“The Tipping Point” a Book by Malcolm Gladwell

Subject: Literature
Pages: 15
Words: 3879
Reading time:
14 min
Study level: College


The concept of “the tipping point” can be boiled down to a series of events that lead to a sudden change. This can encompass a variety of aspects such as the sell off period in a stock market after months or years of a bull run, the sudden popularity of a fashion style, or the development of a pop culture icon (i.e. Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, etc.). Simply put, a tipping point can be considered as the outcome of a variety of factors that leads to an emergence of a monumental event or even an inconsequential instance, yet occurs almost overnight due to the factors that contributed to its manifestation early on.

Basically, a tipping point is a moment of critical mass where all the subjective factors that lead up to an event come together resulting in its manifestation. In fact, aside from the examples just given, the concept of a tipping point can be seen in a variety of historical accounts. For instance, the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand was considered a tipping point in history since it brought about World War 1. However, the death of a single person is actually insufficient to actually bring about a war that encompassed numerous countries. Instead, it is important to look at the factors that contributed to it.

Namely, the balance of power system that was in place at the time wherein the various alliances that interlinked countries within Europe resulted in them having to go to war since their own allies were dragged into it. This is a clear cut case of a variety of factors that lead to a point of critical mass wherein all that would be needed is a “slight push” so to speak in order to cause the critical mass to “explode”.

Thus, when examining the context of the tipping point and how it has impacted history and society, it becomes immediately obvious that some means of investigating such an important historical and sociological concept is necessary due to its sheer impact on the development of history and society. It is based on this that this paper reviews the work of Malcom Gladwell and this book “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. Through a review of Gladwell’s work, it is expected that a clearer insight regarding the concept of “the tipping point” can be developed which will help readers identify the signs of the process in action.

Personal Perspective

In my twenty-seven years, I have seen a variety of trends come and go such as cabbage patch dolls, Gibeaud pants, and Michael Jackson. While I rarely, if ever, followed such trends

I understood that there was something driving the popularity of these items and individuals. One of the most common questions I had when observing these trends as they developed was “what makes them special?” For instance, what makes a particular style of shirt like Nike more popular than a similarly designed shirt from an unknown retailer? Not only that, why do people consider Michael Jackson as “the King of Pop” and not any of his contemporaries who started out during the same period that he did?

It is based on these questions that I thought that whether it was a product or a person, their popularity was simply due to being at the right place at the right time. However, after reading Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point”, I have begun to realize the concept of being at the right place at the right time has more relevancy to the idea than I had anticipated. As such, the next few sections will give more detail on the work of Gladwell and the various factors involved in concept of the tipping point.

What is the Tipping Point?

“The Tipping Point” can be considered as a memoir of a thought process that focuses on evaluating the origin of events and what causes them to manifest. From the perspective of Gladwell, the ideal approach to examine the various complex changes that happen in life is to evaluate them based on an accumulation of events that cause a change to happen due to the presence of a “trigger” (Gladwell, 2000). Gladwell presents helps to explain this “trigger” through the use of “the tipping point” concept and two stories that showcase how a tipping point can occur resulting in a change in either societal perception or ushering in new events in history (Gladwell, 2000).

The first example that Gladwell focuses on is the Hush Puppies shoe line and how it vaulted from an overlooked band to the exemplification of hip in the world class design world in under two years. The second example he utilized focused on how New York City’s high crime rate dropped all of a sudden after years. The examples are important manifestations of “the tipping point” concept since they showcase how a series of events can lead up to a sudden change (Gladwell, 2000).

What this indicates is that the concept of change is not something that occurs without sufficient reason, instead, it is more accurate to state that it builds up through an accumulation of information and events and manifests immediately after a certain “trigger” is pulled. Thus, change under the concept of Gladwell in the book does not occur within a vacuum, rather, it occurs due to events taking place behind the scenes that manifest in “the front stage” so to speak; yet, the series of events that happen behind the scenes are what enables such changes to occur in the first place. Change can thus occur suddenly from the perspective of Gladwell yet such changes are based on an inherent structure of information and events and come together to bring such changes about (Gladwell, 2000).

