008 | The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Updated: Jul 12, 2020

The ice bucket challenge. The gluten-free diet. TikTok. What causes certain brands, products, and ideas catch on, while others just fade away? It’s simple, really. The ones that stick have hit a point of critical mass. The ones that stick have hit the tipping point.

In his New York Times bestseller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell sets out to answer that very question. What causes things to catch on? According to Gladwell, there are three aspects, or rules, necessary to creating social, environmental, and word-of-mouth pandemics: the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context.

The Law of the Few

Have you ever heard of the six degrees of Kevin Bacon? The six degrees of Kevin Bacon is a simple game, and in that game you pick any actor in Hollywood – be it De Niro, DiCaprio, or Denzel – and you try to connect that person back to Kevin Bacon in no more than six movies. Here’s an example: Leonardo DiCaprio was in The Wolf of Wall Street with Matthew McConaughey, Matthew McConaughey was in Tropic Thunder with Tom Cruise, and Tom Cruise was in A Few Good Men with Kevin Bacon. Winner winner, chicken dinner. The point of the game is twofold: 1) the world is a lot smaller than you think, and 2) Kevin Bacon is in a lot of movies.

We’ve all heard it’s not what you know but who you know that really matters. According to Gladwell, that might be even more true than we once believed. Explosive social phenomena are often the result of a handful of super-transmitters - those special "super-connectors" like Kevin Bacon - who can rapidly get an idea, product, or disease out to the world with ease. If you just so happen to know Kevin Bacon, then according to the Law of the Few, you actually know everyone.

The Stickiness Factor

For a product, company, or idea to catch on, it has to stick around long enough for people to actually care. “Much of what we are told to read or watch, we simply don’t remember,” says Gladwell. “The information age has created a stickiness problem.” Let’s take the ice bucket challenge as an example...

The ice bucket challenge stuck because it was surprising, fun, and it was ultimately for a good cause. We had no problem getting behind it, for a multitude of reasons. But how many imitators have popped up since then - smashing eggs over their heads or putting on t-shirts with their teeth - whose challenges haven’t taken off to the same degree? Too many to count, right? Did you participate in any of them? In all likelihood you didn't, and that’s the point. For anything to grow, it has to stick around long enough for us to care.

The Power of Context

As the Stanford Prison Experiment proved, people are - at least in part - a product of their environment. A person is more likely to commit a crime on a dimly lit street than in the middle of Times Square. Why? Because we are hard wired for imitation. We imitate what we see others saying, doing, thinking... even buying. According to Gladwell, “Most of the character traits that make us who we are – friendliness, extroversion, nervousness, openness, and so on – are about half determined by our genes and half determined by our environment.”

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell takes readers under the hood of human habit. He takes compelling research and translates it into plain English. For anyone who is looking to build a brand in business or simply learn more about what makes humans tick, The Tipping Point is well worth the read. You might even learn a little about yourself in the process.

Here's the bottom line guys... you should read this book. Why, you ask?

Because everyone else is doing it.


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