The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.

Printable: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

The book explores the principles of epidemics. Or in other words, what kind of events happen prior to something becoming viral. Along with the other things, Malcolm Gladwell explains in detail how the TV show Sesame Street conquered the children’s media when everyone else thought that it’s impossible; How the rate of rampant crimes in 80s NYC dropped in less than a decade; What’s the key to get people to change their behavior.

The Core Idea:

The main idea of the book is to answer the following question: Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don’t? This Gladwell guy talks about the things that need to happen in order for an idea to spread like a virus. The findings in this book are particularly good for people who want to infect the minds of the masses with their idea. Also, for those of us who want to start a cult-like product.


  • Ideas, products, messages, songs, and behaviors spread just like viruses do. You just need to set the mood right.
  • If you have trouble marketing your idea, product or whatever, find a Connector. A person who knows a lot of people. These folks are like the modern influencers, but better. They don’t just share a post and shut up, they’ll talk with everyone they know about your offering.
  • You don’t have to know a lot of things about a lot of different things to be successful. You need to know a lot of things about just one thing.

5 Key Lessons from The Tipping Point:

Lesson #1: There Are Three Main Rules To Make Something Tip

If you want to make a product or idea tip, so it can flood a certain market, you need to execute on the following three rules:

  1. The Law of the Few: Although the massive success of a certain product or an idea always seem like it’s due to the combined work of a lot of people, there is always this one guy who plays a crucial role to the success of the epidemic. Without him, the efforts of hundreds of people are usually in vain. The author calls these people Connectors. Those are the kind of people who bring others together because they know a lot of people. If you don’t have someone like this in your camp, make sure to find one.
  2. The Stickiness Factor: As the world gets cluttered with information, ads, products, and other useless things, The Stickiness Factor is the concept that will make your product, idea, or religious belief get in front of others and shine like a diamond. What’s this? It’s quite simple. It’s crafting your idea so it can stick in people’s heads. For example, the Sesame Street research team found out that kids don’t watch their show when they are confused from what’s happening on the screen. What did they do to fix this? They fine-tuned their material so kids could actually participate in what was happening on the screen. Put differently, they simplified their videos. So, to hold’s people attention you need to deliver a straight forward message. Something that resonates with your tribe. Something that’s memorable and provokes people to take action.
  3. The Power of Context: Depending on the situation, we’ll make a different decision. For instance, the decisions we’ll make when we’re around others will surely be very different than when we’re by ourselves. In the former case, we’re pressured by the social norms and our final word will be based on the people around. However, it is almost impossible to influence the minds of thousands of people all at once, even if they’re in the same room. Thankfully we have the Power of Context. The 3rd rule tells us that an epidemic can start by tinkering the environment. The idea here is simple, yet very clever: Instead of trying to create one big, massive movement, you need to focus on creating a lot of small movements first. Then, thousands of different small epidemics will have a synergetic effect and help you create the massive movement you want.

Lesson #2: Want To Help People and Contribute to Society? You Need to Become a Maven

What’s a Maven?

Someone who really knows his stuff about a certain topic. Or, a person who’s really skilled in the field.

The word comes from the Yiddish meyvn (language used by Jews), which means “one who understands.” Think of it as the local sports-junkie. The one who knows at the scores and the last names of all the players. Or, the know-it-all person, a.k.a Mr. Smarty pants. Though a lot of times these people are quite annoying, they are the ones we call when we have a problem with our car or when we’re deciding which refrigerator to buy.

You might hate me for saying this but we need more people like that.

Wondering why? Well, the markets are crowded with products and the internet is like a never-ending black hole. You need someone to point you in the right direction and tell you which product you need to purchase.

Mavens are the ones who read the instruction manual, front to back, and leave 10-page reviews for the products they’ve used. They collect massive amounts of information for a particular subject and will gladly share with you their findings so you can make the right decision.

Come to think of it, Mavens are a representation of a successful affiliate marketer. Think about it, the most famous advice to become successful online is to share freely what you know with others. Well, if you’re a Maven, you already know a bunch of stuff about something. Now you simply need to structure what you know and share it.

