Review of the Book Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Whilst most of us have an understanding of what a fad is, how many of us have looked at one through an epidemiological lense? Malcolm Gladwell takes an everyday social phenomena and turns them on their head in way that is light yet vivid, and frightening but funny. I invite any of you with a natural curiosity of social science to delve into this world, because as Gladwell illustrates, once you you’ve passed the “tipping point”, you won’t want to go back.
Straight out the gate and you’re greeted with medical terminology; from “contagious” to “epidemic”, “infectious” to “spreading”, you’re probably starting to feel your nose block as you turn the first page. However, if you allow yourself to see beneath the jargon you’ll find a perfectly constructed logic that illustrates Gladwell’s approach… Much like scientists and their “laws” Gladwell lists set of his “principles”; these are his essential ingredients, that turn something from an idea into a unstoppable craze that can sweep through society. One of his graphic examples is centered around “Hush Puppies”, the iconic american brand that came close to the end during the mid 90’s, but, according to Gladwell, was revived by an explosive fad. Gladwell goes onto to explain the role of influence, stickiness and context (his principles) in allowing the brand to not only survive but flourish beyond imaginability – its “tipping point”. Gladwell applies his framework to a plethora of examples which include smoking, television and even the American Revolution – talk about a balanced sample. With examples exhausted, he then highlights the importance of his analogies, stating that we as humans have a tough time understanding epidemics. “How can the end result seem so out of proportion?” and having then been informed that “if you take a piece of paper and fold it exponentially 50 times it would reach the sun”, I can’t but mutter “no way…” and nod in contempt.
But with Gladwell, it’s more than just wooing and wowing, it’s his genuine belief in his research. “Broken Window Theory” claims that criminals are influenced by their environment and it is mentioned heavily throughout the book and sources claim Gladwell popularised the theory so much in the book that the NYPD acted on it and crime rates actually dropped! Crazy. What’s more, Tipping Point was released long before social media and fact we’re now all too familiar with the term “viral” certainly supports a case to call Gladwell a trailblazer.
A colorful tale of “how the little things, can make the biggest difference”; Tipping Point scores 4 of 5 on the ReddyScale. Sadly it’s 18 year old status removes some of its modern applicability. People don’t just want to read about social contagiousness anymore, they want to know how to start it.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Theories of Success Explained in Examples of Public Figures
You Have Arrived: Why We Don’t Have to Listen to Gladwell
Society is the greatest weapon of all. The social opinion or definition of a person or thing is either its greatest strength or its most detrimental weakness. The definition of the word success has evolved so frequently and so drastically that each variation of the word is starkly different from the next. It seems that in order to become successful, you must have society behind you. But before we delve into the ramifications of who or what is successful, it is important to ask, what do we mean by success anyway? Is it the fame, the social recognition, the wealth? Is it more so the personal feeling of “I made it”? Is it raw, rarefied talent? How can one word so broadly define many specific and conditional stories, and how far can we stretch it? When dealing with umbrella terms such as this, it is key to address the issue of defining this elusive word from several different perspectives. Can we take people as different as Walt Disney, Serena Williams, Bill Gates, Michael Jackson, and decide that they all fall under the same category? In looking at different figures of the public eye, we can decipher what success is, who has it, and to what extent we can compare the different types. If we are to deepen our understanding on how the success is achieved, and what merits it, we can further the term’s evolution to involve more than just societal recognition. Perhaps we can discover that we all have innate success inside of us, and we just need to channel it. Author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell certainly seems to believe so. In his many works on the topics of genius, talent, and success, Gladwell both asks and works to answer the age-old question of success itself.
