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The Tipping Point

Book review

Kate Dames
5 min readDec 16, 2022


An analysis of what makes things go viral. The book breaks down the core elements of change by looking at a diverse set of case studies, including the revival of Hush Puppies in 1996, the reduction of murders in New York by 64% over 5 years, the success of Sesame Street, and more. It is an insightful read that describes the various factors required for tipping point change.

Who is it for?

The book is a must-read for anyone interested in growing their product and services, or creating sustainable and impactful change in any area.

The book and case studies are industry agnostic and draw on lessons from diverse examples to describe what causes pandemic-type change, thus will resonate with most people interested in change.

What’s inside?

Each chapter analyzes one of the three core factors that result in pandemic style change. It starts off with outlining the characteristics of a virus and comparing it to a few case studies to find a correlation.

According to the author, the main characteristics of a virus include:

  • It is contagious
  • Little causes have big effects
  • Change happens at one, dramatic moment.

Using this understanding of pandemic like change, he the delves into a number of case studies to find the correlation between change and the spread of viruses.

One case study outlines how Hush Puppies was on a sure decline prior to 1994 when they sold only 30 000 pairs of shoes per year. Yet, a mere 2 years later they sold four times that number in an unexpected turn of events. At the heart of this turn-around were 2 teenagers who started wearing old pairs of Hush Puppies as a form of self-expression and because no one else was wearing them.

In virus terms, these two teenagers would be the equivalent of patient 0 and forms one of the three agents of change, namely the Law of the Few.

The Law of the Few

According to the analysis, there are only a few key people needed to result in big change. These few people are, however, special kinds of people, namely connectors, mavens and salesmen.

A connector is what can be best compared to an influencer . A connector knows a lot of people from diverse areas and expertise. They also keep contact with all these people in the form of weak social connections. They might only send a Christmas card once a year, or remember a birthday, but they keep the connection to these people outside their inner circle of close friends. They are also different from the average person in that they reach out to people outside this inner circle of friends.

A maven can be described as ‘one who collects knowledge’. These are the Warren Buffets of change — those people who track trends and information obsessively to allow them to spot trends and early movements in the market. They also, however, really want to share this information and help others without expecting anything in return.

Salesmen are the persuaders that change people’s minds on a topic. Their arguments are logical and appropriate and they are naturally attuned to people.

When you combine these three types of people, it can result in a tipping point.

The Stickiness Factor

The next core agent of change Malcolm Gladwell calls the Stickiness Factor — that something that makes something memorable.

The Stickiness Factor is described with use cases from Sesame Street and Blues Clues — another successful children’s educational program.

Some of the insights that explain what makes something sticky or memorable shared in these chapters include making the audience participants; having a structure that introduces increasing levels of complexity in a specific sequence; and repeating the same information.

The Power of Context

The Power of Context, which is the third and final agent of change is described with a rather disturbing story of a woman who was murdered while more than 30 of her close neighbours heard her screams for help without anyone calling authorities.

Wanting to understand this phenomenon and why no-one responded to her cries for help, a scientific experiment was run. The finding was that when people are in a group responsibility for acting is diffused as everyone assumes someone else will act, resulting in no-one acting.

Another case study explaining the power of the environment in supporting change is the fight against crime in New York. At the time New York was filled with petty crimes and murders, with public transport being a breeding ground for these crimes.

The tipping point that turned around these statistics started simply by cleaning up graffiti from all the trains one line at a time. The graffiti was obviously not the most serious crime to go after, but it was the symbol in the environment that indicated that there is no effective law enforcement. Cleaning up the graffiti one line at a time was like claiming back authority.

The main insight shared about the power of context is that living in a good neighbourhood with a bad family is better than living in a bad neighbourhood with a good family. Environment influences behaviour.

Another key factor the author points out related to behavior is our ability to perceive the external environment around us. In an experiment with theology students evaluating whether someone will be a good Samaritan or not, the primary indicator turned out whether someone is in a hurry or relaxed.

When the students were told they are late for an appointment the majority passed a person in need without stopping to help. The majority of the students who were told they are early on the way to the appointment stopped and helped the person in need.

The book is filled with many more insights, but these were the key takeaways I got from it.

The writing style

The book is an easy and interesting read, written in a conversational style.

The different stories and diverse case studies backed by scientific research help broaden the understanding of the core concepts and adds to the credibility of the information.

About the author

Malcolm Gladwell is a Canadian journalist and writer who has written for The New Yorker, The Washington Post and more before authoring the first of one of his many bestselling books, including Blink and Outliers.

He uniquely blends the more intellectual science with a popular reading style that is accessible to non-scientific people, bridging the gap between science and popular knowledge.

Find the book here.


Tipping point contains a number of practical stories based on relatable products and services, making it a valuable intersection between the theory and practice of change.

The book analyses the main factors needed to reach tipping point and include a number of insights that can help anyone enable change in whatever shape or form is most beneficial to them. The vastly different case studies enable the reader to understand the underlying mechanics of change.

A highly recommended read for anyone interested in change of any kind.



Kate Dames

A cup of fresh ideas for old problems. Integrating technology, agile, gamification & lean to make workplaces more human, productive & fun.