am 20. Februar 2000
The main problem with this book, for me at least, is that it just isn't substantial enough to be a BOOK. While the original article, which first appeared in the New Yorker quite a while back, was absorbing, delightful, and even thought-provoking, but I suppose my initial positive reaction was mostly due to the fact that it was a MAGAZINE ARTICLE, and I read it--as most people read magazine articles--while eating a meal alone or commuting to work; that is to say, without sitting at my desk, pencil and notepad at hand, paying each word and every sentence my undivided attention. I don't of course wish to disparage journalism or books written by journalists, but "The Tipping Point" suffers, I think, from everything that can go wrong when one adopts, expands, or simply reprints a newspaper or magazine article into a full-length book. The arguments Gladwell presents, when they're surrounded not by cute and funny New Yorkers cartoons but between the cardboards of a hardcover book, seem lightweight at best, and commonsensical, perhaps even farfetched, at worst. A fellow reviewer below has already noted the strange absence of any discussion of memes. Allow me to add that in a book that purports to reveal the little hidden mechanics that bring about tidal-wave changes in our social behavior and our society, the absence of detailed examination of memetics is simply unforgivable. (It'd be like writing a book that claims to talk about 20th-century physics but skips any mention of quantum mechanics.) In addition, some of the "scientific" methods employed by Gladwell seems dubious when they're not simply quixotic. For instance, the little experiment whereby Gladwell gave a list of people's last names to "400" people to read, asking them to give themselves a point every time they personally "know" someone who shares any of the last names on that list, seems just so pointless as not to merit inclusion even in a shoddily written article, much less a real book. And what's Gladwell's conclusion from this little experiment? That college students don't score too well, because they don't yet have the opportunity to know too many people, while real professionals, especially those whose business it is to have a lot of business connections, score the best. (You don't say!) And then Gladwell went on, apparently oblivious of the obviousness of it all, to dub the latter, the well connected, "the Connectors" (his capitalization; I should also mention that the author, like many fellow journalists, has the annoying habit of coining catchphrases, the usefulness of most of which seems rather questionable). If you think this is ridiculous, please allow me to assure you that the book is full of examples like this. All I can say is that if you're intrigued by the idea of the "tipping point," perhaps you should just go to your local library and photocopy those few pages of the New Yorker, rather than spend your money on the actual book. It's just not worth it.
am 28. Februar 2006
... I found that I could not not review this book. After all, I am currently wearing Hush Puppies, and belong to a major religion that was born out of what Malcolm Gladwell might have described as a 'tipping point' thousands of years ago. In this impulse, Gladwell echoes the words of Margaret Mead, who once said 'Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.' This is the tipping point principle.
Gladwell's writing style is up-beat and popular - he is a staff writer for the New Yorker, and that style is clearly present in his writing here. Thus, those who appreciate the New Yorker will tend to like this book; those who don't, won't. Gladwell occasionally plays a bit loose with the documentation, and relies much more an anecdotal and consensus opinions than necessarily getting strong, documented proof. Then again, with a principle like the tipping point, this might not be the most important thing in any event - any hard, cold statistical data of the early Christian movement might have dismissed this wandering band of a dozen troublemakers as insignificant.
Some of Gladwell's conclusions are likewise problematic, again based on a more intuitive approach that will appeal to some and not to others. In particular, I would question his liberality of accepting drug use; while one might agree that the war on drugs goes in directions that are less helpful while other problems loom large, I'm not convinced (nor does Gladwell's argument seem very strong in this direction) that permitting or encouraging children this experience is the best course.
Some have begun describing the recent Hurricane Katrina disaster as a tipping point for the economy, but whether this will be a tipping point for good or bad, one cannot say. It is a sad fact of history that often disasters and wars are followed by periods of economic boom.