I assume we should start at the very beginning, which, as Julie Andrews once told me, is a very good place to start. At age thirteen, Andrews became the youngest solo performer to ever be seen at the London Palladium, singing for the family of King George IV. At age nineteen, she made her debut on Broadway in the 1954 production The Boy Friend, followed by My Fair Lady, High Tor, Pipe Dream, and Cinderella, the gracing the film screen with Mary Poppins, The Americanization of Emily, and one of the most influential musical-films of all time, The Sound of Music. All that before the age of thirty (Andrews Online). Orson Welles wrote Citizen Kane at age twenty-five. Mozart composed Piano Concert No. 9 in E-Flat Major at age twenty-one (Late Bloomers). Television shows like “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader” and “Child Genius” drive home the false point that youth have the most availability to success. It is hard to not feel inferior when eleven-year-old children on TV can solve equations faster and more accurately than an adult could. The number of celebrities who became famous after the age of fifty is high: Alan Rickman started acting at fifty-four, Jane Lynch at 40, and Kristen Wiig at 35 (Late Bloomers). “Genius,” Gladwell claims, “in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity – doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance of youth,” he writes in his 2008 New Yorker article entitled “Late Bloomers.” He uses the example of University of Chicago’s David Galenson, who uses examples like Picasso to relate precocity and genius, and Cezanne to quash those hypotheses.
Gladwell continues to say that it is actually the ones who fail that are above the rest. He relays Galenson, who says, “the imprecision of their goals means that they rarely feel they have succeeded […] they repeat themselves, painting the same subject many times, and gradually changing its treatment in an experimental process of trial and error.” This “experimental” creativity, Gladwell writes, means that the “prodigy and the late bloomer are fundamentally the same.” However, Gladwell does do his part in making the late bloomers superior. “Prodigies are easy,” he writes. “They advertise their genius from the get-go. Late bloomers are hard. They require forbearance and blind faith.”
So let us take a look at someone like Julie Andrews, who started her singing lessons at the age of five, when most of us are playing with blocks, and compare her to someone like 47-year-old Susan Boyle, star of game show Britain’s Got Talent, who blew away skeptical audiences with a rendition of Les Miserables’s “I Dreamed a Dream.” Can we say that Andrews is more successful than Boyle? This is doubtful; both women have extreme levels of talent. It just took one of them longer to get to where she is. Gladwell provides the perspective that though talent and early realization thereof is, of course, a quick and easy road to recognition, we should not strike down the failed artists who continuously work hard, perhaps failing to get our appreciation for many years. This trial and error only makes them better. Gladwell continues his perspective on hard work with his theory of the “Ten Thousand Hour Rule”, first published in his 2011 book Outliers. In 2013 he published a New Yorker article about the theory (“Complexity and the Ten Thousand Hour Rule”) in which he addresses the negative backlash he received by some critics. His theory, in short, is that with ten-thousand hours devoted to anything, one could become a master of it. He claims that psychologists found less of an emphasis on innate talent, writing that achievement is “talent plus preparation.” So, if his theory is true, it should apply to any person who is successful, right?
Kim Kardashian is perhaps the first household name to ever come from a sex tape. They say any publicity is good publicity, and the Kardashians are walking examples of exactly that. Kim is one of today’s most successful businesswomen, as she now has clothing and makeup lines, and even her own virtual game. Her sisters, half-sisters, and mother have all chimed in with their respective achievements, namely Kylie Jenner, whose “lip kits” sold out faster than most concerts (Goldman 34). Author Jacquelyn Goldman of the University of Michigan refers to the Kardashians as “docusoap celebrities”, attributing Kim’s success in the fashion industry to her “notoriety and affluence” from her reality television show (11). We can view the Kardashians as a success story, making good use of their infamousness and manipulating it into a business. But can we go so far as to apply Gladwell’s theories to Kim? She is the master of turning heads. What is the risk of saying that, perhaps, Kim has spent ten thousand hours on social media, and therefore is just as successful as the writers, painters, and musicians Gladwell references in his article?