One of the basic concepts that Gladwell touches on is irrational exuberance and how it manifests in the way in which people act. Irrational exuberance is basically the way in which people base their actions on the behavior of other people. For instance, he begins expounding on yawning, bringing up that simply the way that he is expounding on the saying “yawning” means there is a decent risk that a person in the audience will yawn. It is this form of behavior that helps to explain the sudden and often times irrational behavior of people when it comes to pop culture stars and products (Gladwell, 2000).

Basically, Gladwell and the concept of irrational exuberance shows that an individual or an item becomes popular simply because a group of people believe that it is popular resulting in other people believing it is popular which in the end makes it popular. This particular behavior can be compared to a form of mass hysteria or even a type of “herd behavior” wherein people accept the popularity of an item or individual simply because the group believes it to be popular. It is this particular underpinning that helps to explain how social trends take place and how the “tipping point” in the case of pop culture appears.

Simply put, the “trigger” in this case is the desire to belong wherein people will consider something to be popular if there is sufficient traction or other individuals that say something is popular. This helps to explain why artists that have little in the way of significant talent (i.e. Justin Bieber, the Jonas Brothers, etc.) become popular they are marketed as being popular by the various companies that they are under.

On the other hand, this also helps to explain why these individuals tend to lose their popularity as well since, when the marketing of these enterprises are removed, you are left with a mediocre artist that is simply not sellable due to the lack of quality in what they are producing. Based on this, it can be seen that the tipping point when it comes to pop culture stardom is basically people having sufficient enough belief that a person is popular. The “crowd effect” takes over resulting in the tipping point reaching critical mass and eventually creates a “star”. One example of this effect in action can be seen in the case of Kim Kardashian who is simply famous for being famous.

Was the book “The Tipping Point” Easy for you to Read?

Overall, Gladwell’s work is straightforward, compelling and rather well written when it comes to combining his views regarding “the tipping point” and combining it with a variety of examples. Gladwell utilizes a variety of cases and subtle elements that make his contentions convincing and gives readers a variety of examples on they can apply the model he developed in order to understand the origin of events and what the triggers were. The main strength of the work of Gladwell comes from its use of prolific body of historical knowledge and thoughts from various experts in social learning that formed the foundation of his work (Gladwell, 2000).

Yet, despite this abundance of literature, it must be noted that Gladwell fails to “think out of the box” so to speak when it comes to examining the causes of particular events when taking into consideration aspects related to individual action, the contribution of culture and how such aspects combine into creating events. Instead, the author single mindedly focuses on the concept of “critical point of change” that he had brought up at the start of the text as the main causes of behind events occurring.

In the Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell gives an outline on the marvel of social pandemics, the underlying reasons that make things happen and how to identify them. The book is littered with a variety of academic commentary combined with a fascinating account that shows the hypothesis. I would have given the book five stars if not for two issues that detracted from its overall veracity and insightfulness. The first problem is the fact that while the book has a considerable amount of academic content, it is lacking when it comes to incorporating sufficient enough examples to prove the various assertions that it makes.

Aside from this, while the book contains a great deal of intriguing thoughts, there is little in the way of sufficient incorporation into proper examples (fictional or otherwise) that would have enabled readers to better understand the material. The second problem is the fact that while the book sufficiently bundles scholarly research with straightforward ideas and clarifying these through examples, it is neither sufficiently academic or is not properly entertaining.

What this means is that it “toes the line” so to speak between academic literature and fictionalized accounts to the extent that it melds the two. Unfortunately, from my perspective, the melding was not done in a proper fashion and the books comes out as a mediocre form of academic text. However, for those intrigued by subtle elements, there are almost ten pages of endnotes that clarify the ideas all the more completely and give references to the first writing.

So what makes things tip? As per the assertions of Gladwell this can be partitioned into three clarifying classifications: the law of the few, the stickiness variable, and the force of the connection (Gladwell, 2000). The law of the few states that only a few individuals can be responsible for the popularization of particular ideas and concepts and their subsequent manifestation into events that change society or history.

