Weekend Reading: “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”

The travel of ideas

This week’s weekend reading is the international bestseller from Malcolm Gladwell “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference”. In this book released in 2000, the New York Times columnist and a writer Malcolm Gladwell describes the turning point when a trend starts to catch fire, becomes important, takes prevalence and spreads as an epidemic.In his post-factum analysis of what makes ideas spread, he focuses on actors and agents of this process, and comes to the conclusion that it is the three type of people that need to come together to make ideas fly: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen. Connectors know a lot of people and are necessary to spread the ideas to get the critical mass of followers and propagators; Mavens are those who generate ideas and put them up for sharing, very often with little personal gain in mind, and Salesmen are those who present ideas creatively and persuasively, with much personal charisma and effect on followers.

Where the Books Tricks You

I study the travel of ideas already for about 10 years and have read a great deal of scientific and popular literature on the subject. And I can see why Gladwell’s book is so popular. Not only does he present it as a solved formula for popularity of trends, he implicitly creates expectations that such trends can be created, managed and manipulated. This is what the science of ‘travel of ideas’ denies.

Basically, the complexity and the chaos of reality is so great that no formula can be followed with this, although patterns exist.

Predictability of trends to spread, albeit highly searched after and desirable, is low, the tipping points are hard to foresee and much depends on convergence of right circumstances. Yet, Gladwell’s analysis is helpful for those who seek to introduce new ideas/market goods and those who want to understand this process. It is the deceptiveness of the assumption that you can have a ‘take home message’ from that book is what I find problematic.

It is not long, a few hundred soft cover pages, so you should be able to finish it in 2 days. Enjoy!

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