The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference - Malcolm Gladwell

This book, first published in 2000, made a decent splash at the time, and I heard it talked about in several different contexts. The library director in Salina had read it and recommended it, inspired by ideas from the book. The basic idea is that the factors that cause a trend to "tip" (spread quickly, like an epidemic) may be seemingly insignificant. His three rules of epidemics are the Law of the Few (there is a small population which spread epidemics), the Stickiness Factor (some messages/trends stick more than others), and the Power of Context (environment and circumstances have a powerful effect on whether or not a trend becomes an epidemic).

The book is simply written and easy to read; his examples of trends are well-chosen, both serving to illustrate his rules and fascinating in their own rights. I particularly enjoyed reading about the creation of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues, which included discussions about child development. The section of the Power of Context was also intriguing, but I wondered whether Gladwell had read Nisbett's Geography of Thought. He does reference a piece by Nisbett, but the Geography of Thought posits that Easterners put a much greater emphasis on context than do Westerners; does that change the rules for Tipping in Asia?

One cause for doubt, however, was that early on he referenced Stanley Milgram's famed "Six Degrees of Separation" experiment. Milgram's methods were later shown to be quite shoddy, and the idea of "six degrees" is actually not necessarily accurate. Gladwell makes no mention of the later findings, taking the experiment's results to be true. It made me wonder if there was any other outdated information in his other examples. But that aside, I feel that his book makes a pretty good case about what causes epidemics to spread, and is great reading for anybody wanting to spread an idea. And, hey, you gotta love a book that references the Journal of Mathematical Sociology! Or maybe that's just me.

Fed to jonathan's brain | March 07, 2004