The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell, 2000)

Big Ideas:

  • "…the idea is very simple…the best way to understand the … mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics." (p. 7)
  • "…little changes had big effects." (p. 8) Furthermore, "…both changes happened in a hurry."
  • Three characteristics:
    1. contagiousness
    2. little causes can have big effects
    3. change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment (the tipping point). (p. 9)
  • Most people are "gradualists" (I say that we're mostly "linear thinkers") — we assume that small changes lead to small impacts. We're generally wrong about that.
  • "Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don't? And what can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?" (p. 14)
  • "These three agents of change I call the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context." (p. 19)
    1. The Law of the Few: "Social epidemics … are also driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people." (p. 21
    2. Stickiness: "…how to make sure a message doesn't go in one ear and out the other." (p. 25)
    3. Power of Context: "…human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem." (p. 29)

Favorite Quotes:

  • p. 13: "We are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time."
  • p. 19: "…the 80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly i0 percent of the 'work' will be done by 20 percent of the participants."
  • p. 35: "(Stanley) Milgram found that most of the letters reached the stockbroker in five or six steps. This experiment is where we get the concept of six degrees of separation…. We're friends with the people we do things with, as much as we are with the people we resemble."
  • p. 37: "…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."
  • p. 54: "Your acquaintances … by definition occupy a very different world than you. They are much more likely to know something that you don't … the strength of weak ties."
  • p. 79: "The second implication of these studies is that non-verbal cues are as or more important than verbal cues."
  • p. 83: "…students who have a high degree of synchrony with their teachers are happier, more enthused, interested, and easygoing."
  • p. 90: "In experiments, children who are asked to read a passage and are then tested on it will invariably score higher than children asked to watch a video of the same subject matter."
  • p. 91: "Sesame Street succeeded because it learned how to make television sticky."
  • p. 150: "…the criminal… is actually someone acutely sensitive to his environment, who is alert to all kinds of cues, and who is prompted to commit crimes based on his perception of the world around him."
  • p. 152: "…what we think of as inner states… are actually powerfully and imperceptibly influenced by seemingly inconsequential personal influences, by a newscaster we watch for a few minutes a day, or by someone we sit next to, in silence, in a two-minute experiment."
  • p. 152-154: the Zimbardo experiment:
    1. "…to find out why prisons are such nasty places. Was it because prisons are full of nasty people, or was it because prisons are such nasty environments that they make people nasty?"
    2. "'What we were unprepared for was the intensity of the change and the speed at which it happened."
    3. Conclusion: "there are specific situations so powerful that they can overwhelm our inherent predispositions."
  • p. 160: Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE): "…when it comes to interpreting other people's behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of the situation and context."
  • p. 161: "There is something in all of us that makes us instinctively want to explain the world around us in terms of people's essential attributes: he's a better basketball player, that person is smarter than I am."
  • p. 163: "The reason that most of us seem to have a consistent character is that most of us are really good at controlling our environment."
  • p. 163: The Darley and Batson "Good Samaritan" experiment
    1. Motive: for going into the ministry (to help people or more philosophical reasons)
    2. Theme: for their sermon (some explicitly given the Good Samaritan)
    3. Rush: Some told that they should hurry up.
    4. "The only thing that really mattered was whether the student was in a rush…. Of the group that was, 10 percent stopped to help. Of the group who knew they had a few minutes to spare, 63 percent stopped."
  • p. 167: "Studies of juvenile delinquency and high school drop-out rates, for example, demonstrate that a child is better off in a good neighborhood and a troubled family than he or she is in a a troubled neighborhood and a good family."
  • p. 177: "…human biology has evolved as an adaptive mechanism to conditions that have largely ceased to exist. Man evolved to feel strongly about few people, short distances, and relatively brief intervals of time; and these are still the dimensions of life that are important to him." (S. L. Washburn)
  • p. 177: Robin Dunbar:
    1. "plug in the neocortex ratio for Homo sapiens, you get a group estimate of 147.8"
    2. "…brains evolve…in order to handle the complexities of larger social groups."
    3. "… 21 different hunter-gatherer societies … average number of people in their villages was 148.4."
    4. "The Hutterites…have a strict policy that every time a colony approaches 150, they split it in two and start a new one…. They've been following the 150 rule for centuries."
    5. "if we want groups to serve as incubators for contagious messages, then… we have to keep groups below the 150 Tipping point." (p. 182)
    6. Wilbert Gore (of Gore-Tex): "We found again and again that things get clumsy at a hundred and fifty." (p. 184)