“To be a Maven is to be a teacher. But it is also, even more emphatically, to be a student. Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know.” Malcolm Gladwell

Lesson #3: Emotions are Contagious

The words that come out of your month have the power to impact the people around you. That’s not a secret. But it’s the same with emotions. We behave differently when we’re surrounded by people in a good mood. However, we rarely think or talk about this.

You might think that your smile or your frown face is a direct representation of your inner state, but it’s probably for a different reason. In most cases, you’re simply mimicking the people around.

Why it matters: If you’re raising a child and you’re constantly grumpy, don’t get surprised if your little copy is never delighted. Also, if you’re surrounded by frown faces, negative emotions, or pessimists all the time, you’ll probably never find joy.

Lesson #4: Regardless of What You’re Building, Create One Focus Point

People can’t focus on two things at once. That’s why we move our eyes when we read. We simply can’t read a sentence on a page if we stare straight ahead at the center of the page.

So, what’s the idea?

Focus on one thing at a time. Whether you’re creating pages on a website or writing a book. Try to present one idea at a time. We get distracted quite easily. Especially nowadays when the world is swarmed with information, products, and millions of websites fight for our attention. If people can’t understand what’s the point of your site, for example, in a matter of seconds, they’ll abandon it and never return.

Lesson #5: Suicide Deaths Are Often Contagious

That’s an alarming fact. The author shares the observations of a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, David Phillips. What he found was quite shocking. Apparently, immediately after stories about people committing suicides are shared in the news, suicides in this area increase. When people see others doing it, they get “motivated.” This act becomes contagious and it serves as a Tipping Point for others. It’s a kind of imitation. A bad one as you can clearly see.

That’s why it’s extremely important to create the right environment for the people around you, and not only. Be mindful about the type of media you consume and also try to influence what’s dispatched, whether online or offline.

Actionable Notes:

  • Become a Market Maven: You don’t have to raise money or learn about IPO if you want to start your own thing online. You can just help others by becoming an expert in a particular field. Once you really know the specific marketplace, start sharing information with others freely. Aim to help others, not to scratch your own itch. Along the way, income will flow.
  • Cleanse bad behavior: In the book, the author shares an interesting theory – the Broken Windows theory. In essence, it means that if a window is broken and left unrepaired, people walking by will consider that there’s no one watching and no one cares. That’s why, soon more windows will be broken around. The same goes for everything as you can imagine. If a whole building or a car is covered by graffiti, this will signal other graffiti-lovers that it’s OK to cover things with spray. These problems might seem minor, but they are the seed that might lead to anarchy. That’s why you need to act immediately when you see bad behaviors or the environment around doesn’t resonate with your beliefs. Observe your environment, what’s instilling bad patterns in you and the people around?
  • Be a part of a group: But don’t settle for an average group. Find quality people who are doing awesome things. As mentioned above, we’re highly influenced by our peer group. So, by finding people of high-quality, you’ll become such as well. Think about what type of people you should meet more often and what should you see less often?
  • Focus on the small tasks: Big changes happen from small events. You can’t have a successful app without writing the code first. You can’t lose weight without exercising regularly. Or in other words, there isn’t a shortcut. If you want to make something happen, focus on doing the small tasks.
  • Aim to make your product sticky: Do you know why some songs have that “earworm” effect on us? It’s like the song is stuck in your head and you can’t stop mumbling the lyrics. Well, it was designed to be like that. The same should happen for whatever it is you’re creating. How to do it? Follow the famous pop singers. Craft an easy to remember text and give users something they can repeat and happily share with others.

Commentary And My Personal Takeaway

I was quite surprised that The Tipping Point is generally considered a business book. Yes, there are some techniques and principles that can be applied by store owners and/or executives, but in essence, this is a psychological book.

Throughout the book, the author shares stories and observations that aim to help you understand what makes something tip. How an idea can spread across people and it can transition from 0 followers to an international infection, in a good way. Also, how seemingly minor changes can somehow have big effects over a relatively short period of time. And though you might think that this is what every business owner needs to know, you won’t find business implementations mentioned in the book. Is more of a collection of stories that explain the principles of epidemics and how people behave in different situations.

The main thing I learned in the book is that you should deliver clear messages. Fancy words and long monologs might seem nice, but there’s nothing more destructive to business to an audience that doesn’t understand the reason the product exists.

Notable Quotes:

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

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

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

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