Tipping Point

Today we begin our re-read of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  My wife and I originally read the book in the early 00s.  We will be reading from is the paperback version published in 2002 by Back Bay Books (15th printing).  The book has an introduction, 8 chapters, an afterword (the 2002 version had a new afterword), endnotes and an index for a total of 302 pages. Dust off your copy or buy a new copy — I think I loaned my original copy to someone five years ago and I suspect it is not coming back.  I am reading my wife’s copy.

It is my intent to complete this re-read in 10 weeks (I am planning to miss one week), including today.  Gladwell packs each chapter with ideas that are important to consider if you are involved in any form of change and ALL humans if they are living, are involved with change. My focus will be on how the ideas in The Tipping Point can be used to help organizations, teams, and individuals affect who they work and deliver value.

As I learned when re-reading Turn The Ship Around, don’t skip the introduction.  Gladwell doesn’t disappoint by provocatively equating tipping points and epidemics.  


In the introduction, Gladwell lays out examples of three ideas and products that have crossed the tipping point three rules of epidemics.  The rules of epidemics are a metaphor for the process of getting to and then crossing a tipping point.  The three rules of epidemics Gladwell references are:

  1. The adoption (or purchase) of ideas and/or products spreads like viruses.  Think of the power of exponential growth. While the idea is an analogy used by Gladwell, I think anyone who has watched adults singing Baby Shark on ESPN (sports network) can appreciate the idea of the impact of a viral idea.
  2. Tipping points are generated by little changes that have big effects. Lots of little changes can build in a geometric progression.  Consider the following thought problem. If you go halfway to work today, then half of the remaining distance tomorrow and then again the day after; how long would it take you to get to work? The answer is never, there will always be an additional halfway to go (alternately the answer is no because you will be fired because you will never arrive). Geometric progression works in both directions and has enormous impacts.
  3. Change, when it takes hold, happens fast.  

Gladwell points out that all epidemics have tipping points when they go from possibly being in control (and not an epidemic) to out-of-control (and therefore an epidemic – from a  public health perspective).  The three attributes of an epidemic can be used to consider the agile movement, which was built from a number of ideas that were introduced in the 80s and 90s but did not begin to spread like a virus until the early 2000s. When agile did take hold, it became the norm nearly overnight (a very short number of years). 

Gladwell completes the introduction by establishing the two questions the rest of the book will answer: why do some ideas hit a tipping point and can we influence whether an idea hits a tipping point?

Remember to use the link to buy a copy of The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  Support the podcast and blog and more importantly support the author and others that create and wrestle with ideas that make us all smarter.