The Tipping Point
Malcolm Gladwell

by

Jack Shields

Chapter 8
Summary

This closing chapter features the story of Georgia Sadler, a nurse based in San Diego. Sadler made it her responsibility to create awareness about diabetes and cancer.  Sadler desired to develop a movement to ensure the prevention of these diseases, and, in order to do this, she would frequently set up sessions in churches within her community. Unfortunately, her efforts had a limited impact as at most, two hundred people would turn up for the meetings. A handful of those remained after church sessions, but then, it turned out that twenty or so were already aware of the diseases. Gladwell notes that “Sadler couldn’t get her message to tip outside of that small group.”

It is then that Sadler sought to employ new tactics that would ensure she reached as many people as possible. She decided that she would host her sessions in hair salons and let those in charge (stylists) spread her message. The logic behind her idea was that women spend up to 8 hours sitting in salons when doing their hair. Moreover, women tend to trust their stylists so much in that they will easily be influenced by any information broadcasted to them. Sadler's idea was both brilliant and likely to be fruitful. Indeed, soon enough, the information Sadler was trying to propagate spread like bushfire among women. Gladwell associates this success with Sadler’s ability to effectively use connectors, mavens, and salesmen, who in this case, were the beauty stylists.  The stylists played a critical role in spreading the information because they presented the message in a memorable and sticky way. Gladwell acknowledges that stylists have a special kind of position in society that enables them to communicate easily with others.

It is worthwhile to note that Sadler did not deploy large measures to ensure the success of her message. For instance, Gladwell says that Sadler did not involve established organizations such as the National Cancer Institute to solicit funds to run her campaign. Neither did she run from door to door seeking attention. On the contrary, she simply changed the context of where her message was being shared and by whom. Once again, Gladwell emphasizes that for an idea to reach the tipping point or for it to become a social epidemic, one must concentrate the available resources on a few critical areas. One must find the right tactics of engaging the connectors, mavens, and the salesmen.

Analysis

Not all of Gladwell’s ideas as presented in this book would be readily accepted, and so he uses this final chapter as an opportunity to address potential critics as far as his opinions are concerned. For instance, in this conclusion, Gladwell puts further emphasis on how small changes or efforts can elevate an idea to the tipping point to become a social epidemic. A critic can refute that concentrating attention and resources on a small group of individuals is wasteful as it would be better engaging a more comprehensive approach in finding solutions to challenges. Critics may as well dismiss the author’s proposals with an accusation that they do not focus on the heart of an issue.

   A majority of Gladwell’s critics refute his ways of emphasizing solutions by extensively relying on superficial and straightforward forms of finding long-lasting solutions to problems. For instance, responding to the increased crime rates in New York by calling off the use of graffiti was utterly bizarre. However, Gladwell emphasizes that those small superficial reforms end up expressing more significant impacts as compared to the bigger comprehensive changes. Even though hypotheses such as the broken window would be easily deemed as Band-Aid solutions that cannot cure serious problems, Gladwell proves that this kind of solutions has had significant impacts towards change. In fact, Band-Aids are quite useful in finding permanent solutions.

It is worth noting how Gladwell differentiates truth from intuition in his book. Instinctively, it is merely possible that small changes in context, the content of ideas themselves and the people at large would be so impactful and yet, Gladwell proves this with significant historical cases. To him, instead of addressing specific root problems via government institutions and groups of people investing vast sums of money, time and resources would be spent more effectively by concentrating them on critical elements or rather the tipping point. At the end of it all, Gladwell’s message is neither pessimistic nor optimistic, and regardless of criticism he strongly believes small changes have significant impacts on the world.

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