The risk of this is, for lack of better terms, that Kim might just not deserve it. The risk is proving to others that you can attain a lavish lifestyle with virtually no talent, skills, or even much intelligence. Does that devalue what success means? Yale University author and psychologist RJ Sternberg does not think so. He writes that the most crucial key to success is adaptability. “An individual must learn how to adapt to the environment that he or she is in. Only then,” he claims, “is the individual able to decide which features of this environment to accept and which to reject” (1030). Can we define the Kardashians as “adaptable”? Absolutely. They chose which parts of their environment to accept – their positive feedback, encouragement, and attention from Millennials who love her shamelessness – and which parts to ignore – the negativity and the shaming, mostly from older generations who have different sets of values. And because they were adaptable enough to make a dollar out of fifteen cents (if fifteen cents can mean mild fame from the OJ Simpson trial and a low-quality sex tape released on purpose), we can agree that the Kardashians achieved success, or at least what they define as success.
How did we end up here? Can we really compare a Kardashian to an artist like Mozart? They exist of different eras, backgrounds, and lifestyles. This is the issue we run into when we talk about success – can we really say that one is superior to the other? We can agree on the fact that each “successful” person is a master of his or her own trade, environment, etc. Yet what Gladwell says is slightly contradictory to this notion. When he does talk about his ten-thousand-hour rule, he uses examples of violinists. The best violinists of the West Berlin Music Academy, he claims, were the ones who practiced the most intensely and the most frequently. An unnamed critic published in Time felt that Gladwell “popularized the idea that 10,000 hours of appropriately guided practice was the ‘magic number of greatness’, regardless of a person’s natural aptitude” (Complexity and the Ten-Thousand Hour Rule). The rule he created involves specific people honing in on a pre-existing skill set, according to Business Insider Author Drake Baer. He claims that Gladwell’s theory is conditional “according to domain”, or field, and that practicing, according to a recent Princeton-released study, accounts for merely 12% of a difference in performances than lack thereof. Where Gladwell provides examples of the Beatles, who played all-night shows in Hamburg, Baer counters with examples of the Sex Pistols, who “took the world by storm even though Sid Vicious could barely play his bass” (2).
Gladwell’s ideas, it seems, are not applicable to an entire population, but rather, a selective subset of people who are either a) aware of their talent, or b) even have talent to begin with. Where does Kim Kardashian fit in his theory? What about Sid Vicious? Neither are particularly talented – both, though, honed in on an aspect of society that was in desperate need of a “leading figure”. For Kim, it is the young women, who follow an unapologetic, beautiful, headstrong woman, and for Sid Vicious, the conformity-bashing British punks of the late seventies. Gladwell seems to view success as synonymous with recognition, which society supports. But his theory of mastery does not apply to the many people who are “recognized” in society today.
But perhaps success is not about the recognition at all. For some, I presume it is: Kim Kardashian posts head-turning photos and tweets when the sea is getting too calm and she feels the need to shake things up. And the feedback she gets is her definition of success – the awe, the heads turning, the attention. Julie Andrews’ success must involve music and theater, which she certainly has a talent for. The social prosperity of the Kardashians – the millions of dollars, the houses, cars, clothes, makeup, and luxury – is what some people might think success is. Author JJ Arnett attributes this obsession with lavishness to the addiction of social media in his book Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood: A Cultural Approach. Arnett introduces an entire generation of teenagers and young adults who think they are “not good enough” (37). This is because there is, in my opinion, simply too much emphasis on taking the easy way out. Hard work is not as valued as it used to be. It seems as though we are not living for our own approval. We are waiting for someone to tell us that yes, we are validated, we have arrived, we succeeded.
My parents consider themselves successful. Both went to college on financial aid, worked jobs from the age of fourteen, saved money, got married, bought a home, and had enough to send their children to good schools. They both work full-time, my mother as a nurse and my father as an actuary. This, they were told, is success: The American Dream-esque comfortable life. There was no Kim Kardashian when they were children. There was Julie Andrews. Success is constantly changing with the times. While we may not be able to equate the success of Picasso to that of a Kardashian, we can certainly say that they are successful in their own ways. Success will continue to evolve as new societal heroes come about. For the sake of those striving after the Kardashians, we can only hope there are enough Instagram likes to validate an entire generation.
