The Tipping Point (book)

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The Tipping Point (ISBN 0316316962) is a book by Malcolm Gladwell, first published by Little Brown in 2000. Tipping point is a sociological term that refers to the moment when something unique becomes common.

The book seeks to explain "social epidemics", or sudden and often chaotic changes from one state to another. For example, he cites the drop in the New York City crime rate in the 1990s. The ability to generate these epidemics is highly-sought in marketing. They are similar, in their mathematical properties, to disease epidemics.

Gladwell identifies three types of people who have the power to produce social epidemics:

  • Connectors: Those with wide social circles. They are the "hubs" of the human social network and responsible for the small world phenomenon.
  • Mavens are knowledgeable people. While most consumers wouldn't know if a product were priced above the market rate by, say, 10 percent, mavens would. Bloggers who detect false claims in the media could also be considered mavens.
  • Salesmen are charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They exert "soft" influence rather than forceful power. Their source of influence may be the tendency of others, subconsciously, to imitate them rather than techniques of conscious persuasion.

Other key concepts in The Tipping Point are:

  • The Law of the Few. Those with the skill sets described above have disproportionate influence over the spread of social phenomena, and without their aid, such dissemination is unlikely ever to occur.
  • Stickiness: Ideas or products found attractive or interesting by others will grow exponentially for some time.
  • The Power of Context: Human behavior is strongly influenced by external variables of context. For example, "zero tolerance" efforts to combat minor crimes such as fare-beating and vandalism on the New York subway led to a decline in more violent crimes; the perception of increased vigilance altered the behavior and attitudes of the passengers. Gladwell also describes the bystander effect.
  • The Magic Number 150. In sociology, it is commonly posited that an individual can only have genuine social relationships with 150 people. Likewise, groups larger than 150 are prone to fragmentation, and it is often best for the group's health that it split. Most extant hunter-gatherer villages, as well as military companies also stay just shy of this number.
  • The New Product Cycle: According to the model of Everett Rogers, there is a bell curve of adaptation to the new phenomenon: first are innovators, then early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. Each category corresponds to one standard deviation worth of width, and the apex of the bell curve is between the early and late majorities. Innovators lie 2 or more standard deviations to the left of the mean, while early adopters are between 1 and 2 standard devations to the left, and so on. Laggards, the last group to adopt a new fad, lie at least 1 standard deviation to the right of the mean, thus make up about 16 percent of the population.

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