The Tipping Point

by Malcolm Gladwell

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 04, 2024
The Tipping Point
The Tipping Point

What are the big ideas? 1. The Law of the Few and Social Influence: This book introduces the concept of the "Law of the Few," which highlights that influence in a s

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What are the big ideas?

  1. The Law of the Few and Social Influence: This book introduces the concept of the "Law of the Few," which highlights that influence in a social system is not evenly distributed among all members but concentrated among a few individuals. It emphasizes the importance of identifying and leveraging these key influencers to start and control positive epidemics (Chapter One, The Three Rules of Epidemics). This concept goes beyond typical communication or social science literature by providing a systematic way to identify and utilize influential people in various contexts.
  2. Stickiness Factor and Small Changes: The book explores the "Stickiness Factor," which refers to the factors that make an idea, trend, or product more likely to spread and gain mass appeal (Chapter Three: The Stickiness Factor). It introduces unique strategies for making small changes to increase the chances of success. For instance, by adjusting messages or campaigns slightly, one can significantly impact their effectiveness, as demonstrated in various case studies presented in the book.
  3. Contextual Power and Environmental Tipping Points: The book emphasizes the importance of understanding context and its role in human behavior and social trends (Chapter Four: The Power of Context). It introduces the concept of "Environmental Tipping Points," which are specific situational factors that can significantly influence behavior, and provides insights into how recognizing and addressing these points can make a difference. This idea is distinctively presented in the book and has important implications for promoting positive social change and preventing crime.
  4. Organizational Structure and Transactive Memory: The book discusses the importance of organizational structure, specifically focusing on decentralized structures with small teams (Chapter Five: The Power of Context, Part Two). It explains how effective communication within these teams through transactive memory can lead to quick innovation and response to customer demands. This concept is unique in its application to understanding the role of organizational structure in spreading ideas and trends, as well as fostering creativity and problem-solving.
  5. Identifying Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople: The book introduces the idea of "finding Mavens" and leveraging their knowledge and influence for effective word-of-mouth marketing (Chapter Afterword). It provides unique strategies for identifying these key individuals in various contexts, such as creating "Maven traps." This concept is distinctively presented in the book and offers practical insights into how to effectively harness the power of influential people for the spread of ideas and trends.




  • Epidemics follow three principles: contagiousness, little causes having big effects, and change happening suddenly at a Tipping Point.
  • Contagiousness is not limited to biological phenomena; yawning, ideas, and trends can also be contagious.
  • Little causes can have big effects, as seen in the geometric progression of epidemics.
  • Change can happen suddenly at a Tipping Point, which is the critical mass or threshold beyond which an epidemic takes off.
  • Understanding these principles can help us deliberately start and control positive epidemics.


“Of the three, the third trait—the idea that epidemics can rise or fall in one dramatic moment—is the most important, because it is the principle that makes sense of the first two and that permits the greatest insight into why modern change happens the way it does. The”

“We are trained to think that what goes into any transaction or relationship or system must be directly related, in intensity and dimension, to what comes out.”

ONE: The Three Rules of Epidemics


  • The Law of the Few: Epidemics and social trends are often driven by a small number of people, whose actions or influence disproportionately impact the larger population.
  • The Stickiness Factor: For an idea, product, or behavior to spread, it must be memorable, have a clear and simple message, and resonate with people on an emotional level.
  • The Power of Context: Human behavior is influenced by seemingly insignificant aspects of the environment, making it essential to understand the context in which trends and epidemics occur.


“Economists often talk about the 80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the “work” will be done by 20 percent of the participants. In most societies, 20 percent of criminals commit 80 percent of crimes. Twenty percent of motorists cause 80 percent of all accidents. Twenty percent of beer drinkers drink 80 percent of all beer. When it comes to epidemics, though, this disproportionality becomes even more extreme: a tiny percentage of people do the majority of the work.”

“The three rules of the Tipping Point—the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, the Power of Context—offer a way of making sense of epidemics. They provide us with direction for how to go about reaching a Tipping Point.”

