The Tipping Point


Malcolm Gladwell

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Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Icon
Social Clout and “Word-of-Mouth” Theme Icon
Stickiness Theme Icon
Context versus Character Theme Icon
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Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Theme Icon

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell tries to explain why certain ideas, products, behaviors, and messages become popular while others do not. Although this is an extremely broad topic, the book argues that all successful trends must reach a “tipping point”: in other words, a point at which they move rapidly from being almost unheard of to being very popular. A successful trend reaches its tipping point; an unsuccessful trend does not. As the phrase “tipping point” would suggest, trends don’t necessarily become successful because of large, conspicuous changes. Instead, a trend will often catch on because of a very small change in the content of the trend, the people who spread the trend, or the environment in which the trend is being spread. On the simplest level, then, The Tipping Point is about how small changes have enormous effects.

The book proposes three main ways to analyze a trend (also known as a “social epidemic”), and shows how, in each of these three ways, small changes can help an idea or product “tip” into popularity. First, ideas and products become popular because specific people become aware of them and spread the news to other people. But not all people are equally adept at spreading news. Indeed, a small, disproportionately influential number of people are responsible for doing the bulk of the work necessary to make a trend tip successfully (or so Gladwell argues). Second, ideas and products may also become popular because the ideas or products themselves are particularly enjoyable, memorable, catchy, or otherwise desirable. And yet, people don’t always remember or enjoy all aspects of an idea or product equally. Often, a small, seemingly superficial portion of the thing being disseminated is what makes it so memorable or interesting, and therefore, what makes it so trendy. Finally, ideas and products become popular because the environment in which they’re disseminated is particularly conducive. Again, the book shows how surprisingly small, and sometimes almost imperceptible changes in an environment, such as group size or the amount of graffiti on the walls, can have major effects on a person’s behavior.

It’s important to bear in mind that, for the most part, the book doesn’t judge whether trends are good or bad (although toward the end of the book, Gladwell takes a morally unambiguous position against social epidemics such as smoking, shootings, and suicide). As a result, the book has come under some criticism for what has been viewed as its apolitical discussion of the AIDS crisis, policing techniques, and other events. Furthermore, some critics have argued that the book’s thesis about the importance of small changes in major trends is overstated and oversimplified, or that the book proposes “Band-Aid” solutions for problems that require major, in-depth solutions. In response, however, Gladwell argues that big, societal problems don’t always require sweeping political reforms—and indeed, his book aims to counter the belief that they do. The Tipping Point attempts to correct for people’s natural bias toward large, observable events by arguing for the importance of small, often imperceptible changes—changes that, for better or worse, allow social epidemics to tip into popularity.

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Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes Quotes in The Tipping Point

Below you will find the important quotes in The Tipping Point related to the theme of Tipping Points and the Importance of Small Changes.
Introduction Quotes

It might have been 34 degrees the previous evening, and now it was 31 degrees. Almost nothing had changed, in other words, yet—and this was the amazing thing—everything had changed. Rain had become something entirely different. Snow! We are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time. But the world of the Tipping Point is a place where the unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than possibility. It is—contrary to all our expectations—a certainty.

Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter One Quotes

There is more than one way to tip an epidemic, in other words. Epidemics are a function of the people who transmit infectious agents, the infectious agent itself, and the environment in which the infectious agent is operating.

Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

When Winston filter-tip cigarettes were introduced in the spring of 1954, for example, the company came up with the slogan "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." At the time, the ungrammatical and somehow provocative use of "like" instead of "as" created a minor sensation. It was the kind of phrase that people talked about, like the famous Wendy's tag line from 1984 "Where's the beef?"

Page Number: 25
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Chapter Two Quotes

Six degrees of separation doesn't mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.

Page Number: 36
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The subtle pro-Reagan bias in Jennings's face seems to have influenced the voting behavior of ABC viewers. As you can imagine, ABC News disputes this study vigorously.

Related Characters: Ronald Reagan, Peter Jennings
Page Number: 76
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The ABC viewers who voted for Reagan would never, in a thousand years, tell you that they voted that way because Peter Jennings smiled every time he mentioned the President.

Related Characters: Ronald Reagan, Peter Jennings
Page Number: 79
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Chapter Three Quotes

In 1978, with Gold Box television support, every magazine on the schedule made a profit, an unprecedented turnaround.
What's interesting about this story is that by every normal expectation McCann should have won the test. The gold box idea sounds like a really cheesy idea.

Page Number: 95
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Four Quotes

Giuliani and Bratton—far from being conservatives, as they are commonly identified—actually represent on the question of crime the most extreme liberal position imaginable, a position so extreme that it is almost impossible to accept. How can it be that what was going on in Bernie Goetz's head doesn't matter? And if it is really true that it doesn't matter, why is that fact so hard to believe?

Related Characters: Bernhard Goetz, Rudolph Giuliani, William Bratton
Page Number: 151
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Five Quotes

The Rule of 150 says that congregants of a rapidly expanding church, or the members of a social club, or anyone in a group activity banking on the epidemic spread of shared ideals needs to be particularly cognizant of the perils of bigness. Crossing the 150 line is a small change that can make a big difference.

Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter Six Quotes

At Lambesis, Gordon developed a network of young, savvy correspondents in New York and Los Angeles and Chicago and Dallas and Seattle and around the world in places like Tokyo and London. These were the kind of people who would have been wearing Hush Puppies in the East Village in the early 1990s. They all fit a particular personality type: they were Innovators.

Related Symbols: Hush Puppies
Page Number: 208
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Chapter Seven Quotes

Between 1955 and 1965, there wasn't a single case of suicide on the entire island. In May 1966, an eighteen-year-old boy hanged himself in his jail cell after being arrested for stealing a bicycle, but his case seemed to have little impact. Then, in November of 1966, came the death of R., the charismatic scion of one of the island's wealthiest families. R. had been seeing two women and had fathered a one-month-old child with each of them. Unable to make up his mind between them, he hanged himself in romantic despair.

Related Characters: R.
Page Number: 226
Explanation and Analysis:

The children of smokers are more than twice as likely to smoke as the children of nonsmokers. That's a well-known fact. But … that does not mean that parents who smoke around their children set an example that their kids follow. It simply means that smokers' children have inherited genes from their parents that predispose them toward nicotine addiction.

Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

It's not about mimicking adult behavior, which is why teenage smoking is rising at a time when adult smoking is falling. Teenage smoking is about being a teenager, about sharing in the emotional experience and expressive language and rituals of adolescence, which are as impenetrable and irrational to outsiders as the rituals of adolescent suicide in Micronesia.

Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

What these figures tell us is that experimentation and actual hard-core use are two entirely separate things—that for a drug to be contagious does not automatically mean that it is also sticky. In fact, the sheer number of people who appear to have tried cocaine at least once should tell us that the urge among teens to try something dangerous is pretty nearly universal. This is what teens do. This is how they learn about the world, and most of the time—in 99.1 percent of the cases with cocaine—that experimentation doesn't result in anything bad happening. We have to stop fighting this kind of experimentation.

Page Number: 251
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Conclusion Quotes

A critic looking at these tightly focused, targeted interventions might dismiss them as Band-Aid solutions. But that phrase should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.

Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.

Page Number: 259
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