The term 'tipping point' actually comes from epidemiology, to describe the point at which virus and other infectious agents reach a critical mass sufficient to become an epidemic. The problem with this is that different viral and infectious agents have different tipping points given different conditions, so the idea of universally applying the concept of the tipping point becomes rather like the idea of the hundredth monkey, the idea in social consciousness construction that there is some sort of paradigm shift or mysterious shift in general thought and behaviour once it reaches a critical mass of people.
Do other people wear Hush Puppies now because I have doggedly insisted upon wearing mine since the 1970s (not the same pair, mind you)? Why did they fade out of fashion only to come back in? These are the kinds of issues that the tipping point cannot explain.
This is an interesting text, but more as an intellectual sideline rather than a serious attempt at formulating a universal principle of social behaviour.
am 22. März 2000
I read this book in part of one day - it's a good, quick read. Unlike some of the people who didn't care for the book - I never read the New Yorker article. It may be that the book doesn't add enough new info to excite folks who have read that article. But to me the book threw out a good number of new ideas and concepts very quickly and very clearly. I found his ability to draw a nexus between things that, on the surface seem very divergent, was very interesting, and he did it smoothly, without jumping around a lot.
The thrust of the book is that there are three things that can converge to bring about dramatic and perhaps unexpectedly fast changes in our society. These are the context (the situational environment - especially when it's near the balance or 'tipping point'), the idea, and the people involved. His point is that very small changes in any or several of the context, the quality of the idea (which he calls 'stickiness', ie how well the idea sticks), or whether the idea reaches a very small group of key people can trigger a dramatic epidemic of change in society.
"In a given process or system some people matter more than others." (p.19). "The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts." (p.33).
He divides these gifted people into three categories: Connectors, Mavens and Salespeople. "Sprinkled among every walk of life ... are a handful of people with a truly extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances. They are Connectors." (p. 41). "I always keep up with people." (p. 44 quoting a "Connector"). "in the case of Connectors, their ability to span many different worlds is a function of something intrinsic to their personality, some combination of curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, and energy." (p.49). "The point about Connectors is that by having a foot in so many different worlds they have the effect of bringing them all together." (p.51).
"The word Maven comes from the Yiddish, and it means one who accumulates knowledge." (p. 60). "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." (p.67). "The one thing that a Maven is not is a persuader. To be a Maven is to be a teacher. But it is also, even more emphatically to be a student." (p.69).
"There is also a select group of people -- Salesmen -- with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing." (p. 70). He goes on to describe an individual named Tom Gau who is a Salesman. "He seems to have some indefinable trait, something powerful and contagious and irresistible that goes beyond what comes out of his mouth, that makes people who meet him want to agree with him. It's energy. It's enthusiasm. It's charm. It's likability. It's all those things and yet something more." (p. 73).
He then goes into the importance of actually gathering empirical data about ideas, and not just relying on theory or assumption to determine quality, or as he calls it, 'stickiness.' He gives examples of where assumptions have been debunked with data. "Kids don't watch when they are stimulated and look away when they are bored. They watch when they understand and look away when they are confused." (p.102). "Children actually don't like commercials as much as we thought they did." (p. 118) "The driving force for a preschooler is not a search for novelty, like it is with older kids, it's a search for understanding and predictability." (p. 126) Hence why your three year old can watch those Barney videos over and over until the tape breaks - it becomes predictable after the third or fourth viewing. This is probably also why Barney suddenly falls out of favor when predictability is less important than novelty.
Finally, there's a point he makes he calls the rule of 150. He starts with some British anthropologists idea that brain size, neocortex size actually, is related to the ability to handle the complexities of social groups. The larger the neocortex, the larger the social group that can be managed. She then charts primate neocortex size against known average social group sizes for various primates, other than humans. Then she plugs human neocortex size into the equation, and out pops 147.8, or about 150. Now that would be not so interesting, except that he goes on to talk about this religious group, the Hutterites. They are clannish like the Amish or Mennonites, and they have a rule that when a colony approaches 150, they split into two and start a new one. He follows that by noting that Military organizations generally split companies at 150-200. And then he talks about Gore - the company that makes Goretex, among other things. They have a ~150 employee per plant rule.