TWO: The Law of the Few


  • Interactional synchrony is the rhythmic alignment of body movements, speech rate, volume, and pitch between two or more people during conversation. It helps build trust and rapport quickly.
  • Motor mimicry is a way people imitate each other's emotions as a means of expressing support and caring, and it can also be a method for one person to infect another with their emotions (emotional contagion).
  • People who are highly expressive, empathetic, and skilled at mimicking others (senders) can have significant influence over others due to their ability to spread emotions through motor mimicry and emotional contagion.
  • In a group setting, Connectors can help spread information and ideas by connecting people with diverse knowledge and networks, while Mavens possess a deep well of knowledge in specific areas and can provide valuable insights and advice. Salesmen, with their persuasive abilities and high charisma, can draw others into their rhythms and dictate the terms of an interaction, making it more compelling and persuasive.


“The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts.”

“A study at the University of Utah found that if you ask someone why he is friendly with someone else, he’ll say it is because he and his friend share similar attitudes. But if you actually quiz the two of them on their attitudes, you’ll find out that what they actually share is similar activities. We’re friends with the people we do things with, as much as we are with the people we resemble. We don’t seek out friends, in other words. We associate with the people who occupy the same small, physical spaces that we do.”

“In the six degrees of separation, not all degrees are equal.”

“Six degrees of separation doesn't mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.”

“Acquaintances, in sort, represent a source of social power, and the more acquaintances you have the more powerful you are.”

“Horchow's daughter, Sally, told me a story of how she once took her father to a new Japanese restaurant where a friend of hers was a chef. Horchow liked the food, and so when he went home he turned on his computer, pulled up the names of acquaintances who lived nearby, and faxed them notes telling them of a wonderful new restaurant he had discovered and that they should try it. This is, in a nutshell, what word of mouth is. It's not me telling you about a new restaurant with great food, and you telling a friend and that friend telling a friend. Word of mouth begins when somewhere along that chain, someone tells a person like Roger Horchow.”

“A Maven is a person who has information on a lot of different products or prices or places. This person likes to initiate discussions with consumers and respond to requests," Price says. "They like to be helpers in the marketplace. They distribute coupons. They take you shopping. They go shopping for you....They distribute about four times as many coupons as other people. This is the person who connects people to the marketplace and has the inside scoop on the marketplace. They know where the bathroom is in retail stores. That's the kind of knowledge they have." They are more than experts. An expert, says Price, will "talk about, say, cars because they love cars. But they don't talk about cars because they love you, and want to help you with your decision. The Market Maven will. They are more socially motivated.”

“A Connector might tell ten friends where to stay in Los Angeles, and half of them might take his advice. A Maven might tell five people where to stay in Los Angeles but make the case for the hotel so emphatically that all of them would take his advice. These are different personalities at work, acting for different reasons. But they both have the power to spark word-of-mouth epidemics.”

“a social epidemic, Mavens are data banks. They provide the message. Connectors are social glue: they spread it. But there is also a select group of people—Salesmen—with the skills to persuade us when we are unconvinced of what we are hearing, and they are as critical to the tipping of word-of-mouth epidemics as the other two groups. Who”

“Two people may arrive at a conversation with very different conversational patterns. But almost instantly they reach a common ground.”

“When two people talk, they don’t just fall into physical and aural harmony. They also engage in what is called motor mimicry. If you show people pictures of a smiling face or a frowning face, they’ll smile or frown back, although perhaps only in muscular changes so fleeting that they can only be captured with electronic sensors. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, most people watching will grimace: they’ll mimic my emotional state. This is what is meant, in the technical sense, by empathy. We imitate each other’s emotions as a way of expressing support and caring and, even more basically, as a way of communicating with each other.”

“Emotion is contagious.”

“We normally think of the expressions on our face as the reflection of an inner state. I feel happy, so I smile. I feel sad, so I frown. Emotion goes inside-out. Emotional contagion, though, suggests that the opposite is also true. If I can make you smile, I can make you happy. If I can make you frown, I can make you sad. Emotion, in this sense, goes outside-in.”

