The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell Essay
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell’s 2000 bestseller, discusses how some trends becomes gigantically popular while others fade away in the background without even leaving any mark. The Tipping Point, he says, is “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point,” (12) where the “unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than possibility” but already a certainty. (13-14)
It is when certain ideas, products, messages or behaviors suddenly turn into something of an epidemic, where everyone or majority of the people all of a sudden gets caught up in it without warning. We know right away that a certain trend has become an epidemic: its spread demonstrates contagious behavior, little changes had affected its growth tremendously, and it happened fast. According to Gladwell, these characteristics of an epidemic can be rooted to three factors.
The Law of the Few is discussed in the second chapter aptly titled, “Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.” Gladwell explains that phenomenal trends can be attributed to the few people that, through word-of-mouth, are able to influence others to either love or hate the trend. Gladwell explains that “the success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.” (33)
Connectors link different people to each other and are referred to as “people specialists” (59). Mavens, on the other hand, are “information brokers” that possess, share, and acquire information on a lot of different products, prices, or places. (62, 69) The third type of influential people would be the salesmen, who can persuade and convince others into believing what they want.
The Stickiness Factor is a trend’s unique quality of being memorable, or of being able to “stick” to the minds of the public. The elements that make something sticky are not really wonderfully big or exciting; in fact, they are actually the small and seemingly trivial things that appear to be counterintuitive to the norm or conventional wisdom.
For instance, the makers of Sesame Street thought it would be a good idea to educate children through television, even though experiments and educational experts saw television as having low involvement. (99-110) The simple idea of using television to teach children surprisingly became a success, which had been followed by other educational viruses such as Blue’s Clues. As Gladwell puts it, “there is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible” or sticky. (132)
Finally, the Power of Context consists of the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which trends occur. The environment and historical moments where the trend originates are also responsible for making it phenomenal. Contextual changes are responsible for tipping an epidemic, as is in the case of the crimes in New York City, wherein crime became a contagious behavior due to the circumstances in the city. (140-143)
However, Gladwell also adds that Environmental Tipping Points can be changed and reversed, and even prevented. (167) Another element in the third factor would be social groups, which makes people “susceptible to peer pressure and social norms and any number of other kinds of influence that can play a critical role in sweeping us up in the beginnings of an epidemic.” (171) Socialization plays a large role in context, because the popularity of a trend also depends heavily on how the public responds to it.
In his conclusion, Gladwell redefines Tipping Points as “a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligence action.” (259) After investigating two case studies that further exemplify the Tipping Point and its factors, he suggests that we reframe the way we think about the world, and accept that change is possible and constant.
Gladwell, Malcolm. The Tipping Point. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2000.