The Tipping Point is about change. Specifically it analyzes the word-of-mouth phenomenon to try to understand how an idea, a trend, a new product catches the imagination of people and spreads throughout the country (even the world).
Ultimately, Gladwell uses a simple metaphor that seems to work well in explaining the phenomenon: the spread of a viral epidemic. Why do some viruses spread while others fade into obscurity? How is the pace of transmission effected by social factors? What makes it “tip” into full-blown growth? These are the kinds of questions Gladwell sets out to answer.
As with his podcasts, what makes the book interesting are the examples and case studies he lays out to demonstrate the properties of an epidemic-like growth of a trend. Examples include children’s shows like Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues, the rise and fall of crime in New York City, sneakers, teen smoking, even suicide and school shootings.
Gladwell is careful not to bury the reader in the psychology and sociology at play here. He gives just enough of the research behind the ideas to show that it’s there and is solid, but doesn’t dwell on the academic details, which wouldn’t work well for his more popular audience.
I wouldn’t say the idea behind the book is riveting, but the notion that one or two very small things can “tip” an epidemic into full-blown contagion is interesting. People who understand these principles can better design not just products, but also education and outreach programs, social policy, and industrial organizations. It’s good to know it’s not just going to help advertisers reach further into our pockets (although it will inevitably do that, too.)