gladwell examines the intricacies of social influence and how powerfully some peoples' moods infect others. Some people send their emotions more powerfully and contagiously than others. They do this intuitively and it can be incredibly subtle.

The book contains a test developed by the psychologist Howard Friedman, which determines how much of a ‘sender' you are (and therefore how influential).

As an experiment a few dozen high scorers were matched with a few dozen very low scorers. He asked all the participants to fill out a questionnaire to report how they were feeling ‘at that instant'.
Friedman put each high scorer in a room with a low scorer. They were told they may look at each other but not talk. After the session they had to again fill out a detailed questionnaire as to how they were feeling.

In just two minutes with no words spoken all the low scorers picked up the moods of the high scorers. If the charismatic person started out depressed and the non-expressive person started out happy then after two minutes the ‘non-expressive' was depressed as well.

But it never worked the other way around! The charismatic person or ‘sender' was never infected by the ‘non-expressive' So social epidemics need these senders or ‘salesman' to be involved, as they are so infectious. I daren’t even begin to discuss the implications this research would have on the fields of therapy and social networks.

‘The Tipping Point' discusses how Hush Puppy shoes went from selling 30,000 a year in 1993 and then tipped to selling to 2,000,000 a year later which took the manufacturers by surprise as there had been no change in marketing. Gladwell looks at ‘crime waves' and also the triggers, which caused a massive and dramatic drop in New York crime in the 1990s. He discusses education and what it was about Sesame Street that made learning infectious for young people.

If you like your psychology to amaze and delight then you will love ‘The Tipping Point'

And by the way, the book itself ‘tipped' and has become an international word of mouth best-seller. A book that walks its talk.

The Tipping Point Chapter Headings

One - The Three Rules of Epidemics
Two - The Law of the Few: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen
Three - The Stickiness Factor: Sesame Street, Blue's Clues, and the Educational Virus
Four - The Power of Context (Part One): Bernie Goetz and the Rise and Fall of New York City Crime
Five - The Power of Context (Part Two): The Magic Number One Hundred and Fifty
Six - Case Study: Rumours, Sneakers, and the Power of Translation
Seven - Case Study: Suicide, Smoking, and the Search for the Unsticky Cigarette
Eight - Conclusion: Focus, Test, and Believe

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Mark Tyrrell
Creative Director