TheTipping Point


Malcolm Gladwell's book is a study in the epidemiology of ideas, fashion trends, and even trends in violence. From Hush Puppies in Manhattan night clubs to suicides among young teen males in Melanesia, from Sesame Street to cigarettes, this book is filled with interesting ideas and social psychology studies. From the rule of seven to the rule of 150, there are interesting ideas and suggestions about how an idea might propagate.

My problem with the book is that it doesn't dive deep enough. There are suggestions that this is the way things might develop, but there isn't enough substance. That may be an effect of what is being studied. In social psychology, one can never be absolutely certain of cause and effect; research is more often conducted along the lines of correlations. For example, the rule of 150 is supported by the fact that every major nation on Earth through time has organized its individuals into groups that do not exceed 150 at the lowest levels. There is a profound reason suggested for this; but I wonder how one would go about testing that reason.

What Gladwell's book put me in mind of was the need for a tipping point in many aspects of the political, social, and spiritual lives of Americans. I have a feeling that a great many marketing firms will be studying this book closely. I know that a good many people in my own company have read this book and have suggested it to others to read.

While it may become a weapon in the armament of marketing, it is also an interesting anecdotal appreciation of the spread of ideas. Whether or not it is substantial is a matter that must be left to more documentation or testing. Throughout the book, I was wondering whether what Gladwell was talking about was similar to the broad characteristics one could find upon reading one's own character portrait from horoscopes: you see something vague enough and say, "That's it, that's me exactly." And of course, the statements you are reading could describe anyone at all at some point in time. Gladwell's book struck me a little that way--interesting observations that never quite gel for me into coherent theory.

However, I enjoyed it tremendously, expanded my knowledge of the field and encountered the utterly fascinating essay by George Miller "The Magical Number Seven, Ply or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information." (It begins with the remarkable sentence: "My problem is that I have been persecuted by an integer.")

Recommended for readers interested in social trends and social psychology. It makes fine, light, entertaining non-fiction reading for most.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on November 19, 2007 8:31 AM.

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