BTRIPP (btripp) wrote,

But, you've read this one already ...

This is another of the books that has languished in my "yet to be reviewed" pile for several months, oddly in that I was quite enthusiastic about it, but it was something that just didn't say "write about me!" when I blocked out time for reviewing. In reflection on this, one thing does occur to me. Just as my reading over the past decade has included very little fiction, I've also steered away, as much as possible, from "popular" books ... anything (as this does) trumpeting being a "#1 National Bestseller" being of questionable value for my limited reading time (as the gist of it will no doubt "filter through" various media channels whether I want it to or not).

While I'd heard of the book (the title being something of a buzzword for a while there), the first I really "encountered" Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference was via my old Toastmasters group, where one member was quite enamored of the stories in it, and spun off a number of his speeches from these. I also had another personal connection with this book, albeit in a second-hand and inconvenient manner. One of the subjects of one of the chapters here had been featured in a magazine story that I'd encountered on the web. She was the head of a Department in the City of Chicago, lived in my neighborhood, and was likely to have certain acquaintances in common with me ... and was featured as one of those people who just knew everybody. As I was, at the time (as I am now), in a rather desperate job search, I attempted to connect with this person, hoping that she could point me towards some likely places where I could find employment. Unfortunately, due to having been featured in this book (a fact I was unaware of when writing to her), she gets hundreds of such requests a week, and is unable to respond to any of these (I was so informed by her assistant). So, the book, when I got around to reading it, was ever so slightly tainted by this experience!

The over-all premise here (as one might infer from the subtitle) is that there are small things, seemingly insignificant on their own, which can produce rather substantial changes in the world (much like the classic "butterfly wing" adage in relation to weather patterns). The book looks at various topics: crime (the "broken window" theory, Bernie Goetz, etc.), marketing (from shoes to books, etc.), health, education, and communications, bringing in examples of how certain things filter through certain people in certain ways and then explode on the general consciousness.

One of the most fascinating things in here is "the magic number one hundred and fifty", 150 being the approximate number of individuals that any given human is really able to have a social relationship with. One researcher has an equation that relates the size of the neocortex to a "social relation" number, and it appears to work quite well across all the great apes (including us). Interestingly, the 150 group size crops up over and over again in human history, from typical village development to church size in certain denominations, to effective unit size in the military.

Concepts slide back and forth within the sections of The Tipping Point, as definitions of people functioning as "connectors, mavens, and salesmen" have applications in almost every one of these, and "stickiness" can apply as well to both Sesame Street and cigarettes. There are many amazing research studies referenced here, from the classic "six degrees of separation" work of Milgram in the 60's to work done in TV and direct marketing. Overall the book frames a "new way" of thinking about the world, although not presenting itself in that light. One thing the book does not do is to formalize this ... frankly, there is enough material and structure in this to make up a good solid minor cult (think of the crap that's grown up around the Enneagram), and I don't know if I'm relieved or disappointed that there isn't (to my knowledge) a "Tipping Point School" out there!

This is, of course, still in print (and no doubt easy to find at your local brick-and-mortar book vendor), but Amazon has this paperback at a whopping 43% off of cover (putting it well under ten bucks), which puts it on a par with the cheapest of the used options (w/shipping). This is certainly one of those that I would recommend to anybody interested in how human consciousness (especially in social settings) works.

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Tags: book review
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