Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Tipping Point - Book Review

Another highly influential book from the Gladwell stable, The Tipping Point explores what makes something 'tip' from a state of equilibrium into a phenomenon that is viral, contagious & sticky. While the basic tenets are drawn from our understanding of the outbreak of health epidemics, the book goes farther to explain rapid adoption of fashion trends, precipitous fall in crime rates, word-of-mouth influences on book sales and underlying rationale of teen smoking.

Gladwell sets the tone and direction at the start by asking 2 simple questions. Why do some ideas or products start epidemics while others don't? And how can positive epidemics be deliberately created and sustained?

The answer, as covered in the rest of the book, is quite breathtaking. By making small changes in the way a message is communicated or by ensuring that a small group of influential messengers get to know about the idea or product or by making subtle changes to the context of the message, the epidemic gets rolling. To a lot of us that call for 'systemic reform' and 'top-down accountability' to address pressing social issues, the importance of 'small' and 'subtle' is a welcome counter-argument.

The book takes us into the world of Connectors, Mavens & Salesmen, individuals who have a tremendous influence in the spread of epidemics and trends. We are also exposed to ways by which a message could be structured and formatted so that it sticks in one's mind. And lastly, we are explained the 'Broken Windows' theory that argues a broken window left unrepaired is an invitation for more windows to be broken in the neighbourhood (since the unrepaired window is a sign of anarchy and an 'anything goes' culture). By adopting zero tolerance to 'mundane' and 'petty' crimes such as fare beating & dirty subway cars in the 90s, the city of New York sent out a firm message that every broken window was being fixed – regardless of the effort - thereby resulting in a rapid and steep fall in crime rates.

I personally liked the Outliers more for its ability to persuade & hold your attention, but The Tipping Point is a piece of work that must definitely not be missed.

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