In San Diego, there was a nurse named Georgia Sadler who tried to educate people about breast cancer and diabetes. She would set up meetings at local churches, but found that the same 200 people kept coming to hear her speak; she wasn’t “tipping” to attract a bigger group. But then, Georgia had a bright idea—host the meetings at beauty salons, and let the stylists broadcast the information. At beauty salons, women might sit for up to eight hours (if they’re getting their hair braided), and often, they trust their stylists deeply. The idea worked brilliantly; Sadler was able to disseminate her useful information to thousands of women, because she found a way to use people who were Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen—beauty stylists. Also, the stylists presented the information in a sticky, memorable format.
In the final chapter of the book, Gladwell opens with a positive example of how tipping point ideas can be used to change society. Georgia was able to use a network of Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen to persuade women to learn more about breast cancer and keep themselves safe. While a trend isn’t necessarily good or bad in itself, Georgia’s example proves that the laws of social epidemics can be a powerful force for good.
The first major lesson of the Tipping Point is that in order to start a social epidemic, one must concentrate resources on a couple areas: find a way to employ talented Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen to start word-of-mouth epidemics. A critic might say that spending so much time on a small handful of people would be a waste of resources; it would be better to try a “comprehensive” solution to the problem, educating each person thoroughly. He might even dismiss Gladwell’s proposals as “Band-Aid solutions” that don’t really get to the heart of the problem. But, as this book has tried to show, “Band-Aid” solutions are often extremely effective. There is always a “convenient shortcut” to starting social epidemics; focusing on disproportionately influential people.
Gladwell uses this passage to address a potential criticism of his book: that he’s relying too extensively on simple, superficial solutions to major problems. At first glance, for example, it seems bizarre to respond to the escalating murder rate of New York City by calling for all graffiti to be removed. However, Gladwell again argues that small, seemingly superficial reforms often end up having a bigger impact than bigger, more comprehensive changes. Even though it would be easy to criticize the “gold box” or the Broken Window Hypothesis as mere Band-Aid solutions to serious problems, history has proven that many so-called Band-Aid solutions can change the world.
The second major lesson of the Tipping Point is that “the world does not accord with our intuition.” For example, we might assume that Kitty Genovese’s murder proves that the average human being is cold and insensitive; but in reality, environment and context are the primary determinants of human behavior—human nature had little to do with Genovese’s death. Moreover, humans are powerfully influenced by their surroundings—for example, taking the graffiti off the walls in New York City drastically improved the crime rate in the city.
Throughout his book, Gladwell has contrasted truth with intuition. Intuitively, it seems impossible that such tiny changes in people, places, and content could have such major effects on the world—and yet, as the book has shown, they do. Understanding this could have major effects on almost avenue of life, from government funding to business to making friends. Instead of spending lots of time and money trying to address the root of the problem, people could potentially use their time and money more efficiently by focusing on the tipping point.
The biggest lesson of all about the Tipping Point is simply that the world is not immovable. Tiny “pushes,” if done the right way, can change the world.
In the end, Gladwell’s message is neither entirely optimistic nor pessimistic. For better or worse, small changes can have a major influence on the world.