How Environmental Factors Influence Personal Decisions in Malcolm Gladwell’s the Tipping Point
Does the environment you’re in influence the decisions you make? This is not a commonly asked question because the most logical answer is no, your choice are your choices. However imagine the two same scenarios, going down the stairs to the subway, but in one of these scenarios it’s during the middle of the night with the lights flickering while the other scenario has a brightly lit subway during the bustling daytime. People may think that they are in charge of their own destiny and that their choices are their choices, but there is evidence to proof that there are many more factors than just personal choice when it comes to decision making.
The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, talks about the idea of environmental factors subconsciously influencing the decisions of different individuals. One of his examples goes into the life of a man named Goetz. Goetz was the average angry man who seemed to look for things to complain about. There are homeless constantly roaming the neighborhood, people constantly miss the trashcan, why does nobody else care, are things that are easily solvable by just moving. However Goetz seemed to enjoy the idea of putting himself as the victim. Moving to his everyday routine, he left the “impromptu street party”(Gladwell, 135) of his apartment and walked to the nearest subway entrance everyday in order to get to work. Homeless would purposely jam the token taker, while another homeless person would open a side door, so that paying customers could either pay the homeless man holding the side door open in order to get to the train, or hop over the stalls. Graffiti would cover every inch of the station and every inch of the train’s walls. There was a constant fear of problems arising in his everyday life whether it be fear of being late to work because of issues entering the subway or the train being unable “to go more than 15 miles per hour” to fear of getting mugged while walking home. Goetz was constantly surrounded by this sort of environment that he almost went numb to it. The Saturday he got on that train,“There were about twenty people in the car, but most sat at the other end, voidng the four teenaagers, because they were, as eyewitnesses would say later, ‘horsing around’ and ‘acting rowdy.’ Goetz seemed oblivious” (133). Goetz was so use to this sort of chaotic behavior that surrounded him 24 hours a day, he didn’t even notice that he should’ve been bothered by the fact everybody stayed away from these four teens, and stayed away himself. Instead he sat down in the midst of them and when they provoked him, instinctively reached for his gun and shot the four teens. He had been numb to this for so long, that when he was set off he even went as far as to make sure what was provoking him was kicked, or shot, while they were on the ground when he fired a fifth shot into Cabey’s spinal cord after saying that he seemed “all right” (134). However even after this horrific behavior and fleeing, “Goetz turned himself in to a police station” only one week after the shooting, showing that he did show some sort of remorse for his actions, especially since the general public were praising him as if it was a heroic act. This clearly shows that Goetz was not one hundred percent in control that day as he showed regret for what h
While Gladwell uses Goetz’s situation, there are many more examples that we can find even in our own daily lives. For example, if we are at the mall with our friends versus if we are at the museum with our friends, we will act accordingly based on the stigma of the environment. There is actually no law that states that someone must be silent or quiet inside of a museum and you can’t get kicked out for being too loud, to an extent. However because there are things in a museum that indicate quietness such as books, and readings, and people being focused; while mall’s have things that indicate leisure and fun such as food malls, toy train rides, and shopping, we act based on what’s around us. Humans naturally have connotations attached to certain things such as books equal quite, food equals fun, etc. We can take this idea and extend it further to everybody’s daily lives. If people act quite because of the museum’s environment, what can we surround the streets in to promote more civilness when out in public? The big idea behind allowing the individual to choose to be more civil or more quite, is that it must seem as if it’s solely their choice. If we chose to enforce civilness with police and fines and weapons, the product would be the same if we made all the streets clean with nice drinking fountains and maintaining it, but the issue is that option one would brew a feeling of oppression that will burst while option two promotes the individual to want to keep up the image of where they are. The individual that is in the suburbs is more likely to act as if they are in the suburb rather than the individual who is in the ghetto who is more likely to act as if they are in the ghetto due to ingrained nature of knowing how much you need to protect yourself depending on what is surrounding you.
