Friday, March 27, 2009

Book Review: Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell's Tipping Point and wanted to review it. Tipping Point is the name given to that one dramatic moment in an epidemic when everything can change all at once. It essentially describes natural events and phenomena which exhibit the properties of geometric progression with an exponential growth. A small increase in a cause(input) can have an exponentially big effect (output). Change becomes obvious at one dramatic moment.

I especially liked the part where he discusses how your social environment plays a bigger role in shaping your personality and intelligence than heredity. Peer groups shape your character and personality more then your parents do. Your dorm roommate is a bigger determinant of your college performance than the quality of the college you go to!

He talks about the changes in our society: the rise of isolation, particularly among teens, and the rise of immunity in communication. Teens construct their own social and material worlds. We've given them time to spend amongst themselves and less time in the company of adults.

If you are interested in reading a more detailed review of the book, you can read this Wikipedia page. You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on the link below:

The book basically talks about the three rules of epidemics and the three types of people responsible for spreading them.

The three rules of epidemics:
  1. The law of the few: Similar to the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule:20% of the people are responsible for 80% of the effects). A very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few. Social circle in reality is a pyramid.

  2. The Stickiness Factor. There are specific ways of making a contagious message memorable: relatively simple changes in the presentation and structuring of information can make a big difference in how much of an impact it makes.

  3. The power of context: Human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they seem. Behaviour is a function of social context. For instance, it becomes hard to keep up with a social group when it's size increases beyond 150. (This number is actually called the Dunbar number. Read this Economist article for more info)

The three types of people who spread social epidemics:
  1. Connectors : People with a gift for bringing the world together. Connectors are people whom all of us can reach in only a few steps because, for one reason or another, they manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures. This is a function of curiosity, self-confidence and energy. We rely on them to give us access to opportunities and worlds to which we don’t belong.

  2. Mavens : Unselfish accumulators of knowledge. A maven is someone who wants to solve other people’s problems, generally by solving his own. Mavens have the knowledge and the social skills to start word-of-mouth epidemics. What sets them apart is not so much what they know but how they pass it along. The fact that mavens want to help, for no other reason than because they like to help, turns out to be an awfully effective way of getting someone’s attention.

    Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are the social glue: they spread it. Information overload makes the role of Maven important. In a world dominated by isolation and immunity, principles of word of mouth are very important, highlighting the role of a maven and a connector.

  3. Salesmen: Have the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing. Love helping people.

While the Tipping Point has some very good points and interesting anecdotes, a minor quibble I have with works in this genre is that I can actually summarize the main ideas in a single page. It’s a good read and has some interesting insights, but not sure how applicable it is in everyday life.

But still definitely worth a read!