  • p. 188: Wegner: memory test
    1. "…pairs who knew each other remember substantially more items than those who didn't know each other. Wegner argues that when people know each other well, they create an implicit joint memory system — a transactive memory system — which is based on an understanding about who is best suited to remember what kinds of things."
    2. "Transactive memory is part of what intimacy means."
  • p. 203: "…to start an epidemic, then … employ Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen… to translate the message of the Innovators into something the rest of us can understand."
  • p. 204: Johns Hopkins needle-exchange study:
    1. "… a handful of addicts were coming by each week with knapsacks bulging with 300 or 400 dirty needles at a time… super-exchangers."
    2. "The super-exchangers are the Connectors of Baltimore's drug world."
  • p. 221: "As any parent of a teenage child will tell you, the essential contrariness of adolescents suggests that the more adults inveigh against smoking and lecture teenages about its dangers, the more teens, paradoxically, will want to try it."
  • p. 222: David Phillips suicide studies
    1. "On the day after a highly publicized suicide, the number of fatalities from traffic accidents was, on average 5.9 percent higher than expected…. Phillips concluded that one of the ways in which people commit suicide is by deliberately crashing their cars…." (p. 223)
    2. "…fascinating thing… how extraordinarily specific it is…. Stories about suicides resulted in an increase in single-car crashes where the victim was the driver. Stories about suicide-murders resulted in an increase in multiple-car crashes in which the victims included both drivers and passengers. Stories about young people committing suicide resulted in more traffic fatalities involving young people. Stories about older people committing suicide resulted in more traffic fatalities involving older people."
    3. "News coverage of a number of suicides by self-immolation in England in the late 1970s, for example, prompted 82 suicides by self-immolation over the next year."
  • p. 230: "The quintessential hard-core smoker… is an extrovert, the kind of person who 'is sociable, likes parties, has many friends, needs to have people to talk to…. He craves excitement, takes chances, acts on the spur of the moment and is generally an impulsive individual…. He prefers to keep moving and doing things, tends to be aggressive and loses his temper quickly; his feelings are not kept under tight control and he is not always a reliable person.'" (My friend Tom!) "Heavy smokers have been shown to have a much greater sex drive than nonsmokers…. They rank much higher on what psychologists call 'anti-social' indexes…. Smokers also seem to be more honest about themselves than nonsmokers…. Their lack of deference and their surfeit of defiance combine to make them relatively indifferent to what people think of them."
  • My comment: people choose to smoke because it's part of — or mirros — their cultural identity. Climate denialists choose denial to mirror or reflect their identity.
  • p. 240: Robert Plomin study of adoption
    1. "For adopted kids, however, the results are downright strange. Their scores have nothing whatsoever in common with their adoptive parents: these children are no more similar in their personality or intellectual skills to the people who raised them, fed them, clothed them, read to them, taught them, and loved them for sixteen years than they are to any two adults taken at random off the street."
    2. "What it is saying is that whatever that environmental influence is, it doesn't have a lot to do with parents. It's something else, and what Judith Harris argues is that that something else is the influence of peers."
    3. "… studies of adopted children have shown that those raised by smokers are no more likely to end up as smokers themselves than those raised by nonsmokers."
  • p. 248: "…nicotine addiction isn't a linear phenomenon…. there is an addiction Tipping Point, a threshold — that if you smoke below a certain number of cigarettes you aren't addicted at all, but once you go above that magic number you suddenly are."
  • p. 253: Georgia Sadler breast cancer study:
    1. Move the campaign from black churches to beauty salons.
    2. 'Once you find someone who can manage your hair, you'll drive a hundred miles to see her.'
    3. 'They're natural conversationalists… They tend to be very intuitive….'
    4. "She brought in a folklorist to help coach the stylists in how to present their information… 'We wanted to rely on traditional methods of communication….'"
  • p. 257: "…a piece of paper folded over 50 times could reach the sun."
  • p. 258: "The world…does not accord with our intuition…. We like to think of ourselves as autonomous and inner-directed, that who we are and how we act is something permanently set by our genes and our temperament…. We are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us."
  • p. 259: In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. 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." (My reaction: Yeah — scary! Please put a positive spin on tipping point in the context of climate change….)
  • p. 272: Kelly's "fax effect": "The first fax machine … cost about $2,000… but it was worth nothing because there were no other fax machines for it to communicate with. The second fax machine made the first fax more valuable, and the third fax made the first two more valuable, and so on. 'Because fax machines are linked into a network, each additional fax machine… increases the value of all the fax machines operating before it."


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