Review: The Tipping Point – How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

ISBN: 0316346624

3.5 Stars

Okay, this is more like a mini-review. I’m not going to pad thisup with chapter lists and summaries, or point-by-pointexamples.

Colour Trio

I finally got around to reading The Tipping Point, a book authored by MalcolmGladwell. While this is a very popular work in thesoftware/management/entrepreneur realms, and has been out forseveral years, I always seemed to have something more important atthe top of the pile (Biztalk Server 2004 Unleashed was a realpage-turner!).

This 304-page book kicks off with an example of a balancedsystem that became unbalanced: Syphilis in Baltimore in the 1990s. This communicable diseasewas a relatively low-level problem, with a fairly constant numberof cases per year, until suddenly it became an epidemic: Over ashort period of time the number of new cases increaseddramatically. Several theories are presented to explain this -for instance that budget cuts in public treatment and educationupset what was previously a precariously balanced system. Syphilishad “tipped”.

Much of the rest of the book provides theories on why some ideasor memes tip (often presented in an almost instructional manner -e.g. learn from this to know how to make your ideas tip,which explains why the book is so popular), often juxtaposing itwith the syphilis epidemic. Intermixed with this are some basic,overly generic social profiles of the types of people who areinstrumental in making ideas tip. These profile types are oftensupported by the contrast of the ride of Paul Revere to that ofWilliam Dawes, where the former was purportedly a connected,influential individual presenting information in the right context,and the latter was not so much.

Ultimately I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the book. I oftenfelt that it was taking divergent ideas and trying to shoehorn theminto the tipping metaphor. I also got a feeling that some factswere simplified, or perhaps presented out of context, to make themfit his case. The book also gave me the feeling that it needed afew more revisions until it achieved a more uniform, smoothpresentation: Instead of a constant expansion and refinement of thecentral theme, this felt more like a series of papers on a commontopic, with some token shout-outs to the common theme to try topull it together.

Is it a worthwhile read Absolutely. It’s an interesting,entertaining read, and provides a lot of superficial sociologywater-cooler expertise. However if one were looking for abetter, more supported and consistent read on the fascinating topicof human psychology – in a manner educational to both thecompliance practitioners and their victims – I’d insteadrecommend the excellent Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (ISBN:0688128165). I suspect that it heavily influencedThe Tipping Point, so you might as well go right to the sourcefirst.