Wednesday, November 09, 2005

 

The Tipping Point

The Tipping Point examines how an idea or trend or fashion becomes "popular". There is a point in time at which things catch on, spread, and all of a sudden everyone is wearing poodle skirts or tie-dyed shirts.

While Blink (written by the same author) attempted to quantify the power of the unconscious in decision-making, The Tipping Point makes a whole-hearted effort at quantifying many non-intuitive ideas regarding epidemics. Like Blink, it's readable, enjoyable, and quotes plenty of solid research, uses historical and current examples to make points, and makes its arguements in a coherent and highly believable way.

Epidemics have three characteristics. The "thing" spread is contagious, little things can have very large effects, and big changes can happen in a short period of time. All epidemics have tipping points. There are three rules to epidemics. These three rules comprise the structure of the discussion of the book. First, the Law of the Few. Second, the Stickiness Factor. Third, the Power of Context. When it comes to epidemics a tiny number of people do the majority of the "work". If fads aren't sticky, then they die out before they can make it mainstream. The context of a fad or idea is sometimes more important than the fad or the idea. If there is metadata or assigned meaning or interpretation to something that's going on, then that context can drive the epidemic. It's like the difference between a fire spreading on a cold damp day vs. a hot dry one.

Now, if these things make perfect sense to you, here comes the hard part. Quantify and prove them. This book does a decent job of gathering enough anecdotes, studies, and statistics to cobble together a very compelling and believable arguement for tipping point characteristics. It's definitely worth a read.

Since it's extremely difficult to impossible to create a repeatable scientific experiment involving people as the subjects, most of what we think of as epidemics, people network and social theory, and other "rules" of human behavior are some of the most difficult to research without making fundamental errors. However, I appreciate people who try! The Tipping Point was fun to read and should resonate with readers of Linked, The Wisdom of Crowds, and other nonfiction work in this area.

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