“Some of us, after all, are very good at expressing emotions and feelings, which means that we are far more emotionally contagious than the rest of us. Psychologists call these people “senders.”

THREE: The Stickiness Factor


  • Sesame Street's addition of Big Bird helped improve viewership and engagement among children.
  • Wunderman Razorfish's "Gold Box" campaign used a simple, uncluttered design and repetition to increase ad effectiveness.
  • The Tetanus Shots study found that providing a map with appointment times was more effective than scaring students into getting vaccinated.
  • Blue's Clues repeated episodes and skits multiple times, which helped increase engagement and comprehension among children.
  • Tipping the message through small changes in presentation can make a significant impact on the success of an idea or campaign.


“Sesame Street succeeded because it learned how to make television sticky.”

“In epidemics, the messenger matters: messengers are what make something spread. But the content of the message matters too. And the specific quality that a message needs to be successful is the quality of "stickiness.”

“Kids don't watch when they are stimulated and look away when they are bored. They watch when they understand and look away when they are confused. If you are in the business of educational television, this is a critical difference. It means if you want to know whether-and what-kids are learning from a TV show, all you have to do is to notice what they are watching. And if you want to know what kids aren't learning, all you have to do is notice what they aren't watching. Preschoolers are so sophisticated in their viewing behavior that you can determine the stickiness of children's programming by simple observation.”

“At three and four and five, children may not be able to follow complicated plots and subplots. But the narrative form, psychologists now believe, is absolutely central to them.”

“If you think about the world of a preschooler, they are surrounded by stuff they don't understand-things that are novel. So the driving force for a preschooler is not a search for novelty, like it is with older kids, it's a search for understanding and predictability," says Anderson. "For younger kids, repetition is really valuable. They demand it. When they see a show over and over again, the not only are understanding it better, which is a form of power, but just by predicting what is going to happen, I think they feel a real sense of affirmation and self-worth. And Blue's Clues doubles that feeling, because they also feel like they are participating in something. They feel like they are helping Steve.”

“Of course, kids don't always like repetition. Whatever they are watching has to be complex enough to allow, upon repeated exposure, for deeper and deeper levels of comprehension. At the same time, it can't be so complex that the first time around it baffles the children and turns them off.”

“We all want to believe that the key to making an impact on someone lies with the inherent quality of the ideas we present. But in none of these cases did anyone substantially alter the content of what they were saying. Instead, they tipped the message by tinkering, on the margin, with the presentation of their ideas,.....”

“The Law of the Few says that there are exceptional people out there who are capable of starting epidemics. All you have to do is find them. The lesson of stickiness is the same. There is a simple way to package information that, under the right circumstances, can make it irresistible. All you have to do is find it.”

FOUR: The Power of Context (Part One)


  • The Power of Context refers to the influence of specific situations and environments on our behavior, often leading us to act in ways that differ significantly from our usual character or dispositions.
  • This power can be seen in various phenomena, such as the obedience experiments conducted by Milgram, the studies on the fundamental attribution error (FAE), and the ways vervets and humans process information differently.
  • The FAE is a cognitive bias that leads us to overestimate the importance of an individual's character traits and underestimate the role of situational context in explaining their actions.
  • Research shows that people are more likely to help in situations where they have time, regardless of their dispositions or motivations. For instance, seminary students were more likely to stop and help a person in need if they believed they had extra time.
  • The Power of Context is crucial in understanding the complex nature of human behavior and has important implications for preventing crime and promoting positive social change.
  • By recognizing and addressing environmental Tipping Points (contextual factors that can significantly influence behavior), we can make a difference in our communities and help create an environment conducive to positive growth and development.


“Epidemics are sensitive to the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.”

“The most intriguing candidate for that "something else" is called the Broken Windows theory. Broken Windows was the brainchild of the criminologist James Q. Wilson and George Kelling. Wilson and Kelling argued that crime is the inevitable result of disorder. If a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. In a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, they write, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes:”

“Broken Windows theory and the Power of Context are one and the same. They are both based on the premise that an epidemic can be reversed, can be tipped, by tinkering with the smallest details of the immediate environment. This”

“The Power of Context is an environmental argument. It says that behavior is a function of social context.”

