The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell

by

Jack Shields

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Chapter 2
Summary

The chapter begins with a story of a young boy in Boston in 1775 who overheard British officers conversing about a “hell tomorrow.” The boy is frightened and dashes to meet a silversmith, who goes by the name of Revere, and narrates to him what he had overheard. Since Revere had initially heard rumors of an invasion, he is inspired by the child’s narrative and takes the responsibility of warning people across Arlington and Lexington about the impending British invasion. Within a short time, people had spread the information like a virus, reaching as far as Worcester.  In the next morning, when the British came marching on the streets, they were utterly surprised by the organization and fierce resistance they faced from the local forces. It is from this resistance that the American Revolution is said to have begun.

Paul Revere’s word-of-mouth is historical as it spread across a vast geographical region in a matter of hours, hence mobilizing the local population. Even though not all words-of-mouth spread so vigorously, Gladwell believes that word-of-mouth marks an essential aspect of human communication. He argues that, today, a significant fraction of people visit certain restaurants or buy clothes from certain shops as a result of the influence of advertisements that rely heavily on word-of-mouth. In line with this notion, Gladwell uses the example of Paul Revere and his counterpart William Dawes, whose word did not spread as fast as the former to claim that a few specific people play a significant role in spreading ideas.

The chapter also mentions a psychological experiment that involved scientists mailing packets that were directed to specific stockbrokers in Massachusetts, and then to 160 individuals living in Nebraska. The 160 individuals were provided with the same instructions with the primary goal being to find a means to deliver the package to stockbrokers in Massachusetts. They then would look for individuals living close to the stockbrokers. Through this psychological experiment, experts were able to measure the ‘degree of separation’ or the number of connections between people in a specific context. In the end, the experiment established that people from Nebraska could deliver the package to the intended recipient after about five to six levels of interaction. It is from this experiment that Gladwell derives the concept of “six degrees of separation.”

Analysis

The central theme as presented in this chapter is the idea that personality is a defining feature that determines how effective a message will spread. The chapter seems to answer the question of why certain people have the capabilities of reaching a more significant population than others when given the same opportunity. Gladwell calls people with such abilities connectors. Inherently, connectors know a lot of people, and older adults have better chances of being connectors since they have gathered a lot of acquaintances throughout their life as compared to young people.

Various connectors are referenced in this chapter including Roger Horchow, whom Gladwell met while writing this book. From the description of Roger, it is clear that he is extraordinarily social and has had experience working in business and theater. Roger enjoys making friends and has a particular interest in developing acquaintances; an aspect that separates him from other people. It is this kind of character that makes him a suitable connector. Gladwell describes the associations he enjoyed with Roger, which provides readers with a profound insight into the author’s journalistic approach in understanding social epidemics. The interaction between Gladwell and Roger seems to suggest that the real power of connectors isn’t in making many friends but rather in knowing and associating with many acquaintances.

The second group of people essential in spreading an idea is what Gladwell calls mavens. According to the author, mavens can push an idea to the tipping point because they know many people and are uniquely characterized by the attribute of sharing with others specific things that they know. The author suggests that mavens are gratified by being the source of information and, therefore, feel motivated to provide people with the knowledge they have accumulated.

The third group Gladwell mentions comprises of the salesmen who persuade people into buying the initial idea. Generally, not everyone accepts an idea at first instance. As far as such groups of people exist, Gladwell argues that there’s the need to have a group of talented people such as salesmen that are persuasive and can convince multitudes into accepting an idea.

From a critical point of view, the psychological experiment that resulted in the principle of six degrees of separation advocates that human beings are connected by a chain that involves a maximum of six people. The supposition upholds that information can travel from one particular person to the other faster than what it is traditionally thought. As long as the concept or the type of message being conveyed is interesting, it will reach millions of people within a short time in just six steps. Even though the theory associates human beings with the power to spread information as fast as possible, it seems to conclude that a specific group of people has better chances of spreading the word than others.

Conclusively, the primary idea that seems to dominate the chapter is the link between word-of-mouth and social clout. A social epidemic can be analyzed through the kind of persons who enable it. It is common knowledge that some products or ideas become famous just because people keep sharing them hence making them a trend. Nevertheless, spreading an idea is not something that can be done by everyone; instead, certain groups of people who have social clout are typically able to make a product or idea popular. These groups of people are what Gladwell refers to as connectors, mavens, and salesmen.

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