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The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell - Executive Summary

Updated on September 17, 2012

Why do some fads flop when others “tip”? How is it that one little change can make all the difference? Coca-Cola spent $33 million to sponsor the 1992 Olympics, but only 12 percent of TV viewers realized it (Gladwell, 2002, p. 99); meanwhile, Columbia Records inserted a little gold box in the corner of its magazine order coupons, and every issue turned profits (pps. 94-95). People have spent much time and resources trying to discover the secret to the “tipping point”, as it is relevant to nearly all aspects of society, including business and marketing, health and safety, education, social work, and technology. Malcolm Gladwell’s novel The Tipping Point discusses the threshold of abnormal increase or popularity – and the overall importance of understanding what causes ideas or events to reach that point.

Through case studies and accounts from various cultures and cities, The Tipping Point illustrates the details of the tipping-point phenomenon, and demonstrates which factors lead certain products, trends, and even diseases and bad habits to uncommonly spread and grow in power. Gladwell provides background and information on particular cases, often comparing them to those that didn’t reach the tipping point; for instance, “Sesame Street” prevailed as an effective and simultaneously entertaining TV show, with innovative elements that set it apart from others (pps. 89-91).

Furthermore, Gladwell supplements the cases, examples, and events in the novel with anecdotes of his own experiences to illustrate the relevance of the information and findings. For instance, he explains what Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen are, and then gives examples of those he has met; Mark Alpert is Gladwell’s idea of a Maven because he is so interested in everything, and willing to share information, that he wrote to Consumer Reports about misinformation in its literature (p. 65).

With that, Gladwell concluded that small changes in the right places, and at the right times, can make all the difference. Tipping points are evidence of the potential for change and smart moves. He determined several factors and concepts behind the tipping-point phenomenon:

·         The Law of the Few, which encourages concentrating resources on a few key areas; i.e. sharing information with Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

o   On April 18, 1775, Paul Revere and William Dawes set out at night to spread word of an imminent British foray. However, though both men rode through the same number of towns, Revere prevailed as the more famous of the two because he was a Connector, he had the social gifts to reach a large number of people in a short amount of time, and he knew enough people to spread the news that the British were coming in order to foil the planned attack (pps. 56-60).

·         The Stickiness Factor, or the belief that change is possible, and the ability to follow one’s intuition. Furthermore, ideas need to be memorable in order to fly.

o   Social psychologist Howard Levanthal conducted an experiment to determine if college seniors at Yale University would get more tetanus shots depending on the amount of “high fear” content in the booklets that they received about tetanus (pps. 96-97). In fact, the factor that impacted the number of students who got shots was actually a map of the campus with the health center circled; the map was what stuck with the students, not so much the booklet content about tetanus (p. 98).

·         The Power of Context, which insists that the environment, conditions and circumstances are vital to reaching the tipping point.

o   Subway Director David Gunn implemented graffiti-cleaning stations to remove graffiti from New York subway cars (pps. 142-143). That, combined with other actions, resulted in decreased crime in the state, with arrests for misdemeanors going up fivefold in four years (p. 145). Minor crimes were tipping points for violent crime; crime is the result of disorder (p. 144).

The concepts in The Tipping Point are relevant to nearly any phase of life, and can be applied to public administration and management. The Law of the Few explains how certain people with exceptional characteristics and abilities are key to the success of a social epidemic (Gladwell, pps. 33-34). Those people have unusual, innate personality traits, such as the ability to influence others through conversational rhythm (p. 83) and emotional contagion (p. 85). Similarly, leadership comes naturally to some people; as stated by former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, while some decisions are made objectively through numbers and process, others are made with intuition gained from experience (2002, p. 153-154). John Edgar Hoover, the first director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, used his personal power base, charisma, and eccentricities in achieving effective leadership (Edwards, 2009, slide 6); while Hoover’s career included such illustrious tasks as investigating the assassination of John F. Kennedy, he also was known to candidly fire agents on unfounded reasoning (Schott, 1975, 42).


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    • Happyboomernurse profile image

      Gail Sobotkin 6 years ago from South Carolina

      Very interesting answers to a question that's always interested me- "Why do some fads flop while others tip?"

      It's easy to see the tipping point after it's occurred but the hard thing is to predict the tipping point. This hub shows some common denominators of why things tip. Thanks for sharing the info and specific points about this book. Voted up, useful and interesting.

    • profile image

      houseaz 8 years ago

      I love books like this and was excited to read your summary. I know I've experienced "the tipping point" myself in my own business many a time.

    • Blogging Erika profile image

      E L Danvers 8 years ago from Ventura, CA

      Excellent summary! I love this book, but I haven't re-read it in a while. I think I'll bust it out this weekend for a refresher! I think it's still his best book so far.

    • sukhera143 profile image

      sukhera143 8 years ago from Home


    • Jessica Horn profile image

      Jessica Horn 8 years ago

      I read "The Tipping Point" & loved it! Thanks for the refresher course.

      I'm still looking for how "the law of the few" can change my business, but it will someday.

    • Smireles profile image

      Sandra Mireles 8 years ago from Texas

      Thank you for sharing this executive summary about The Tipping Point. You caught my attention very quickly and I intend to find out more about THE LAW OF THE FEW. I have always heard that little things mean a lot and this is an extension of that view. Good hub.