What shifts a trend from being on the fringes to mainstream? Why do equally virulent flu strains sometimes become epidemic? How can a community reverse a growing wave of crime by focusing on cosmetic details rather than traditional methods? What makes a restaurant or club The place to be this week but not next week? In The Tipping Point Gladwell manages to simplify a slew of complex, comprehensively researched concepts into a digestible and engrossing study of the tipping point – that moment where a concept, trend or behaviour spills past a threshold and spreads.
By using examples as diverse as children’s programming, an increase in footwear sales, changes in cigarette smoking patterns, and the New York subway system, Gladwell illustrates key concepts in a growth field – how, as the subtitle says, little things can make a big difference.
Gladwell opens with the example of Hush Puppies – a shoe that languished in sales for decades, and whose parent company was thinking of discontinuing. Sold only in small stores, and with sales around 30,000 pairs annually, in mid-1994 something happened – Hush Puppies became fashionable. They were used in photo shoots, and within a year sales increased to 430,000. How did this happen? The first kids to wear them did so precisely because they weren’t trendy; the look was seen by trend watchers, who adopted them; well-connected individuals, who develop and maintain lasting relationships with a multitude more people than average, spread the trend; and before Hush Puppies knew it they were mainstreamed.
I really can’t do justice to this extraordinary work here – the writing is eloquent but pared, and the ideas are magnificently described so that each concept builds so seamlessly upon the one before that you can come away thinking that it’s all self-evident, even if you’d never thought of any of it before. Suffice it to say that I’ve read The Tipping Point three times and my copy’s studded with flags: key ideas and sources I want to follow up when the mythical day arrives that I have spare time. And one of my favourite books, Westerfeld’s So Yesterday, is clearly informed by the concepts discussed by Gladwell. If you’re interested in sociology, popular culture, advertising or marketing, you must read this book. - Alex