"At a bigger size you have to impose complicated hierarchies and rules and regulations and formal measures to try to command loyalty and cohesion. But below 150...it is possible to achieve the same goals infomally." (p.180)
"When things get larger than that, people become strangers to one another." (p.181)
"Crossing the 150 line is a small change that can make a big difference." (p. 183)
On the whole, I thought the book sparked thought and converstaion, and will make me look at life and business a little differently. To me that's a good book.
am 2. März 2000
Unfortunately, "The Tipping Point" is a book I must say which I regret having bought. On advice from a friend and all of the good reviews it has had lately I went ahead and bought it. After reading it though, the book itself is, to me, another one of the many examples of mass-marketed popular psychology books, which, when printed, attracts a feeding-frenzy of so-called truth lovers and people who want to find out "how the world really is". (Note how many times this phrase is repeated on the online reviews of the book.) Even Gladwell himself purports to be speaking the "truth" but, unfortunately, examining a few cases which had something in common, or in which even the evidence was overwhelming does not account for"truth" and is in no way part of any psychological-scientific method. Even real psychologists will tell you that statistics cannot capture everything, which Gladwell does not.
Either way however, what was most disturbing about this book turns on two things. First, Gladwell has coined many terms, e.g. "Mavens," "Connectors," etc, but fails, in significant places, to properly qualify them. Where he does qualify them, the arguments are much less strong than the social psychological weight they are meant to bear. Secondly, and more importantly, for those who are looking for "Cure-alls" to the so-called diseases of the world, and such, Gladwell has advice. But for those of us who are a bit more modest in our scope of possibilities (not to mention better read and more enlightened), the book's final, disgusting section on social engineering can only come as a surprise and a shock. Let's put it this way: In the 1600s, Thomas Hobbes' political and social-theoretical world was a much, much kinder and gentler place than Gladwell's in the 21st Century. I'll leave it at that.
Die Geschichten mit denen sich Gladwell in diesem Buch befasst, sind durchaus lesenswert, z.B. über die Ideen und Produktion (und Philosophie) der Sesamstrasse oder die Entwicklung des Verbrechens in New York. Diese Teile sind interessant und gut erzählt - so in dem Stil der Freakonomics. Wer die Bücher mochte, der wird sicherlich auch hier gefallen finden.
Was man aber nicht erwarten kann ist eine kohärente Theorie, wann ein kritischer Punkt überschritten wird oder gar wie man so etwas gezielt auslösen könnte. Zwar identifiziert Gladwell drei kritische Faktoren, aber er bedient sich sehr dem, was im englischen "Retrofitting" heißt, d.h. er nimtm sich ein Phänomen und passt dann sein Modell so an, dass es er damit das Phänomen erklärt. Anders herum funktioniert das aber nicht: Er kann keine Vorhersagen aufstellen und er erklärt auch nicht, warum bestimmte Dinge _nicht_ kippen. So erklärt seine Theorie warum aus einem bestimmten Buch ein Bestseller wurde, aber nicht, warum aus anderen Büchern mit ähnlichen Vorraussetzungen nicht (oder auch nur warum aus anderen Büchern mit anderen Faktoren dennoch Bestseller werden). Ein Beispiel aus dem Buch macht das deutlich: Er vergleicht die zwei Boten Paul Revere und William Dawse. Der eine konnte im Bürgerkrieg erfolgreich Truppen mobilisieren, der andere nicht. Warum? Laut Buch ist die Antwort: Paul Revere kannte mehr Leute und war generell glaubwürdiger. Beweise? Keine, außer dass die Theorie das eben sagt. Das ist etwas circulär. Es kommt noch schlimmer: Im Kapitel über New York geht es um die "Broken Window" - Theorie - nur hier gibt es keine Multiplikatoren (sehr vernbetzte Leute), die das Verbrechen fördern. Was macht Galdwell? Er meint, die Graffitis wären die Multiplikatoren! Mit anderen Worten: William Dawse kennt weniger Leute als ein Graffitti?
