Earlier this year I discovered and read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which I really enjoyed. I have since purchased two more books by Gladwell, including this one. As a writer, he has a way of looking at the world, digging deep into the ordinary, and drawing out some extraordinary conclusions and applications. Like Outliers, Gladwell challenges traditional notions of how the world works, and in a compelling fashion, re-interprets the world as we know it.
In short, in this book, Gladwell attempts to explain how certain things “tip” to become social epidemics. For example, how is it that Paul Revere was so effective in spreading the word about the oncoming British, whereas other riders with the exact same message were unable to do so? Answer: Revere was what Gladwell calls both a connector (someone who knew a lot of people) and a maven (someone with expert knowledge – in this case, knowledge about the British). Or how is it that fashion trends take off? How do books become best sellers? Why has there been a rise in school shootings? Why is Sesame Street so effective, and why is Blues Clues even more effective? Why did crime substantially drop on New York City Subways in the early 90’s? What’s the link between suicides in the South Pacific and teenage cigarette smoking?
Gladwell argues, and encourages others to think about, that there are often very small catalysts that cause various epidemics to ‘tip’. For example, the dramatic rise in school shootings ‘tipped’ after the Columbine shootings in my home town of Littleton, Colorado, as other teens connected to the event, almost like they caught a a virus.
Or take the drop in crime on the NYC metro. The ‘tipping point for this decline was when new management of the system made it a top priority to crack down on and eliminate graffiti on the cars… to see why, you’ll need to read the book.
At times this book did feel a bit disjointed, though Gladwell throws in enough interesting illustrations to keep the reader engaged. Also, though there was some, I would have liked to see a bit more application for thinking about creating epidemics ourselves, rather than reading example after example of how these things happened in the past. Because of this, I did not find this book quite as engaging as I did Outliers.
As I reflect on the book, I wonder what changes I could make to create positive change in my world. What small changes could you make in your life, career, community, or church that might serve as a ‘Tipping Point’ for an avalanche of change?