These individuals can be classified as connectors, experts, and business people. Connectors are people with uncommonly extensive individual networking systems (i.e. they know a lot of people). The stickiness principle alludes to little “sticky” subtle elements that can result in considerable events that occur as a direct result. What this means is that certain elements “stick” together resulting in their contribution towards the manifestation of an event.

All in all, it can be stated that “The Tipping Point” is an effective book when it comes to giving a method for translating what variables have helped a certain event from coming about. Whether it is historical or sociological in nature, the main assertion of the book focuses on how events “buildup” through interconnections (whether through an interconnection of events or individuals through the sticky principle) which inevitably manifest in a type of change.

Do note though that while a type of model for identification does exist within the book, it is severely lack in academic veracity, especially when it comes to its implementation in case examples. Not only that, there is a lack of evidence to support its use in predicting future events. Instead, it acts more as a means of examining historical accounts within society or history and explaining how they occurred after the fact instead predicting the course of actions as they would occur in the future.

Information Obtained

After going over the book, the following viewpoints are what I have obtained:

The concept of a “Tipping Point” can be characterized as a snippet of discriminating mass, the edge, and the breaking point. It is the moment that ordinary things achieve considerable levels of popularity to the extent that they become part of commonplace information. There are three different qualities of epidemics as defined by Gladwell, namely: infectiousness, the way that little causes can have huge impacts, and that change happens not progressively yet at one explosive instant (Gladwell, 2000).

What must be understood is that the various events and situations that occur around us on a daily basis, actually do not conform to what our instincts tell us is the norm. It is based on this that we should take on an attitude of constant doubt and test what we know versus what is actually happening. This is because the various aspects of society that help to define it are often the result of explosive changes that have helped to influence its creation.

Three Rules of Epidemics

Law of the Few – First and foremost, the concept of “word of mouth communication” should still be considered as being one of the most utilized, as such the most imperative, form of human communication. The “Law of the Few” basically states that a few individuals in the right places can be sufficient catalysts of change as compared to having a large number of individuals that are spread out. This particular method of explaining the catalysts of change has its basis on the various politicians, senators and even celebrities who are in ideal positions to act as the “triggers for change” by being the voice for the type of change that is to be brought about. Gladwell helps to classify these types of individuals under the following categories:

  1. Connectors – this first collection of individuals has an exceptional skill for connecting people from different backgrounds (Gladwell, 2000). It can be said that they know a wide assortment of different people in a variety of locations and careers.
  2. Second, the concept of “the Mavens” can be surmised as a gathering of individuals with the express purpose of collecting different types of information (Gladwell, 2000). To be a Maven is to be an instructor and an understudy. Basically, people in this type of situation are educators or mentors and help to influence people towards a particular train of thought which influences their future actions.
  3. Salesmen – the concept behind this type of group focuses on influencing an individual due to the pessimistic way in which they are viewing the information that is being given to them. Basically, under this particular concept, people are convinced to follow a particular line of thinking not because they are taught new information; rather, they are convinced based on the veracity and the apparent passion of the information they are being told (Gladwell, 2000).

Stickiness Factor – the concept behind the stickiness factor is that a piece of information or content becomes sufficiently memorable that it “sticks” so to speak resulting in it becoming a prime influence in the way in which people view various events and how they react to them (Gladwell, 2000). For instance, it is actually surprising to note that in Guam the food product Spam has become a part of the regular diet of the population. This is due to the locals observing the American servicemen at the time eating it on a regular basis. At the time, people in the area thought that things that were foreign were basically aspects that were good. The end result is that the idea “stuck” resulting in Spam becoming as prolific in the country as beef or chicken when it comes to everyday meals.

Force of Context – “The way to getting individuals to change their conduct off and on again lies with the most diminutive points of interest of their prompt circumstance. Under the concept of “the Power of Context”, it is actually explained that people are actually a lot more in tune with the general environment than most people tend to believe and, as such, this should be taken into consideration when dealing with people in general or when it comes to determining how their behavior would aid in enacting an event to come about (Gladwell, 2000).

What did I Learn?

