Reviewed by Pamela Gerloff
doesn't work the way we think it does-at least it doesn't
have to. It can be sudden and dramatic, even easy, because
little things can tip the scale. That's the basic message
of The Tipping Point, a delightful and informative read
by The New Yorker magazine writer Malcolm Gladwell.
But it's not just any little
things that cause a situation to reach a moment of critical
mass and "tip" into significant change, it's
specific little things. And once we know what those are,
we can intentionally create change on our own. That's
why the book is relevant to wealth stewardship and philanthropy.
If we want to create change with our money, we would do
well to understand the true nature of change-how it happens
and how we can help it along.
The Tipping Point likens
the change process to the process flu epidemics follow
as they spread. In fact, it says that creating any kind
of large-scale change is like starting an epidemic. To
start an epidemic, pay attention to (a) the people who
transmit infectious agents, (b) the infectious agent itself,
and (c) the environment in which the infectious agent
is operating. To create change in each of these areas,
Gladwell offers three "rules of epidemics:"
the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power
The Law of the Few says
that it's a few key people who spread a movement, idea,
or trend. They are certain types of people, whom Gladwell
calls connectors, mavens, and salesmen. Connectors know
tons of people and happily connect them with each other.
Mavens seek out knowledge and share it with others. Salesmen
instinctively garner support. Paul Revere, Gladwell explains,
was both a maven and a salesman-which accounts for his
success rallying the minutemen against oncoming British
troops during his famous midnight ride into Lexington, Massachusetts. William Dawes, who also
rode that night to spread the alarm, remains a lesser
known figure precisely because he lacked those qualities.
Along the route he traveled that night, the men didn't
rally. The moral of the story: If you want to create a
"social epidemic," find and fund your mavens,
connectors, and salesmen.
Similarly, if you want
to be intentional about change, pay attention to the Stickiness
Factor. The HIV virus, for example, is "sticky."
Once you get it, it stays. Messages, too, are either sticky
or not. Says Gladwell, "We tend to spend a lot of
time thinking about how to make messages more contagious,
how to reach as many people as possible with our products
or ideas. But the hard part of communication is often
figuring out how to make sure a message doesn't go in
one ear and out the other." Stickiness makes a message
have impact. You can't get it out of your head.
The third rule, the Power
of Context, suggests that we humans are more sensitive
to situational context than we know, and this offers real
hope for creating deep-level change. By making small changes
in context, seemingly intractable problems can be shifted
relatively easily. In one of the book's more inspiring
examples, Gladwell attributes the sudden drop in the New York City crime rate in the 1990s
to the Power of Context. He explains how deliberate crackdowns
on seemingly small violations, like fare beating and graffiti
in the subway, caused serious crime in the whole city
to "tip" downward, at a time when other cities
were not experiencing such downturns.
© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved