Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Tipping Point: Not True?

There's a popular business book out right now called the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell.  In it he explains how big trends are started by a few people.  He calls them connectors and mavens.  These are the people who know everyone.

I read the book about a year ago and found myself skeptical.  Some parts resonated with me, others rang hollow.  For example, the author explains Paul Revere's successful ride and the failure of William Dawes (who made a similar ride with much less effect) by saying that Paul Revere was a connector while Dawes was not.  Except, he never proves Revere was a connector except by way of results.  Connectors are able to move the masses and we can see this because Paul Revere was a connector and moved the masses.  How do we know he was a connector?  Well, because he moved the masses.  That's circular at best. 

 Fast Company examines the phenomemon described by Gladwell and finds it lacking.  A very interesting read.


  1. "History is a set of lies, agreed upon" -- Napoleon
    Most of the good bits of "Paul Revere's Ride" were Longfellow's creative license.
    For the record: the most successful of the three riders was not Revere or Dawes, but Samuel Prescott.  All three were captured by the British; Dawes and Prescott escaped; but Dawes lost his horse.  Only Prescott finished the ride.

  2. I feel similarly about Gladwell's work, and not just Tipping Point. Much of what he states as causative relationships are no more than correlations.
    As Steven Levitt points out in Freakonomics, figuring out the actual cause and effect relationship is very hard, especially when a problem is approached with in-built political/social/economic biases (Freakonomics, to its credit, has offended people across the whole political and social spectrum).

  3. Hi Steve,
    I enjoyed reading Gladwell's book "Blink" much more than "The Tipping Point." He outlined some interesting case studies.