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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Book Review: The Tipping Point

I just finished reading "The Tipping Point" and I definitely classify it as a thought-provoking book, which has some very useful insights into the way we live our life. The book by Malcom Gladwell basically takes the idea of epidemics and maps it to social trends and fads, and how we can use the lessons learned to diffuse something of our own interest for the betterment of all. The only criticism I have of the book is what I usually have for almost all the books I read: the size of the book could easily be reduced to 3/4th by omitting repetitive content and stuff which is too obvious.

The book is organized as follows:
  • The Three Rules of Epidemics: The rules as mentioned by the author are the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. Malcolm Gladwell analyzes how epidemics actually start out from a few who are socially quite active. He also finds that an epidemic must be "sticky" to cause widespread effects, and the context must be relevant for that as well.

  • The Law of the Few: Malcom finds three types of personalities which are very affective in making something contagious. These are Connectors (people who have lots of contacts), Mavens (people who are an expert and looked for advice in some particular field) and Salesmen (people who are quite good at convincing others). Malcolm argues that not only the "content" of the message must be interesting/ important for widespread awakening but also the "carrier" of the message holds importance. He exemplifies with the help of Paul Revere's mid night ride during American Civil War. Paul Revere being a Maven as well as a Connector was more successful than William Dawes in alerting the militia about the British attack during American Civil War. Both of them rode rode all night on 18th/19th April 1775 in opposite directions but the results were very different.

  • The Stickiness Factor: A message shouldn't just be "exciting" or "informative" to be contagious. It must also get stuck in the minds of the listeners. Malcolm gives the example of Sesame Street and Blue's Clues, and what went into their making.

  • The Power of Context: There are two chapters on this which deal with various case studies relating how the context/ environment effects the spreading of the same message across masses. The author narrates an experiment which involved thousands of students required to grade their own answer sheets. Similarly, another experiment involved telling people to move from one building to another where somebody along the passage acted to be in desperate help. The results show that "character" isn't a simple set of traits; it behaves depending on the context.

  • Case Study: Rumors, Sneakers, and the Power of Translation: The last few chapters present case studies. Rumors first "level" the details and then "sharpen" some of them according to the context or understanding of the individuals. Such "translation" is also done by "cool people" who make messages more sticky.

  • Case Study: Suicide, Smoking, and the Search for Unsticky Cigarette: Malcolm tries to find out why the anti-smoking campaigns are not successful. He compares it with the suicide trend amongst young boys of Micronesia. He talks of "permission givers" and why people smoke despite knowing that smoking is injurious. He concludes that smoking is not cool; it's the smoker who is cool and acts as a salesman/ permission giver. He further concludes that nicotine is sticky (depending on your genes) and instead of spreading awareness, we should find how to make cigarettes unsticky.

  • Conclusion: Focus, Test, and Believe: There isn't much to learn here.

  • Tipping Point Lessons from the Real World: The author praises his work in this chapter :) I don't think you need to read this one.

Overall, I rate it as an 8 out of 10 book!

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