|The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference|
|Media type||Print (Paperback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-316-34662-4, ISBN 0-316-31696-2 (first edition)|
|Dewey Decimal||302 22|
|LC Classification||HM1033 .G53 2002|
Gladwell defines a tipping point as "the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point." The book seeks to explain and describe the "mysterious" sociological
changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, "Ideas and products
and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do." The examples of such changes in his book include the rise in popularity and sales of Hush Puppies shoes in the mid-1990s and the precipitous drop in the New York City crime rate after 1990.
Gladwell describes the "three rules of epidemics" (or the three "agents of change") in the tipping points of epidemics.
Gladwell also includes two chapters of case studies, situations in which tipping point concepts were used in specific situations. These situations include the athletic shoe company Airwalk, the diffusion model, how rumors are spread, decreasing the spread of syphilis in Baltimore, teen suicide in Micronesia, and teen smoking in the U.S.
Gladwell received a US$1.5 million advance for The Tipping Point, which sold 1.7 million copies by 2006. In the wake of the book's success, Gladwell was able to earn as much as $40,000 per lecture. Sales increased again in 2006 after the release of Gladwell's next book, Blink.
Some of Gladwell's analysis as to why the phenomenon of the "tipping point" occurs (particularly in relation to his idea of the "law of the
few") is based on the 1967 "Six Degrees of Separation" study by social psychologist Stanley Milgram.
Milgram distributed letters to 160 students in Nebraska, with
instructions that they be sent to a stockbroker in Boston (not
personally known to them) by passing the letters to anyone else that
they believed to be socially closer to the target. The study found that
it took an average of six links to deliver each letter. Of particular
interest to Gladwell was the finding that just three friends of the
stockbroker provided the final link for half of the letters that arrived
successfully. This gave rise to Gladwell's theory that certain types of people are key to the dissemination of information.
In 2003, Duncan Watts, a network theory physicist at Columbia University, repeated the Milgram study by using a
web site to recruit 61,000 people to send messages to 18 targets
He successfully reproduced Milgram's results (the average length of the
chain was approximately six links). However, when he examined the
pathways taken, he found that "hubs" (highly connected people) were not
crucial. Only 5% of the e-mail
messages had passed through one of the hubs. This casts doubt on
Gladwell's assertion that specific types of people are responsible for
bringing about large levels of change.
Watts pointed out that if it were as simple as finding the individuals that can disseminate information prior to a marketing
campaign, advertising agencies would presumably have a far higher
success rate than they do. He also stated that Gladwell's theory does
not square with much of his research into human social dynamics
performed in the last ten years.
Economist Steven Levitt and Gladwell have a running dispute about whether the fall in New York
City's crime rate can be attributed to the actions of the police
department and the "Fixing Broken Windows" effect (as claimed in The Tipping Point). In his book Freakonomics, Levitt attributes the decrease in crime to a decrease in the number of unwanted children because of Roe v. Wade,
arguing that the city's changes in enforcement were not the key cause,
since crime dropped nationally, in all major cities, "Even in Los
Angeles, a city notorious for bad policing, crime fell at about the same
rate as it did in New York once the growth in New York's police force
is accounted for."