Make your ideas contagious

The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell, Little Brown

The Tipping Point: How little things can make big difference – Malcolm Gladwell

The Tipping Point is quite famed book. Usually with a business book this known, I already have some idea what to expect before reading it. Somehow I managed to be totally ignorant of the content of the Tipping Point. This kept me from reading it before. However it kept appearing in the suggested reading lists of business and finance bloggers. This finally piqued my interest and I was more than happy to borrow a copy when I got a chance some months ago.

Now that I have read the book, I can fully suggest it especially to everyone who is interested in marketing. Idea is well developed and good bibliography makes the book even more credible.  Book made me to think a lot how to understand the world trough the ideas presented in it. It might be I will write one more article using these ideas to compare it to a real life case.

The whole book is based on an idea that “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread just like viruses do”. This leads the suggestion that they should be seen as epidemics – thus the term Social Epidemic. The Tipping Point is the moment when epidemics reach a point where dramatic change happens. It is the point where epidemics rise or fall, suddenly, without any previous notice.

If you view the world in this way, it opens many possibilities for marketers. If they would understand the reasons behind the epidemics “Tipping”, they could aim intentionally to do so for the message or idea to spread (or to disappear). In his book Gladwell proves to explain the three rules behind the epidemics. These are:

  1. Law of the Few
  2. The Stickiness Factor
  3. The Power of the Context

Law of the Few means that it is not that you have to have huge amounts of people to be able to start epidemics but certain few with special skills. These are information gatherers (Mavens), people whom are extremely networked (Connectors) and people whom make others to believe in the idea (Salesmen). This is an interesting idea and to illustrate it better I made picture 1. Sometimes these skills might be combined in a certain person, so you don’t necessarily need to have three separate people.

Picture 1. Example of The Law of the few in action

The Stickiness Factor states that it is not the quality of the message/idea/product/etc. but the way it is presented that makes people remember it.

The Power of the Context is maybe the most interesting idea in the whole book. Basically what the power of context suggest is that it is our surroundings that makes us behave the way we do, not our upbringing, education or personal situation. This idea bases on some well known psychological studies and experiments (for example Zimbardo experiments and cheating experiments on school children).

Example How does this process of making and idea to turn into an epidemic work? Lets say there is a small mobile phone producer with somehow special products (Law 2). Innovators (picture 2.) try new things and they want to be different. They start using the products of this company because the products are special.

This is not enough to tip the small mobile phone producers products to masses. Majority of people don’t want to be different from the others. This is where early adopters  (Mavens, Connectors and Salesmen) come along (Law 1). They transfer the message from the innovators to more acceptable form for the majority.

Picture 2. Product diffusion curve

In this example about the mobile phone producer it is not as clear how the third law is working, if it is. It might still have an effect. For example if the company’s products start to show up in everyday life this makes others to adapt the product much more likely. I saw this to happen with Apple laptops in the university. When others started having them, it became more acceptable to have one for yourself.

There is some critique towards the book in the Internet. For example I found it mentioned that Gladwell overstates the importance of the mavens under the “Law of the few”. Here we do have to understand that this book gives a suggestion how the ideas actually might spread. By no means it is a tested model by scientists. I would not be surprised if some of the things presented would be more important for ideas to spread than others. Also I think the rules and their importance is highly dependant of the situation.

Someone also mentioned in his critique that he found the amount of quotes and references disturbing and felt it made it hard to understand the big picture. I do agree that someone might find the book difficult to start with, as it is written on a bit more theoretical level than your average bestsellers. In my opinion this is nitpicking, but indeed you have to concentrate more than on average to get the best out of the book.

In my opinion, overall content and value for your money is high. If marketing interest you at all and you have yet to read this book, I definitely suggest you to buy it.

The book is available for example from, and (If you buy the book trough this link bookstore pays small commission for the owner of this blog. This doesn’t cost you anything, but it supports the blog.)

  • Siim Esko

    Excellent choice for the second book!

  • Siim Esko

    Excellent choice for the second book!