Book Review – The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Its been a while I read a book that elucidated human behavior in a manner that’s lucid and relatable.

As a marketer, its critical we understand human behavior, which isn’t just complicated and heterogeneous across demographics, societies and communities, but also anything but rational. And Gladwell, in his Tipping Point, takes the readers through a journey, where through citing specific real-life stories, he explains why certain groups of people behave the way they do. And how that impacts other people. He tries to insert logic into why certain incidents tend to leave more of an impact on you than others, and a marketing student, I found it interesting how this explanation of human behavior, and the people, environments and situations that have a long-lasting effect on them, shape their own thoughts and experiences, and how these insights can be understood from a business perspective.

Key takeaways from the book:

  1. Mavens, Connectors, Salesmen – The three groups of people, who mostly subconsciously, end up affecting masses.  And who can be very useful, particularly from a marketing context, for the purpose of effective communication. The mavens, the people who tend to be extraordinarily passionate about topics and subjects which to others may appear quite random (Coffee art, 3-D Printing, Stamp collection, anyone?), and aren’t unafraid to share their extensive, handpicked knowledge with anyone who’s willing to listen, making them thought leaders, or what in marketing jargon could be described as ‘influencers’. The connectors, exceptionally socially well-connected beings, who tend to know more people than most of us, and whose connections could be leveraged upon quite effectively, when you wish to reach masses quickly. And finally the salesmen, people whose superior communicative abilities make people sit up and notice when they try to convince you about something. And what’s incredible is how while you’re reading, you can think of several real-life examples from your own social circle of family and friends.

2. Power of Context – We normally tend to think of incidents and specific examples of people’s behavior as happening in isolation. But what Gladwell highlights here, is the criticality of the context in which it happens, which you cannot ignore, particularly in the event that you’re trying to analyze the reasons behind why it occurred. The one example that stands out in the mind, is one of the crime rate in the New York subway receding over time, correlating to removal of graffiti from the walls of the subway. Context is critical.

3. Law of the Few – Remember Pareto’s principle? Big changes happen due to small changes. And quite analogically, it takes few people, within the masses, to create big changes.

4. The ‘stickiness’ factor – Stickiness occurs when a message tends to resonate with people, and stay in their minds for a longer time than the multitude of  thoughts that affects them otherwise. And you know you’ve achieved communication nirvana when that happens. While at first glance, stickiness may come across as something that is accidental, or that only has a creative motivation, Gladwell argues that it’s equally strategic  with factors such as frequency and method of delivery having a crucial role to play.

Yay or Nay? If you’re looking for an insight into human, maybe specifically consumer behavior, from someone who explains it from a casual, personal, yet relatable perspective with examples that may not necessarily be universal and current, this is a great read. However, if you’d like something that has a more scientific, figure backed explanation, particularly touching more on how human behavior has evolved with the digitization of the globe, you could give this a pass.


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