When going over the contents of the book, it can be realized that it helps people to develop a method for comprehending why change so frequently happens as fast and as suddenly as it does. For instance, utilizing the framework developed by author, you could answer the following queries: How does a novel composed by an obscure creator wind up as a national smash hit? Why do youngsters smoke in more prominent and more noteworthy numbers, when each and every individual in the nation realizes that cigarettes would kill them? To answer such questions, all that would be needed is to overlay the “tipping point” model and examine the events that lead up to the manifestation of each change.

The result is that you would inevitably be able to determine the origins of each change and what were the factors that contributed to it. The sudden popularity of an item or of an activity does not happen within a vacuum; instead, its cause is usually a series of events that get stuck together resulting in their manifestation as a change in society later on.

One of the most important pieces of information that I have learned from the book is that a multitude of things can happen at the same time, and little changes can have a colossal effect. That being said, it can thus be assumed that a variety of different events and influences can come together which can bring about colossal changes in the world as we know it. As individuals, we generally anticipate that commonplace changes will happen gradually and consistently, and for there to be some relationship in the middle of circumstances and end results.

This is somewhat true; however, the concept of change can actually occur abruptly and without warning. While there is an intrinsic series of events that lead up to the change happening in the first place, what I have learned is that most people are not aware of these series of events and instead focus on the change that occurred. This is one of the reasons why the statement: “if you do not learn from history, you will be doomed to repeat it” becomes relevant since to understand history is to know how everything that we see around us was formed and developed.

Another interesting aspect that I learned from the book is that in all things, there is a tipping point that creates change. For instance, if it rains too much in a certain location there is would inevitably be a tipping point wherein the local rivers would not be able to sustain the continued rainfall and they would subsequently flood. The same concept applies to various eco-systems wherein there is a tipping point where they no longer become sustainable due to excessive resource harvesting (i.e. the Amazon rainforest and the constant harvesting of lumber in the region). It is with this context in mind that I questioned the origin of popularity and what was the tipping point that made something popular.

Technically, it should be fundamentally the same wherein there is a point of critical mass which would result in an inevitable change. However, one of the more difficult aspects of understanding what makes something popular is the concept of human behavior and how it varies from person to person. Since human behavior is varied, then there must be an underlying factor that causes the tipping out that exists outside of behavioral contexts. It is due to this that I turned once more to the work of Gladwell and determined that the underlying aspect of popularity is not that people intrinsically like it due to the quality of the content, rather, just enough people have to like it under the principle of connectors to make it popular.

For example, there is a show on the TLC networking called “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” which depicts the lives of what can best be defined as “white trash” (i.e. uneducated and uncultured Caucasians). Normally, such a show would not be popular at all, however, due to the fact that enough people like it results in more people taking an interest resulting in it becoming popular. Thus, the quality of what is popular should not be taken into consideration, rather, all that is needed is sufficient quantity to “start the ball rolling” so to speak.

Based on my overall view on the book, I like to consider it as a type of scholarly escapade story. It draws from psychological research and social science as well as the study of disease transmission in order to formulate its various concepts. I think the book would intellectually engage any individual who needs to comprehend their general surroundings in an alternate manner. It is based on this that it can be stated that “the Tipping Point” is not some mere experimental content with far reaching references, formal definitions and test examination to defend its position. Instead, it depends on the creativeness of the arguments it makes and illustrations to give support to the positions it emphasizes.

Accordingly, I do not accept that Gladwell would affirm that he has demonstrated that these three guidelines are the best or just controls which represent trends. Indeed, the principles are suitably dubious and overly generalized that one may be enticed to contend that any new lead discovered which appeared to fall outside of their degree could simply be acclimatized as data about: “the few”, “stickiness”, or “connection”.


Overall, I have to state that “the Tipping Point” was an awesome book that was very entertaining to read and helped me considerably in understanding a variety of different factors related to causation that I had not realized early on. The book is actually not boring at all with the author utilizing a variety of interesting and amusing viewpoints in order to illustrate a variety of points and arguments regarding the origin of events and the various methods that could be utilized in order help understand the origins of change. As such, I would highly recommend this book not only as a text to help understand the changes that have occurred in a business environment, but also as a means of understand the development of society as a whole.

Reference List

Gladwell, M. (2000). The tipping point: How little things can make a big difference. Boston: Little, Brown.