The Tipping Point (Introduction)

Malcolm Gladwell sets the stage for the Tipping Point by describing the rise in the sale of Hush Puppies, and the decline of New York City Crime.  Both events didn’t gradually change over time, but something (almost like the spread of a virus) caused a shift that seems disproportional to the effort behind it.

Gladwell describes how radical this idea can be for some of us because “We are, as humans, heavily socialized to make a kind of rough approximation between cause and effect.” (The Tipping Point, Page 10)  As I read this, I thought about how many times my mom and my grandmothers all had the same “we must all work really hard to make it” mantra.  Clearly, they were socializing me around this principle.

All around us, we regularly witness and even use the term “viral” to describe ways to market, or the latest video that a friend passes to us online.  Many companies, people, and ideas are trying to be that next overnight sensation by cracking some code, and getting past the tipping point.

Thanks for being part of this journey and I look forward to hearing from you.

Questions to Ponder

What was the last product, trend, or idea you witnessed that seemed to spread like wildfire?  How did you either hear about it or participate in it?

Of the three characteristics Gladwell describes (contagiousness, little causes having big effects, and change happening not gradually but in one dramatic moment) which seems the most radical compared to how you usually think about events, changes or movements?

Did you yawn during that section?  (Pages 9, 10)

7 thoughts on “The Tipping Point (Introduction)

  1. OK so I dont usually have much to say but I did notice a trend that I hadn’t noticed before. Driving in my neighborhood I saw a teenage boy with the floppy curly hair down in his eyes, covered by a ski hat. Normally I would have considered this just to be a teenage boy thing. However I had just watched a performance by One Direction on SNL. Most of the boys (3 of 5) had the same style (or lack of) hair cut. Why did this surprise me? Being a mom to 4 girls I am always aware of the clothing and hair trends and how they “need” to stay up on current style. I had not considered that young boys have the same style trends and that they actually follow them. I am sure this all started with BeiberFever. Since the “fever” was pre-teen girls going gaga over a preteen boy with a floppy hair cut, I hadn’t considered there would be boys following in those footsteps-possibly to direct some of that “fever” their way. I’ve seen boys wear certain Jordans because they were popular and of course the “let me show you my boxer shorts because my jeans are pulled too far down” look. I just was unaware that this was a trend the “few” were influencing and again surprised that the boys followed clothoing/style trends much like the girls did. Is this still true among guys after highschool/college?

    1. Amanda,

      Thanks for the response. Now that you mention it (and I watched that same episode of SNL) I totally see it. Before, I just saw a bunch of longer haired kids with hats, but now I see the clever spread of the image promoted by others. This certainly is causing me to look around a little more often. Thanks again!

  2. I definitely yawned…but I yawn all the time anyway…merely thinking about yawning makes me yawn. I like the concept and idea he is presenting. I agree that little things can cause a epidemic, wide-spread movement or chain reaction…and in fact love to see that type of thing happen! Great cases for that to be made with the Hush Puppies revival and the yawning effect (among others).

    However, I am having trouble with his example of the crime decline in NYC. At first he states that NYC Police, criminologists and economists all have explanations for the cause of the sharp decline in crime, but then goes on implying the Hush Puppies revival in the East Village was the cause of the sharp decline? Not so sure about that one. He then goes on to say that all the changes that happened in the margin are what caused this (ie crack trade leveling off, aging population, better policing, etc.).

    So which is it…Hush Puppies or all things combined? I could be misunderstanding, but he seems to be contradicting himself a bit. But then again, this is only the introduction and I believe he will address this particular event later in the book.

    I look forward to what his ideas and explanations are for this specific event…as well as the other he mentions he will go into throughout the book…hopefully my slight confusion or misunderstanding will be cleared up.

    1. John,

      Great observations and great questions. He does tend to jump around between the various topics so I didn’t see him linking the two together, except where both are “epidemics in action” (page 7), and both require more in-depth discussion to fully understand what things caused them to move so dramatically. As I read this, I am thinking more and more about the role we all play in these epidemics, especially in the communities where we live. When I read about crime in my own City, my first reaction was to pack up and move away. Packing up and moving (along with a host of other unseen factors) may create a similar but negative impact on a community. Ironically, the downturn in the economy stopped a lot of people from packing up and moving to more affluent neighborhoods, a pattern that was more typical a few years ago.

      Maybe some seemingly bad events (our home prices eroding) helped preserve a neighborhood. Who knows, but the book certainly causes me to consider the impact of various factors in a way that I didn’t even notice before. So glad you are part of this book club, and keep the comments, questions, and observations coming!

  3. I definitely yawned, but I’m prone to the power of suggestion that way. I just yawned (a few times, actually) while writing this.
    The Joseph Kony 2012 video is the most recent viral thing I can think of. I remember hearing about it on the radio and then seeing it mentioned on various web sites for a few days before I watched the video.

    1. Iain,

      Great video, I had heard rumblings about it but didn’t know what it was about until I watched it this morning. What a powerful message and a perfect example of trying to spread an idea and movement beyond that elusive tipping point.

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