Behind the Scenes: How to Spread an Idea & The Tipping Point

Recently, I took some books out of the library on marketing and happened upon The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell. This book explores the magical moment when an idea, trend, or human behavior crosses a boundary and explodes into something larger than life like a epidemic.

What I like best about The Tipping Point is that Malcolm Gladwell doesn't draw his conclusions based solely on product sales and trends, but analyzes incredibly insightful stories about things like Sesame Street, anti-smoking campaigns, Paul Revere, New York subway graffiti, and breast cancer awareness in an African American community. Even if you're not a business person looking to understand how to connect with your market, The Tipping Point is a great read for understanding how human beings relate to one another and to ideas.

Here are some of the lessons I'm taking away from reading Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point:

One of the factors in creating a tipping point is having the right messengers, which Gladwell calls Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. Connectors are those people in your life that are not only a great resource for disseminating information but have also mastered something sociologists call the "weak tie" -- casual social connections. From my understanding of this concept, I am starting to become more aware of the people in my circle who I would call Connectors and am valuing their special talents for keeping me in touch with people I would have never have known otherwise.

Making the practical personal was a point that I almost overlooked in Gladwell's book. Based on an experiment where a researcher tried to influence college students to get tetanus shots by scaring them with dramatic photos, the tipping point didn't happen until a map to the clinic and its hours of operation was added to the booklet. Gladwell proposes that the inclusion of the map was a change in presentation that took an abstract lesson in medical risk and transformed it into a practical and personal piece of advice that made it more memorable and therefore more willing to stick. This slight alteration in the booklet design changed everything, which got me thinking about how often we present abstract concepts and things that people appreciate, but don't know how to fit it into their lives.

Here is another interesting observation, and though it is based around the psychological behavior of children, I wonder if it doesn't also apply to adults. When Sesame Street was creating its first programming, they did a lot of research involving kids and how they interact with the television. Apparently, what they discovered is that children watch television when they understand and turn away when they are confused. It is so subtle, but I'm intrigued by this idea that perhaps what you should be paying attention to most is when people look away for this is when they may not be understanding what you are doing or saying. I'm guessing these would be the crucial times to check for understanding and clarify any points that are not making sense to your audience.

The final gem that had an impact on me was in reference to John Wesley and the Methodist movement, which grew to epidemic proportions in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Gladwell proposes that John Wesley realized that if you want to bring about significant change in people that would then go on to impact others, you needed to create a community where new beliefs can be practiced and nurtured.


  1. Thanks for mapping out some points in this book, for those of us (me) who have a very short attention span.
    I think most people are easily distracted with their busy lives, that is why excellent clean looking pictures (like you have) are so important in our shops.
    I also put customer service and communication at the top of my list. It's a time when mom and pop stores are extinct, that's why I think etsy has been so successful, even though it is online one person is still making a connection with another.

  2. I am facinated by some of the points you extracted from the book. I do plan to seek this book out at the library or Kindle, if it is available. This is exactly why I love reading blogs. I learn something new every day. Thanks for sharing.

  3. All great lessons, Beth! As a former teacher I can attest that you pick up on clues when people just don't understand. Then you need to regroup and find a way in. Sometimes it just takes a shift in your perception to make that happen.

    I love the idea of Connectors. I have always felt that that was my purpose, to connect people and things, to bring them together. To make connections. To link up this person with that. I am always seeking ways to do just that. Maybe that means that I am a Connector too! For three years I was involved in the BNI (Business Networking Intl) and that taught me the value of listening to clues and reading the signs and then finding the right connections. Nothing gives me greater satisfaction. I have been out for almost a year now but that is totally ingrained in me. Thank you for the insightful review. If I find some time this summer I will have to look for this book!
    Enjoy the day!

  4. That's a really great book with a lot of insight into why people do things. It's interesting to apply this ideas to our own lives and see the potential for our own tipping points.


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