“What Hartshorne and May concluded, then, is that something like honesty isn't a fundamental trait, or what they called a "unified" trait. A trait like honesty, they concluded, is considerably influenced by the situation.”

“All of us, when it comes to personality, naturally think in terms of absolutes: that a person is a certain way or is not a certain way. But what Zimbardo and Hartshorne and May are suggesting is that this is a mistake, that when we think only in terms of inherent traits and forget the role of situations, we're deceiving ourselves about the real causes of human behavior.”

“A vervet, in other words, is very good at processing certain kinds of vervetish information, but not so good at processing other kinds of information.”

“ human beings we are a lot more sophisticated about each other than we are about the abstract world.”

“The mistake we make in thinking of character as something unified and all-encompassing is very similar to a kind of blind spot in the way we process information. Psychologists call this tendency the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), which is a fancy way of saying that when it comes to interpreting other people's behavior, human beings invariably make the mistake of overestimating the importance of fundamental character traits and underestimating the importance of situation and context.”

“In recent years, for example, there has been much interest in the idea that one of the most fundamental factors in explaining personality is birth order: older siblings are domineering and conservative, younger siblings more creative and rebellious. When psychologists actually try to verify this claim, however, their answers sound like the Hartshorne and May conclusions. We do reflect the influences of birth order but, as the psychologist Judith Harris points out in The Nurture Assumption, only around our families. When they are away from their families—in different contexts—older siblings are no more likely to be domineering and younger siblings no more likely to be rebellious than anyone else. The birth order myth is an example of the FAE in action.”

FIVE: The Power of Context (Part Two)


  • Gore has a decentralized organizational structure with numerous small plants, allowing for independence and effective peer pressure within each team.
  • The size of these teams is crucial; they should ideally be under 150 members to foster strong bonds and efficient communication through transactive memory.
  • Transactive memory refers to the sharing of knowledge between individuals or groups, leading to increased efficiency and expertise.
  • In a high-tech company like Gore, this organizational structure allows for quick innovation and response to customer demands by enabling seamless communication between departments.
  • The "Ya-Yas" epidemic from Rebecca Wells' book illustrates the same concept; it was not one contagion but thousands of smaller ones centered around local groups.


“If you want to bring a fundamental change in people's belief and need to create a community around them, where those new beliefs can be practiced and expressed and nurtured.”

“There is a concept in cognitive psychology called the channel capacity, which refers to the amount of space in our brain for certain kinds of information.”

“To be someone's best friend requires a minimum investment of time. More than that, though, it takes emotional energy. Caring about someone deeply is exhausting.”

“If you plug in the neocortex ratio for Homo sapiens, you get a group estimate of 147.8-or roughly 150. "The figure 150 seems to represent the maximum number of individuals with whom we can have a genuinely social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who they are and how they relate to us.”

“The Hutterites (who came out of the same tradition as the Amish and the Mennonites) have a strict policy that every time a colony approaches 150, they split it in two and start a new one. "Keeping things under 150 just seems to be the best and most efficient way to manage a group of people," Spokane told me. "When things get larger than that, people become strangers to one another." The Hutterites, obviously, didn't get this idea from contemporary evolutionary psychology. They've been following the 150 rule for centuries. But their rationale fits perfectly with Dunbar's theories. At 150, the Hutterites believe, something happens-something indefinable but very real-that somehow changes the nature of community overnight. "In smaller groups people are a lot closer. They're knit together, which is very important if you want to be be effective and successful at community life," Gross said. "If you get too large, you don't have enough work in common. You don't have enough things in common, and then you start to become strangers and that close-knit fellowship starts to get lost." Gross spoke from experience. He had been in Hutterite colonies that had come near to that magic number and seen firsthand how things had changed. "What happens when you get that big is that the group starts, just on its own, to form a sort of clan." He made a gesture with his hands, as if to demonstrate division. "You get two or three groups within the larger group. That is something you really try to prevent, and when it happens it is a good time to branch out.”

