Friday, December 2, 2016

A Note On The Tipping Point


Right at the last few pages of The Tipping Point.

What's its theme: the structure of the tip; or, more general, that small things can matter a lot? The book's subtitle is "How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference." 

I'm certain that with effort you can diagram the structure of the tip as it emerges in Gladwell, with its main parts, sub parts, sub sub parts, sub sub sub parts and so on: the law of the few, mavens, connectors, salesmen, stickiness, contagion, the rule of 150, and what have you. I can't from memory keep up with them all or from memory explain the whole system by all its constituents.

The parts and seeming endless subdivision of them, and the sheer discursiveness, wherein sometimes the numerous instances are looped back to the central argument and sometimes, seemingly not--seemingly because maybe I just missed the loop, make me think that really the book essentially boils down to the proposition that small things can matter a lot.

In his conclusion, for my own example, he cites a Cali education prof who concluded that more money, smaller class sizes, and other such benefits, weren't enough to "tip" more teachers into going into tough schools in tough neighborhoods. But the educator, deriving an insight from the Tipping Point, and going beyond the container of conventional benefits, suggested that entire staffs or teams of teachers and principals go into these schools together. In these numbers, there is then born the greater will to attack these tough school/tough neighborhood problems. That new approach might "tip" greater numbers of teachers to those schools than otherwise. It's too early to tell, Gladwell says, if it worked.

Now, I don't knock the idea: there's the lovely application of a good insight there. And more power to The Tipping Point that the insight came from it. But how is that application of that idea an example of Gladwell's elaborated structure of the tip? Where's the social epidemic here with all its moving parts, as Gladwell has them? His use of "tip" here seems a touch gratuitous to me, only a touch because Gladwell is so delightful, congenial, good hearted, well intentioned, clear thinking, prodigious in his research, unpretentious and accessible. And his book is choc a bloc with intriguing insights and examples, many counterintuitive, such as Paul Revere as a connector.

But I think the example I cite is telling. I'm arguing his theme, despite his overall argument, is that small things may be hugely consequential and not, now against his argument, so readily systematized.

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