Ich könnte noch mehr Beispiele bringen, aber es ist klar geworden, was ich meine: Gladwells Buch gibt keine brauchbaren Erklären warum manchmal etwas kippt und manchmal nicht (Schon die Definition vom "Tipping Point" laut Gladwell ist falsch: Er schreibt, es sei der Punkt, an der eine Exponentialfunktion vom horizontalen ins vertikale überginge. Aber so einen Punkt gibt es nicht! Es gibt nur einen Bereich). Daher wollte ich erst drei Sterne vergeben.
Aber ganz ehrlich: Die Geschichten hätten auch ohne Basis gut funktioniert. Ich mag Freakonomics und ähnliche Bücher und daher kann ich vier Sterne rechtfertigen. Wer aber natürlich die Theorie schlechthin sucht, wird herbe enttäuscht.
am 22. Juni 2000
The central idea of this book is to consider spreading of new ideas, fashions and social trends as contagious epidemics. Duh, what's the alternative? That new trends are secretly broadcast into consumer's cortexes from some corporate Dr. Evil's central repositiory? Or downloaded after stumbling into some banner ads "Click here for the next hot idea"? In other words, Mr. Gladwell's thesis makes sense, but it is not particularly new or non-obvious.
The author's point is further expanded, among other things, into three attributes which are important in sustaining a successful "epidemics". They are called the "Law of the Few", the "Stickiness Factor" and the "Power of Context". In fact (this is mine, not Mr. Gladwell's illustartion) one can easily understand these concepts in terms of massive forest fires - like those near Los Alamos which made the news recently. "The Law of the Few" is in fact a statement that some trees (e.g. higher, dryer, with wide spreading branches) are more effective in propagating the fire than others, just as some people are better at disseminating new trends and ideas than others. The "Stickiness Factor" is that the forest areas with denser amount of dry biomass are likely to be more effective in sustaining massive fires, than thin grass or underbrush, which often burns out and fizzle very quickly. The "Power of Context" is equivalent to a notion that ambient factors (e.g. wind, humidity) are important in spreading the "epidemics" of a forest fire.
Is it correct? Yes, but it is also little more than a fairly trivial, common-sense observation. Is it worth writing a book and conjuring special catch-phrases? Probably yes, given Mr. Gladwell writing skill and knack for astute real-world observations, but only marginally so.
The idea of "tipping point" is illustrated by the notion of exponential growth, with slow change before the "tipping point" and rapid acceleration afterwards. But the author doesn't seem to fully understand exponential curve from a quantitative point of view. The thing is, exponential growth does not have any special "tipping point" at all. The essence of it is the same percentage of change in the same time intervals, therefore each point is the same as any other; each section of the curve, properly scaled, looks similar. In fact fact, one can consider quantitative arguments on somewhat more substantial ground. For example, define a "tipping point" as a moment when the growth passes the point of being susceptable to inevitable fluctuations and extinction, that is when initial flickering light becoming stealily expanding raging fire. The author, however, does go into such direction.
Which is not to say that the book is bad. It is easy, pleasant reading, with interesting real world examples - although, for a fairly short book, it told me more about Hush Puppies than I really cared to know.
am 9. April 2000
As another reviewer pointed out, the central tenet of this book is no great insight for anyone who has much knowledge of mathematics or science generally.
His points are on the whole so obvious that I fail to see why a book needed to be written to explain them. Essentially, if you want to start a "social epidemic" you should:
a) make sure you attract people who are either persuasive, know lots of different people, or are "mavens" - enthusiasts in a particular field who have a lot of knowledge and therefore influence among non-enthusiasts. Imagine that - persuasive people are persuasive! And people who know lots of people help make connections between them! Well I never.
b) make your message "sticky" ie memorable - precisely how is not specified
c) make sure the "context" is right, in some unspecified way.
