The Tipping Point

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell says that ideas, products, messages, and behaviors spread just like viruses do. Social epidemics are contagious, happen quickly, and are affected by little things. The tipping point is the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point. Sometimes a little change - in just the right place - can be a tipping point.

Law of the Few

In April 1775, Paul Revere infamously rode from Charlestown to Lexington. Revere's "midnight ride" was a word-of-mouth epidemic pivotal to the American Revolution. In epidemics, a tiny percentage of people do the majority of the work. Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen are people with rare social gifts critical to social epidemics. They translate innovative messages into something the rest of us can understand.


"Six degrees of separation" says that any two people are at most six steps (acquaintances) away from each other. This concept seems counterintuitive; we associate with the people who occupy the same small, physical spaces we do. Gladwell says

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.

These people who link us up with the world are Connectors. Connectors have an extraordinary knack of (and impulse for) making friends and acquaintances. These people manage to occupy many different worlds and subcultures and niches.


Just as there are people we rely upon to connect us to other people, there are also people we rely upon to connect us with new information. A Maven is someone who accumulates knowledge. Mavens are more than expects, though, they are socially motivated. Mavens are almost pathologically helpful. Mavens are student and teachers.


Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people - Salesmen - with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.

Gladwell says that nonverbal cues are as or more important than verbal cues. We think of emotion as a reflection of inner state. However, emotion often goes outside-in. Salesmen have an irresistible energy and charm that makes people want to agree with them.

Stickiness Factor

In epidemics, the message must be memorable. "Stickiness" can be counterintuitive, though. There is often a simple way to package information that can make it irresistible, but you have to find it. Gladwell gives the example of Sesame Street. The creators of the show used a data-driven approach.

The head of research for Sesame Street in the early years was a psychologist from Oregon, Ed Palmer…Palmer's innovation was something he called the Distracter. He would play an episode of Sesame Street on a television monitor, and then run a slide show on a screen next to it, showing a new slide every seven and a half seconds. Palmer and his assistants would note when the children were watching Sesame Street and when they lost interest.

The world - much as we want it to - does not accord with our intuition…Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. they deliberately test their intuitions. Without the evidence of the Distractor, which told them that their intuition about fantasy and reality was wrong, Sesame Street would today be a forgotten footnote in television history.

Power of Context

Even the smallest and subtlest and most unexpected of factors can affect the way we act. Human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem. Our inner states are often the result of our outer circumstances. The Broken Window theory says that crime is the inevitable result of mess. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and a sense of anarchy will spread. In the 1990s, New York dramatically reduced crime by altering environmental details like graffiti and subway turnstile-jumping.

Broken Windows and the Power of Context…say that the criminal - far from being someone who acts for fundamental, intrinsic reasons and who lives in his own world - is actually someone acutely sensitive to his environment…Behavior is a function of social context.

150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship. Small teams have a bond that creates powerful peer pressure. The Rule of 150 often distinguishes a group with real social authority from a group with little power at all. This rule of thumb is another subtle contextual factor that can make a big difference.