The Tipping Point Book Summary

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The Tipping Point Book Summary - 3 Big Ideas

In his book , The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell explores questions that frequently stump marketers. Why do certain videos go viral? Why do certain fashion trends catch on while others are ignored? How can a tiny change cause a sudden drop in crime rates? Why do some products stick in a customer’s mind while others are forgotten? In The Tipping Point, Gladwell discusses how small changes can cause can cause an epidemic trend. All it takes is the combination of the right people, the right time and the right context. Simple? Probably not. But Malcolm Gladwell puts forth his theory in a manner that is as simple as it is compelling.

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The Tipping Trinity

For an idea to go “viral” it needs to first infect a few influential people. If a disease is kept locked in an incubation zone – it’s not going to spread. In fact, an epidemic disease may not spread if it doesn’t infect the right people. Similarly, a product or an idea needs to be adopted by key people for it to go epidemic. Gladwell says that there are three types of people to cause an epidemic - Connectors, Mavens & Influencers.

Connectors: Connectors are the people who know far more people than the average person. Connectors have acquaintances from all walks of life. A connector derives his pride from the number of people he knows. While you may know a connector that is within your social circle, he or she will know people from various other social circles as well. Their connections are vital to the spread of an Epidemic.

Mavens: Mavens are the opinionated information gatherers. They research various products thoroughly and set themselves as experts. They genuinely enjoy spreading information and derive their pride from it. As such, people trust their opinion since there is no ulterior motive. Mavens are the gate-keepers of innovation diffusion.

Salesmen: Salesmen are the people who will make the “fencers” tip over to the other side. They tend to have a natural sense of knowing how to make people feel comfortable. They use this trait to connect and empathize with people who may be vastly different from them.

It’s Gotta Stick

If a virus is fought off by the body before it has time to infect others – it won’t turn into an epidemic. Similarly, for an idea or product turn viral it needs to “stick” to the people it first infects. Sometimes all an idea or a product needs is a small tweak to become sticky. Gladwell discusses how the famous show, Sesame Street, was initially a complete failure before a small tweak generated its rapid success. The small tweak was the addition of a human to the fictional Sesame Street.

Gladwell defines the Stickiness Factor – the attribute that compels people to pay close, sustained attention to a product, concept, or idea. Stickiness is heavily reliant on the “context”. Malcolm stresses that the power of context should not be ignored. Malcolm states:

“Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur"​

Something as little as fixing a broken window can alter whether or not the entire building (or even the street) will be met with dishevelment. For stickiness and epidemics to take root, you need the right context.

Go Small – Let the Dunbar Number Tip

The Dunbar’s Number is a theory that as human beings we have cognitive limit to the number of stable social relationships we can maintain. Malcolm Gladwell proposes that if you focus on developing a loyal and cohesive following – you will eventually tip past the Dunbar number. People in this group will then break off to form new & smaller cohesive groups – thus causing a viral effect.

With this in mind, Malcolm suggests that you shouldn’t focus on a “Spray and pray” technique for growth. But instead focus on trying to first get the idea or product “stick” with a few people. Once you achieve true stickiness within a small group, growth is all but certain once the group surpasses the “Dunbar Number”

Final Thoughts​

Malcolm Gladwell’s assertions aren’t perfect by any means. Some of his claims have been critiqued. However, Gladwell provides us with a high-level view on how ideas can spread through the mass public. The Tipping Point shows us how culture and trends are heavily influenced by certain groups of individuals within the right context. Entrepreneurs and marketers can identify opportunities and exploit the context to tip the scale to their favour.

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I hope you enjoyed The Tipping Point Book Summary!  You can pick up this book from Amazon in hardcover, Kindle or Audiobook format 🙂

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About the author

Shawn Dexter

Shawn Dexter is a Product Manager, Entrepreneur & Software Developer. He is passionate about innovation management & technology.


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