Journalist Malcolm Gladwell has put together what is easily one of the most readable books about social phenomena out right now. Borrowing by analogy from epidemiology, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Little Brown & Company) is a clear, concise analysis of social epidemics and why they “tip” (“The Tipping Point” is the name given to the moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass). Gladwell says, “If you talk to the people who study epidemics – epidemiologists – you realize that they have a strikingly different way of looking at the world. They don’t share the assumptions the rest of us have about how and why change happens.”
After studying tipping points in epidemics, Gladwell decided to look for them in other places. He found them in Wolverine’s Hush Puppy shoe sales, Paul Revere’s midnight ride, the child-captivating shows of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues and the most relevant analysis of teen smoking I’ve yet to read, among other things. Gladwell also covers case studies of people who have successfully manipulated Tipping Points by launching their own epidemic campaigns.
By breaking down the elements of epidemics into easily understandable pieces and processes, Malcolm Gladwell has written what could almost be considered a metamarketing sourcebook. As he says, “The point is that by the end of the book I think the reader will have a clear idea of what starting an epidemic actually takes. This is not an abstract, academic book. It’s very practical. And it’s very hopeful. It’s brain software.”
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.