All this is ridiculously obvious.
As for the style of writing, take this nauseatingly condescending quote: writing about Paul Revere's ride , Gladwell informs us "news of the British march did not come by fax, or by means of a group e-mail. It wasn't broadcast on the nightly news, surrounded by commercials."
Just fancy that! Lots more examples of similar waffle.
am 28. Juni 2000
The Tipping Point puts forth some interesting ideas, such as why Paul Revere succeeded on his famous ride while a counterpart who made a similar ride failed to mobilize many people. But he can be phenomenally sanctimonious, as when he describes people who transmit a sexual disease: "Who were those 168 people? They aren't like you or me. They are people who go out every night, people who have vastly more sexual partners than the norm, people whose lives and behaviors are well outside of the ordinary." In other parts of the book, he makes sense, such as when he notes that we can't stop teens from experimenting with smoking; instead we should try to keep them from getting hooked, which typically takes several years. But then he states the obvious when he notes that anti-smoking programs don't stop teens from smoking because teens are rebellious and tend to do the opposite of what you advise them to do. The biggest fault, however, is that he virtually ignores the Net and how it can have a huge affect in tipping. I get the sense the essence of this book was created sometime ago, when Gladwell first wrote about "tipping points" for the New Yorker. Instead of updating his thesis to consider the Net age, it seems as though Gladwell merely expanded the article without evaluating how much the Net has changed things during the past five years.
am 8. Juni 2000
As a few others have pointed out, every time a low review of this book is given it is immediately followed by several glowing reviews that sound professionally written. And its no secret that the publisher paid about one million dollars for this book! Might there be a connection? Maybe they've taken the lessons of the book to heart and are trying to create their own Hush Puppy phenomonon by making it seem like the world is just set on fire by this book.
And what of the book itself? Nice, but no real groundbreaker. If you know that you can be influenced by your friends and by the world around you, you just got all you will get out of this book. In almost 300 pages the author gives plenty of examples; and to be said, he writes well. But there is no SUBSTANCE underlying the book, just some neat tales. When the subway system in NY started cleaning all the trains and refused to allow a train to return with graffiti once it had been cleaned, grafitti declined. Are you surprised the graffiti artists didn't want to waste their time once it was clear it was futile? If you are, this is the book for you. If not, why waste your time reading it.
am 3. Juli 2000
Gladwell makes some interesting points in this book and explores several real world examples that tie into the general theme about the spread of epidemics through our society. But there is nothing revolutionary about the ideas in this book (other than Paul Revere) and it seems Gladwell really pushes to brand new buzzwords on old concepts. However he does a good job of getting you to think about how things become popular that you may just have ignored in the past. The best thing about this book are the stories he weaves into these concepts such as Roger Horchow, Blue's Clues vs Sesame Street, Gore-Tex, etc.
Obviously this book is directed towards a marketing audience. It is extremely light on examining in background detail on the studies he quotes or providing any sort of numerical analysis behind them. For instance his reference to collective memory studies makes no mention that it may be easier for couples to relate and solve problems compared to two individuals who have no history together and therefore would skew the data. Nor that the sample size for the study was incredibly small. I do believe there is something to transactive memory since for certain things that I don't need to know on a regular basis I associate people with certain groups of facts instead of spending time memorizing them myself.
Further some of the stories are slightly dubious. For instance Gladwell states that not until 1993 did Airwalk market beyond California when they pushed Foot Locker to carry the shoes. However I remember Airwalk being quite popular during the late eighties in rural western North Carolina where I grew up.
In the end I still found this book entertaining and walked away thinking about how things become popular in a different way. I would even rate this book higher if Gladwell would abridge this and cut out many of the repetitive or loosely tied stories in this book. Many of the points are obvious after the first tie-in and don't need an additional 20 or 30 pages of stories to drill it home.