The Tipping Point

How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

By: Malcolm Gladwell


In my twenty-seven years, I witnessed a number of epidemics – cabbage patch dolls, Gibeaud jeans, and Michael Jackson. Although I never thought of them as “epidemics”, I realized that there was something driving the success of these products and people. I wondered why certain performers achieved stellar recognition, while their equally talented counterparts never reached the same plateau. More recently, I observed the spread of the F.U.B.U. fashion label from the home of its founders into a multi-million dollar company. I have always credited these accomplishments to being “in the right place at the right time”. Well, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, has given me some additional explanations to fathom.

Definition and Characteristics

The Tipping Point is defined as the moment of critical mass, the threshold, and the boiling point. It is the point when everyday things reach epidemic proportions. There are three distinct characteristics of epidemics – contagiousness, the fact that little causes can have big effects, and that change happens not gradually but at one dramatic moment.


Contagiousness extends beyond the very specific, biological definition that most people attach. It is an unexpected property of all kinds of things, and we must accept that in order to recognize and diagnose epidemic change.


The idea that little causes can have big effects requires that we test out intuitions. The world we live in does not always concur with our intuitions and we must deliberately test them.


The third characteristic is the most important and is at the core of the idea of the Tipping Point. Dramatic change tips the scale, and it can happen all at once.

Three Rules of Epidemics

Gladwell identified three rules that offer a way of making sense of epidemics.


  1. Law of the Few – Word of mouth is still the most important form of human communication. The Law of the Few describes the type of people that facilitate the spread of information.

      Connectors – this first group has a special gift for bringing people together. They know many people.

      Mavens – this group accumulates knowledge. To be a Maven is to be a teacher and a student.

      Salesmen – this group has the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing.

  1. Stickiness Factor – Stickiness is critical to tipping because it determines retention and comprehension. It is what makes customers return to a website, children watch and learn from a television program, and people choose their wardrobes.


  1. Power of Context  - “The key to getting people to change their behavior sometimes lies with the smallest details of their immediate situation. The Power of Context says that human beings are a lot more sensitive to their environment than they may seem.”


The theory of Tipping Points requires that we reframe the way we think about the world. The book challenges its readers to look beyond their intuition and concentrate their resources on a few key areas. After all, “... The world may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped.”

Final Thoughts

Although the concepts did not seem new and profound, The Tipping Point was an easy read that made sense of a number of puzzling situations and epidemics from around the world. The more I thought about how well Gladwell presented the data and used varied examples; I developed a level of respect and intrigue for his thoughts.


Note: Items in quotation were taken directly from the book.