The Tipping Point

By Deane Barker on December 1, 2002

This book presents a seductive idea than I wanted answered — what causes trends to tip? For instance, take a fashion trend. The book uses the resurgence of Hush Puppies an example. One minute they were boring and outdated, but for a few months last year, they were the hottest things in New York fashion circles.

Think about all the new brands that come and take the market by storm — what causes this? How and when does something go from small-time to big-time? Not just products — what causes certain diseases to have sudden outbreaks, or teen smoking to catch on?

Sadly, the book takes a massive detour somewhere in the middle, and the author — Malcolm Gladwell, a writer for The New Yorker — wanders into such things as “Sesame Street” and “Blues Clues” and I couldn’t quite understand why. He did this a lot — it seems like there were some topics that he REALLY wanted to talk about, so he invented links between them and his subject matter just so he could demonstrate his knowledge.

The meat of the book is in chapter two, where the author discusses three types of people: Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors are those people who just know everyone. People that collect relationships with other people just for fun. Mavens are subject matter experts that people look to for advice. They love plumbing the depths of a subject, then sharing the information with whomever will listen. Salesmen are just that — people who can persude others to try new things.

Gladwell presents an excellent discussion of these three types of people, and uses the backdrop of Paul Revere’s ride to put them in context. Understanding the three types will move you a lot closer to be able to orchestrate “tips” of your own.

In the end, you could probably read chapters one and two and just stop there. When I finished the book, I even took time to re-read chapter two. The rest of the book is interesting, but you start wondering what it has to do with the topic of the title. Gladwell has some excerpts of the book on his site, but nothing lengthy or particulary noteworthy.