In our short attention span society, books that continue to resonate with a reader days after being read are quite rare. Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference is one such book. The underlying premise of The Tipping Point is infectiously optimistic and you may find yourself examining workplace problems (or even city/province/country problems) with a new perspective long after you’ve put down the book. This is highly recommended reading.
In The Tipping Point, Gladwell proposes that “the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves, or, for that matter, the transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, or the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth, or any number of the other mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviours can spread just like viruses do.” Gladwell uses the term “social epidemics”.
Since not every sneeze results in an epidemic, what is it about certain messages that they spread and others don’t? Why do only some trends reach the tipping point? Gladwell’s perspective is a most thought provoking one: for these things (ideas or trends) to behave like viruses and spread rapidly, certain elements are essential:
- Involvement of a few people with certain key personality traits.
- The subject matter needs to be memorable, what Gladwell calls “The Stickiness Factor”.
- The context in which the message is presented is critical.
Using examples as diverse as Paul Revere’s ride (and why we’ve never heard of William Dawes who rode to deliver the same message that night), the re-emergence of Hush Puppy shoes as a fashion statement and why teens smoke and what, if anything can be done to prevent it, Gladwell shows step by step how, in each of these cases, the Tipping Point was reached.
One common element among all the examples Gladwell uses is that what it doesn’t take is something big, expensive and elaborate. As stated in the title, little things can make a big difference and because of that, this book has broad applicability: it ain’t just for the CEO. The potential for the actions of a few to rapidly change the behaviour of many is quite inspiring and the necessary elements to enact these changes, tantalizingly simple. As Gladwell describes on his website, gladwell.com, “One of the things I'd like to do is to show people how to start "positive" epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly.”
Read this book if you’re about to introduce a new product, service or idea to your customers or to your fellow employees. If your company uses focus groups, read this book. You will likely find yourself looking at the process from a different perspective and with a different set of tools at hand. “What you see depends on where you stand” as we like to say at Common Outlook.