The Tipping Point | Study Guide

Malcolm Gladwell

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The Tipping Point | Summary

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Summary

Introduction

Gladwell introduces the idea of the "Tipping Point" as the critical moment when a product, behavior, or message spreads to become a "social epidemic." He presents the "three rules of epidemics": they're contagious, little causes have big effects, and change happens instantly.

Chapter 1

To show how the three rules in the Introduction work, Gladwell describes an epidemic of syphilis in the city of Baltimore. Three different analyses each gave the epidemic a different explanation. It could have been caused by changes in the environment or context, changes to the disease itself, or changes in the people carrying the disease. These three explanations, Gladwell says, work as "agents of change" for all kinds of social epidemics. He calls them "the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context."

Chapter 2

The "Law of the Few" says certain influential, social, and well-connected people can spread an idea quickly and effectively. Connectors have many acquaintances from different subcultures and groups and can bring them all together. Mavens are experts in a certain area and trusted sources of information. Salesmen are especially persuasive and charismatic people.

Chapter 3

To explain the "Stickiness Factor" or what makes an idea truly memorable, Gladwell reveals the creative process behind two children's television shows. Sesame Street and Blue's Clues creators both wanted to present literacy information young children would remember. Both shows achieved revolutionary success through tweaking the "structure and format" of their material based on trial, error, and discoveries about how children learn.

Chapter 4

Gladwell takes the reader to New York City at the height of the 1990s crime epidemic to discuss the "Power of Context." He describes a high-profile city murder, the small environmental changes city officials made, and the large effects of those changes. Several other experiments Gladwell discusses show how human character traits, like honesty, compassion, and the potential for brutality and violence, are heavily dependent on context or outer circumstances.

Chapter 5

The sudden success of a novel by Rebecca Wells demonstrates another facet of the "Power of Context," which is the psychology of groups. Book groups increased the novel's sales. Gladwell explains how the size of a group affects its cohesiveness, its effectiveness, and how easily group members can influence other members' decisions.

Chapter 6

To test how well the three "agents of change" work, Gladwell shows how shoe company Airwalk and branding agency Lambesis made Airwalk shoes a phenomenon. They found influential people—Innovators—in teen culture and geared ads toward them. The Innovators carried the Airwalk trend to the larger teen population through a process similar to spreading a rumor.

Chapter 7

Gladwell then turns to an unsolved epidemic: the rise of teenage smoking. He compares smoking to a rash of young male suicides in Micronesia, where members of a "common subculture" communicated in a "private language." How can people use information about the spread of epidemics to curb the teenage desire to smoke?

Chapter 8

The Conclusion is Gladwell's call of action to the reader. He offers an example of a nurse who altered her message, messengers, and context to spread health information successfully. He reminds readers they can take what they've learned and "reframe the way [they] think about the world" to make room for drastic social change.

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