“If we want to, say, develop schools in disadvantaged communities that can successfully counteract the poisonous atmosphere of their surrounding neighborhoods, this tells us that we’re probably better off building lots of little schools than one or two big ones.”

“That is the paradox of the epidemic: that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.”

SIX: Case Study


  • Airwalk's marketing strategy was based on identifying and capitalizing on emerging trends among youth culture by closely monitoring and interpreting the behavior of trendsetters (innovators)
  • This strategy involved creating advertising campaigns that incorporated elements of these emerging trends before they became mainstream, thereby associating Airwalk with coolness and innovation
  • The success of this strategy can be attributed to its ability to capitalize on social epidemics (trends) at an early stage and to effectively translate and popularize those trends among a wider audience
  • However, the failure of Airwalk to continue producing directional and inventive product led to a loss of coolness and innovation, and ultimately to the decline of the brand.

SEVEN: Case Study


  • Stickiness is a concept introduced by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference," which refers to the factors that make an idea, trend, or product more likely to spread and gain mass appeal.
  • Smoking is a sticky behavior due to three key factors: the social influence of cool people (the Law of the Few), the availability and affordability of cigarettes (the Stickiness Factor), and the nicotine addiction threshold and depression link (the Power Law).
  • The Law of the Few suggests that a small group of people, who are connected to many others and have strong influence, can make an idea go viral. Cool people in the context of smoking are those who are seen as trendsetters and influencers within their social circles.
  • The Stickiness Factor refers to the ease with which something can be adopted or spread. In the case of smoking, this is due to the availability and affordability of cigarettes, which make it easy for teens to experiment with smoking and develop a habit.
  • The Power Law suggests that there are critical vulnerabilities in the addiction process that, if targeted, could help break the habit. Two potential Tipping Points on this front are nicotine's link to depression and the addiction threshold.
  • Teens who experiment with cigarettes but do not develop a habit are known as chippers. They are capable of smoking up to five cigarettes a day without getting addicted, suggesting that the amount of nicotine found in five cigarettes (between four and six milligrams) is close to the addiction threshold.
  • To make smoking less sticky, tobacco companies could be required to lower the level of nicotine so that even the heaviest smokers cannot get more than five milligrams within a 24 hour period. This would prevent or limit the development of addiction in most young people while still providing enough nicotine for taste and sensory stimulation.
  • Experimentation with drugs like heroin, cocaine, and even smoking does not always lead to addiction, so it's important to differentiate between experimentation and actual use. The majority of those who try these substances do not become regular users.
  • Instead of fighting teenage experimentation, we should focus on making sure that experimentation doesn't have serious consequences. This can be achieved by finding the stickiness Tipping Points, such as those related to depression and nicotine addiction thresholds, and targeting those vulnerabilities to make smoking less sticky.


“Stories about suicides resulted in an increase in single-car crashes where the victim was the driver. Stories about suicide-murders resulted in an increase in multiple-car crashes in which the victims included both drivers and passengers. Stories about young people committing suicide resulted in more traffic fatalities involving young people. Stories about older people committing suicide resulted in more traffic fatalities involving older people. These patterns have been demonstrated on many occasions. News coverage of a number of suicides by self-immolation in England in the late 1970's, for example, prompted 82 suicides by self-immolation over the next year. The "permission" given by an initial act of suicide, in other words, isn't a general invitation to the vulnerable. It is really a highly detailed set of instructions, specific to certain people in certain situations who choose to die in certain ways. It's not a gesture. It's speech.”

