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The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

I’ve just finished my first book in 2009, although started in 2008. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is an immensely readable analysis of what makes epidemics happen. However its not really about nasty diseases, although they do feature, but more about business and marketing. It is not just a social science book, but also a philosophy cum marketing primer for anyone trying to get something to take off. To me it seemed to boil down to two main things which may seem very straight-forward, but are immensely difficult in the detail and practice.

Firstly, you need to identify and get the right people involved to spread the word. Gladwell categorises these into three groups: Connectors – who know people especially across normal group boundaries; Mavens – who are gifted information collectors and distributors; and Salesmen – no more explanation needed there. Get one or two of them on board and your idea will begin reach enough of the right people. To illustrate this he uses Paul Revere’s midnight ride to tell the people of New England that ‘the English are coming‘. Revere, it turns out, knew people and when he knocked on the right doors he was taken seriously. Revere’s colleague who went in a different direction tried to do the same, he failed as he didn’t have the same networking skills. This section was absolutely fascinating – I like the idea of being a Maven – sounds very grand.

Even more interesting was the second main premise – Stickiness. So you’ve got your idea or product out there, now how to make it stick and get staying power. Gladwell uses the landmark kids TV show Sesame Street as an example. The production team really worked on finding the right mix of puppets, humans, graphics etc to keep kids’ attention and drum the literacy and teaching messages in in a positive way.

What was really fascinating here was looking at a kids TV show that came after Sesame Street – Blue’s Clues! For anyone without recentish toddlers, it’s a very simple show. Blue is a cartoon dog with a young human owner (Steve in the US version, Kevin in the UK). Each episode follows the same format – Blue sets Steve/Kevin a puzzling problem and gives him clues, they have a little adventure to find the clues, then he sits down in the ‘Thinking Chair’ summarises and works out the right answer. There are large thinking gaps all the way through to allow your toddler to join in. Then – the killer! You and I would probably call this cut-price television – but the Blue’s Clues episodes are deliberately repeated to create that stickiness of information – yes you did read correctly – repetition really works, children get (or remember) the answers faster on the repeats! Meanwhile I used to get so frustrated watching the same episodes over and over again with Juliet when she was little and always wished that Kevin would change his shirt (consistency was part of the recipe). Now I know it’s deliberate in this case, (but of course a lot of other non-educational programmes are just plain lazy).

There was much more to the book, but as you can see, I really enjoyed it. It was great to start the new year with thought-provoking non-fiction too. Highly recommended. (9/10)

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Source: own copy. To explore on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, Abacus paperback, 288 pages.

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