The TBR list that I carry around with me had one book on the top of it for the past couple of years: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. I cannot describe the profound satisfaction I felt when I finally got to cross that off this week.
I’ve been an admirer of Gladwell’s work for a long time now. I’d read every one of his books, except for The Tipping Point. I think this is one of those cases of not reading a book until you are ready for it. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have cared about this book as much if I had read it earlier.
I knew putting it on my list for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge would get it read!
The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference looks at just that: the little changes that had massive impact. To illustrate his point, Gladwell looks at various epidemics to see if he can pinpoint the little thing that made something blow up. What made Airwalk go from a $16 million company in 1993 to a $44 million company in 1994 and a $150 million company in 1995? How did murder rates drop 64.3% over 5 years in New York City? These are relatively small periods of time that saw massive change- how did that happen?
I love Gladwell’s style. He takes these giant concepts and frames them in a way that make sense to the rest of us. All of a sudden the suicide epidemic among young men in Micronesia totally makes sense when it’s framed within the context of the epidemic of teen smoking that was prevalent at the time of writing (The Tipping Point was published in 2000).
I always finish Gladwell’s books with a deeper understanding of things that I didn’t know I cared about. For example, in The Tipping Point Gladwell looks a bit at corporate culture. He warns that large corporations are missing out on some crucial benefits of smaller companies when they cross the critical threshold of 150 employees. Apparently the company that makes Gore-Tex (a massive company responsible from manufacturing everything Glide dental floss to filter bags and tubes for the automative, semiconductor and medical industries) adhere very strictly to the rule of 150. As soon as any one of their buildings reaches the 150 mark, they split the teams into groups. They have found that things start to get clumsy and fall apart when you hit that 150 mark, so they build their new plants with only 150 parking spots and the square footage is designed to only accommodate around 150 people. They find that this way they don’t really need a hierarchical structure, everyone knows everyone else and they work together to get things done.
All this time I thought working at bigger companies was a good thing but actually, this explains a lot!
And that’s what Gladwell is good at doing. He makes sense of the things you didn’t know you wondered about.
Oh I guess you’re still wondering about the drop in the murder rate and the success of Airwalk. The murder rate thing came down to dealing with graffiti on the subways and the success of Airwalk came down to pin pointing trends that would become mainstream later on but would appeal to a select group of individuals in the meantime. You should just read the book, it makes more sense when Gladwell is explaining it.