The Tipping Point, How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
Malcolm Gladwell (Little Brown)

This is another of those books that seems to have achieved classic status in double-quick time and is destined to survive for many more years, at the very least because of its title – even if many marketers will refer to the tipping point without knowing, never mind having read, the book itself.

The Tipping Point was first published in 2000 and is the work of Malcolm Gladwell, born a Brit, raised in Canada and now domiciled in New York where he writes for The New Yorker. That allegiance did not hurt the book’s success as it, and the follow-up hit Blink, were both serialised in that iconic magazine.

The titular ‘tipping point’ is that stimulus or series of events and influences that pushes a trend – be it smoking among teens, a pair of shoes, a spate of suicides, a new book or whatever else – over the edge into becoming mainstream, or in Gladwell’s terms: “The moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point.”

Gladwell had previously reported on the growth of AIDS and that experience helped him frame his view of the tipping point in terms of a virus: likely to start small, grow unpredictably, spike and lead to rapid change but often then stopping quite sharply and frequently leaving no subsequent trace of itself.

The idea of trends reaching critical mass is nothing new and neither is the suggestion (familiar from phrases such as ‘six degrees of separation’) that we all stand to be influenced by people we know and admire.

However, Gladwell’s achievement is to get inside the cause of change by identifying causes of these “social epidemics”. These include context, stickiness and the involvement of certain personality types. This last category refers specifically to people who help spread the meme, referred to as connectors, information specialists and persuaders.

These Gladwellisms were quickly picked up by people keen to define triggers for successful sales, marketing, political and other campaigns, leading to a trend of finding new types of thought leaders and influencers, for example among online communities and on email lists.

As social networking has boomed through phenomena such as Facebook, blogging, forums, virtual worlds and so on, The Tipping Point has become regarded as highly prescient and Gladwell’s work has acted as at least a beginner’s guide in interpreting how to address audiences and create trends.

Today, as befits any modern author of a business classic, Gladwell is much in demand at conferences and in the media. His new work, Outliers, concerns what makes some people successful (and others less so) and seems likely to continue his golden run of provocative, questioning books.

The Tipping Point at Waterstone's