“We have, in short, somehow become convinced that we need to tackle the whole problem, all at once. But the truth is that we don’t. We only need to find the stickiness Tipping Points,”

EIGHT: Conclusion


  • Focus resources on a few key areas for starting epidemics
  • Concentrate on Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen
  • Use modest, targeted interventions (Band Aid solutions)
  • Test intuitions and understand the rules of human communication
  • Believe in the potential for change and the power of intelligent action


“A critic looking at these tightly focused, targeted interventions might dismiss them as Band-Aid solutions. But that phrase should not be considered a term of disparagement. The Band-Aid is an inexpensive, convenient, and remarkably versatile solution to an astonishing array of problems. In their history, Band-Aids have probably allowed millions of people to keep working or playing tennis or cooking or walking when they would otherwise have had to stop. The Band-Aid solution is actually the best kind of solution because it involves solving a problem with the minimum amount of effort and time and cost.”

“We have trouble estimating dramatic, exponential change. We cannot conceive that a piece of paper folded over 50 times could reach the sun. There are abrupt limits to the number of cognitive categories we can make and the number of people we can truly love and the number of acquaintances we can truly know. We throw up our hands at a problem phrased in an abstract way, but have no difficulty at all solving the same problem rephrased as a social dilemma. All of these things are expressions of the peculiarities of the human mind and heart, a refutation of the notion that the way we function and communicate and process information is straightforward and transparent. It is not. It is messy and opaque.”

“Those who are successful at creating social epidemics do not just do what they think is right. They deliberately test their intuitions.”

“What must underlie successful epidemics, in the end, is a bedrock belief that change is possible, that people can radically transform their behavior or beliefs in the face of the right kind of impetus. This, too, contradicts some of the most ingrained assumptions we hold about ourselves and each other. We like to think of ourselves as autonomous and inner-directed, that who we are and how we act is something permanently set by our genes and our temperament. But if you add up the examples of Salesmen and Connectors, of Paul Revere's ride and Blue's Clues, and the Rule of 150 and the New York subway cleanup and the Fundamental Attribution Error, they amount to a very different conclusion about what it means to be human. We are actually powerfully influenced by our surroundings, our immediate context, and the personalities of those around us. Taking the graffiti off the walls of New York's subways turned New Yorkers into better citizens. Telling seminarians to hurry turned them into bad citizens. The suicide of a charismatic young Micronesian set off an epidemic of suicides that lasted for a decade. Putting a little gold box in the corner of a Columbia Record Club advertisement suddenly made record buying by mail seem irresistible. To look closely at complex behaviors like smoking or suicide or crime is to appreciate how suggestible we are in the face of what we see and hear, and how acutely sensitive we are to even the smallest details of everyday life. That's why social change is so volatile and so often inexplicable, because it is the nature of all of us to be volatile and inexplicable.”

“In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push—in just the right place—it can be tipped.”



  • The Law of the Few: Influence in a social system doesn't reside equally among all members; instead, it is concentrated among a few individuals.
  • Three Types of People: Connectors (know many people and can make a connection between them), Mavens (have deep knowledge about a specific topic or product), and Salespeople (persuasive and able to convince others).
  • The Power of Context: Certain contexts can increase the likelihood that an idea, product, or behavior will spread.
  • Identifying Connectors, Mavens, and Salespeople: To effectively influence a social system, it is essential to identify these key individuals and leverage their influence.
  • Finding Mavens: Creating Maven traps can help in finding influential individuals in a particular niche or industry.
  • Importance of Word of Mouth Marketing: In an era of increasing isolation and immunity, word of mouth is more crucial than ever for businesses and ideas to spread successfully.


“A book, I was taught long ago in English class, is a living and breathing document that grows richer with each new reading.”

“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

“We have given teens more money, so they can construct their own social and material worlds more easily. We have given them more time to spend among themselves — and less time in the company of adults. We have given them e-mail and beepers and, most of all, cellular phones, so that they can fill in all the dead spots in their day — dead spots that might once have been filled with the voices of adults — with the voices of their peers. That is a world ruled by the logic of word of mouth, by the contagious messages that teens pass among themselves. Columbine is now the most prominent epidemic of isolation among teenagers. It will not be the last.”

“When people are overwhelmed with information and develop immunity to traditional forms of communication, they turn instead for advice and information to the people in their lives whom they respect, admire, and trust. The cure for immunity is finding Mavens, Connectors, and Salesmen.”


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