Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Book Review: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.

Incremental adjustments can yield cataclysmic changes.

That's the message of Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference.

It's a hopeful message.

"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." (p. 259.)

Determining how and where to make the "slightest push" is not self-evident, however.

Gladwell advances the polemic by exploring three components of tipping points, which he concludes are mostly driven by people, not ideas. "Ideas...spread just like viruses do." (p. 7.)

First, Gladwell therefore focuses on the viral transmitters. He categorizes them as: Salesmen, Connectors and Mavens. These are the few, key people who can unleash an epidemic. You obviously want to get these folks involved in making change.

Second, Gladwell explores what he calls, "The Stickiness Factor." This pertains to the message or idea itself. "We all want to believe that the key to making an impact on someone lies with the inherent quality of the ideas we present. But in none of the cases did anyone substantially alter the content of what they were saying. Instead, they tipped the message by tinkering, on the margin, with the presentation of their ideas..." (p. 131.) Gladwell continues: "There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it." (p. 132.)

Third, the author addresses "The Power of Context." This pertains to altering "specific and relatively small elements in the environment" to serve as tipping points. (p. 167.) In one intriguing example, Gladwell discusses how the New York City subway system's severe crime problem was tipped by an aggressive campaign to eradicate graffiti, an ostensibly minor manifestation. (pp. 142-43.)

The book provides some generic tools about how major change is implemented. However, it's up to the reader to apply them to a particular scenario. Since Gladwell essentially concedes (in fact, argues) the power of context, his general suggestions cannot be applied without a maven-like knowledge of the particular context(s) in which change is sought as well as connections to key individuals.

That's the domain of the most crucial change-agent, who curiously gets short-shrift in Gladwell's text: the leader.

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