This is why the same subconscious idea of, your decisions being influenced by your environment, carries out to every example of humans acting how they act. If you follow a couple going to a business party, do they really care about how your co-workers’ children are doing or where they got the lamp in the living room? Probably not but because the party is related with business, the nice outfits, classy drinks, importance of it all, may encourage you to act professional which in turn makes you choose to act a lot more friendly towards your co-workers than you normally would.
The environment you are in has a significant influence on the decisions you make whether you notice it or not. If we can fully grasp this idea, it can be turned into something positive for everyone and if it is already being used against us we need to understand how they do it in order to better defend ourselves. There are so many factors into what we do and why we do it that it needs to be understood in order to solve some mysteries of human actions. Helping people truly choosing the right path they wanted rather than the ones they were put into due to their environment.
Malcolm Gladwell’s Ideas on Creating and Affecting Social Change
As life on Earth continues to step into the future, society only becomes more modern. Manners of communicating with people has drastically changed as one can now do so by simply taping on a screen that is most likely in one’s pocket throughout the day. Such means of communication has not only alleviated interaction between friends and relatives who are hours from each other, but also between individuals who live in opposite ends of the world. Many have taken advantage of the ease of communication to help advance society through creating social change with the support of thousands of strangers behind screens. Writer Malcolm Gladwell emphasizes in his article, Small Change, the different effects and manners in which social change can be created. In relation to Gladwell’s ideas, to be able to create social change, one needs to have a personal connection with the cause, have the media involved in the story, and do work outside of a computer screen.
Whether it sounds ideal or not, it is an undeniable fact that humans are selfish. A person who is in no way affected by a social issue is highly unlikely to go out of their way to protest a change regarding the conflict. For instance, a millionaire who continues to make profits off his businesses is less likely to go to Washington D.C. to fight for a higher minimum wage than a single mother who works two minimum wage jobs to support her children. As Gladwell stated in his article, “what mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil rights movement” (Gladwell, 233). Moreover, not only do people perform acts in support for the cause due to having a first-hand personal connection with it; however, an individual who has somebody they care for affected by the issue is also likely to take action in a complicated manner in regards to solving the issue to benefit their loved one. Therefore, in order to create a social change, the movement will require to be affected by a copious amount of individuals; if a low percentage is affected, the less attention the conflicts will receive, leading to continuous failed attempts to change society.
If there is a low percentage of people who are affected through social conflict, one has to make it so people understand what it is like to be affected by it and steal the media’s attention. In 2014, Anthony Carbajal was determined to raise awareness on Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a very rare genetic nervous system disease that impacts the victim’s entire body, causing them to lose function in their muscles. ALS only impacts a few thousand people in the United States, including Carbajal and his family. Due to the lack of people that had some sort of connection to the disease, research to find a cure lacked funding. To resolve the issue and speed up the process for a cure, Carbajal created a video introducing the “Ice Bucket Challenge,” a challenge where one had to drop a bucket of ice-cold water on their head and nominate three other people, if one had not completed the challenge after twenty-four hours of being nominated, they required to donate money to ALS foundations. The challenge was a manner of allowing people to understand what it physically felt like to have the disease. As the ice cold water made contact with one’s body, the body would feel numb for a brief moment, mimicking ALS’s power to weaken a victim’s muscle movement to the point of being unable to communicate. After going viral, both alternatives that the Ice Bucket Challenge provided in some way benefit victims of ALS through the increased awareness and the donations being made. Due to making a painful situation into a fun game, ALS has increased over $100 million towards its research and has some closer to finding a cure. Even if a personal connection is nonexistent, the media has the power to make it seem like there is. Furthermore, if a certain situation is turned into a game or simply a way to entertain the public, people are likely to pay attention and want to become a part of it, increasing awareness of the cause through sharing it with their friends.
