Thursday, March 27, 2008

50BC08 #6: The Tipping Point

BOOK: The Tipping Point
AUTHOR: Malcolm Gladwell
YEAR: 2002, Back Bay Books (paperback ed.)
PAGES: 301
GENRE: non-fiction, sociology
RATING: 4.5 stars out of 5

My TBR list is so large that it is no longer a goal, but more of a path. I've tried to say I won't buy any more books until I make a considerable dent in the unread pile I currently own. However, my desire to dialogue with the world at large compels me to buy a few bestsellers here and there just so I'm not out of the loop.

Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point has called to me for several years now and I've read the back cover so many times now I have it memorized. I usually have some healthy skepticism about books that have been hugely popular (I prefer "healthy skepticism" to "elitism," thank you), but this book has been recommended by a variety of friends, so I finally picked it up.

The idea of a "social epidemic" is important, and the biggest lessons in this book are in the stories about people like Georgia Sadler, who utilized folklorists and hairstylists to get the word out about breast cancer and diabetes. But the book should not breed too much careless optimism: While little things CAN make a big difference, they do not always make a BIG difference. If "social epidemics" become our only goal, I fear the motivation will be lost to do the right thing just because it is the right thing. However, Gladwell does get to the heart of the matter:

"What must underlie epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus." (258)

It is that bedrock belief that is so hard to nurture, especially now. It is, I believe, the real "audacity of hope" (to borrow from current politics). So, while we might try to be one of Gladwell's "connectors" or "mavens" or "salesmen," we also need to be members of the "dreamers"--that contingent who supports the hope upon which all change rests.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in social phenomena, psychology, cultural dynamics, and/or becoming a "mover & shaker." Be sure to read the edition that includes the Afterword: "Tipping Point Lessons From the Real World" where Gladwell warns us against the "rise of Immunity" as we begin to take our technological achievements for granted.


John Michael De Marco said...

I am planning to go to a conference in San Diego in June during which Gladwell is a keynoter. I really love Tipping Point, and have utilized it in my executive coaching--what key, little behaviors can make a huge difference?

Know what you mean about swearing you won't buy any more'll never happen!!

Rebecca said...

Well, I definitely need to get rid of some books (watch this space!) because our bookshelves have made a depression in the wood floor (particularly a problem since we rent!!). But I can't part with them until I read them and that requires time! :-)

But I think it is fair to say my book collection is at a "tipping point" of sorts.

Matthew Cornell said...

Wow - 50 books for '80; very cool. I was thinking of doing something similar, so it's good to know that it's possible :-)

Agreed: Valuable book.