Malcolm Gladwell – The Tipping Point summary

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell


“Why doesn’t X get popular?… (Insert your favorite idea)?”  The Tipping Point answers how you can drive more success the next time you ask that question.  Your idea catching on has many of the same properties as the epidemic of a disease. We know a lot about epidemics; so discovering that social changes grow like epidemics is useful.  Many epidemics ‘fizzle’ unless specific things take them past the tipping point: then the change is self-sustaining.  The Tipping Point looks to the science of epidemics to determine the specific components we need for critical mass.

  • Few people matter HUGELY to success in driving change.  Find/be them.
  • “The Few” have common characteristics that drive social ‘epidemics’
  • Each type drives the tipping point at different stages – each type is necessary.
  • The ‘message’ is critical.  Easy, popular, and ‘dialed in’ to people’s daily operation/goals.
  • Where are you seeking to change something?  The context itself also governs the march to critical mass.
  • Not Email. The Few, the Face2Face message, and the context build Tipping Points.


When it all comes together:

  • Paul Revere gets America on the defense in his midnight ride. William Dawes didn’t. Same news, same context, same message.  The difference was the messenger.
  • Without the few key ‘spreaders’ diseases fail to reach self-sustaining status (critical mass).
  • A small collection of ‘trend-leads’ push up hush puppy shoes and skateboard-wear over 1000%.
  • Lexus turned adversity into a Maven Trap, and high-end buyers listen most to their Mavens. 
  • Clean subway cars; Bernie Getz; and enforcing subway fares = NYC better. Broken Windows.


The Who:  All three types take ‘the message’ and compact it to its essence, for consumption. 


Connectors reach over to deliver the message to multiple groups.  They spread the message.  They discuss a lot of things to a lot of people; all the time.  They have many friends outside of ‘one workgroup’ or one technology/division.  Connectors like talking with people and view these discussions as opportunities to connect/improve the world.  Connectors like convincing people, and are positive about smart changes.  Connectors want to talk and debate and advocate changes with their huge circle of ‘loose social connections’ within MSFT.


Mavens validate initiatives and distill the message.  The Maven will explain in detail that your change is THE CHANGE.  The Maven is not ‘a believer’ in the change, but only likes to explain their opinion.  Mavens are not persuaders; they just like to help.  They are the resident expert, who will answer (over-answer) questions, but aren’t interested in seeking to change.  Mavens provide information around the change and analyze it.  Mavens are not interested in the overall affect of their comments.  Mavens convince the smaller circles support change (or not).  Connectors brought the idea to those circles in the first place.


Salespeople take the message and make it resonate within the group.  Salespeople move a social change from the few to the many; and this moves the message past critical mass.  Salespeople are the believers.  Sales people are the optimistic movers who see a change, know it’s value and distill it into the thing ‘everyone believes.’  The primary characteristic of strongest salespeople is their ability to anticipate and effectively answer the most common objections.


The What:  The message or change must be ‘sticky.’  Sticky messages:

  1. People remember the message in context (average = 6 times)
  2. Visually integrate the change as practical: create mental pictures in your 6 messages.
  3. Inspires people to act by being personalized: appeal to novelty (gold-scratch-off) or ease.
  4. Presentation: Interactive messages, clear, direct, repeated.


The Where:  The context of how/where people receive the message determines their reaction.  While most people fixate on the message itself; commonly the environment/context is overlooked.  This is due to FAE: Fundamental Attribution Error.  FAE = A common mistake leaders make in assuming situational factors don’t drive behavior.  Context drives behavior; often as much as the character of the individuals.  Psychiatrists prove most will become a hero, or cheat, or even torture others, given the right context.  People react to the message in context of what they expect ‘normal’ is.  Creating the context you want is critical.


ð     Paul Revere woke people up to tell them; this indicates an emergency and everyone already knew Paul Revere and the British were already threatening! Each group knew the other groups were responding as well and that success was possible.


ð     Everyone in New York had grown tired of crime when Broken Windows was implemented.  The Police received a new booking station, and “every arrest became like opening a box of cracker jacks.”  People supported the initiative, and police pressed hard on arrests. The public character reached a tipping point where ‘fair skipping and petty crime’ were no longer acceptable.


Key Takeaways:

ð     Revolutions are not slow or incremental.  They coalesce from combining an effective (sticky) message, across many groups, where each group is ready to internalize the change.

ð     The Few.  When initiating a change, pay attention to them, because they will do the bulk of the work.  Cultivate your change-agents.

ð     Simplify your change, distill it. It speeds adoption.  Fit it into people’s wants and repeat concrete examples.

ð     People will react relative to what they perceive as normal.  Pay attention to the context you create/sustain. 


About paulscho36

I like to simplify software. I love people who actually deliver software.
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