Due to industrialization, members of society have become dependent on the media. People no longer obtain their knowledge of current events through newspapers being delivered to their home, but through social media or news channels. Today, one only needs minutes to have a story go viral. All one needs to do to have a story being reported nationally—or internationally—is record a video and post it on YouTube, write a story and share it on Facebook, or start a hash tag and trend it on Twitter. With this manner of spreading news, people try to gather others to join them in supporting a cause by taking action. If lucky, the right people—also known as the “strong ties”—will become aware of the story and physically join in to create a major change in society. Strong ties, as Gladwell explained in his article, are the kind of friends whom an individual has a genuine relationship with, whilst “weak ties” are those whom one simply knows about or talks to every so often. The strong ties are the ones who are willing to stand together with a friend and help them fight for a cause. In relation to social media, the least a weak tie can do is click a button and share a story to make others more aware of the situation, creating a minor—if any—change. For example, Gladwell shared in his article the help that the media had on saving Sameer Bhatia, an entrepreneur who was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. Due to not having any friends or relatives who matched Bhatia for a bone marrow transplant, he solely depended on a donor with his ethnicity; therefore, an e-mail was created “explaining Bhatia’s plight to more than four hundred of their acquaintances, who forwarded the e-mail to their personal contacts” (235). After twenty-five thousand people registered to become a bone marrow donor due to Bhatia’s shared story, he eventually found a match that saved his life. Social media is a key factor in creating a movement due to it being the messenger of such stories; however, the media can create a small change in society, not a major one. For instance, through the media, one can make a petition to change a policy in a school or workplace; however, to make a change such as granting equal rights to African-Americans or members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender (LGBT) community cannot be supported solely online. Individuals have to come out and take direct action to force a change, not behind a screen that can be easily ignored with the touch of a button.
In order to live in a fair community, equal rights have to be granted. An individual is not able to create equality in society simply by typing a few words into a screen; he or she has to work as hard as they possibly can to obtain what they believe they and other members of society deserve, as the meritocratic model represents. Author Namit Arora introduced in his article, What Do We Deserve, different types of economic models that could in some way grant equality to all people, one of them being the meritocratic model. The meritocratic model, as stated by Arora, believes that “we are the authors of our own destiny and whoever wins the race is morally deserving of the rewards they obtain from the market—and its flipside, that we morally deserve out failure too, and its consequences” (Arora, 88). Therefore, the meritocratic model stands for working hard for what one believes they deserve. In relation to creating social change, if one is not being granted the equality that they are deserving of, they must work hard to obtain the results that they hope for. Before technology made its debut in society, people with the same hopes and desires of equal rights achieved their goal without its help. African-American hero Martin Luther King Jr. was able to eliminate segregation between white and black Americans through continuous actions having being taken, such as non-violent protests and resistance. One of the most influential activists in history, Mahatma Ghandi, headed India’s movement for independence through peaceful protests and rousing influential speeches. Both heroes have been able to create a change by spending years working hard through physical work to gather thousands of individuals to fight peacefully for the social movement they stood for, without the help of the social media. Both stood beside their cause up until their death and successfully gave each individual beside them what they deserved: equality and independence.
Everything that occurs in the modern world goes through the media. One is unlikely to hear about a social movement that was not recorded and placed online or on the news channel. In order to begin a movement and create social change, one needs to spread the word as fast as possible to a large amount of people. However, to change how to government leads a country, one cannot depend on online sources, but actually go outside and make direct contact for a change. Moreover, a major social change is nearly impossible to happen if it does not affect copious people, due to it being easily ignored if it is only affected by a few. Although many are against social media to attempt at creating a change, it is a necessity to increase awareness on certain causes. If a movement personally affects many individuals—or individual’s loved ones—it will increase action; if a movement is being spoken about on television and read about on television, it will increase motivators.