The Tipping Point is the biography of an idea, and the idea is very simple. It is that the best way to understand the emergence of fashion trends, the ebb and flow of crime waves, or, for that matter, the transformation of unknown books into bestsellers, the rise of teenage smoking, or the phenomena of word of mouth, or any number of the mysterious changes that mark everyday life is to think of them as epidemics. Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread just like viruses do.
A world that follows the rules of epidemics is a very different place from the world we think we live in now. Think, for a moment, about the concept of contagiousness. If I say that word to you, you think of colds and the flu or perhaps something very dangerous like HIV or Ebola. We have, in our minds, a very specific biological notion of what contagiousness means. But if there can be epidemics of crime or epidemics of fashion, there must be all kinds of things just as contagious as viruses.
Simply by writing a word, I can plant a feeling in your mind. Can the flu virus do that? Contagiousness is an unexpected property of all kinds of things, and we have to remember that, if we are to recognize and diagnose epidemic change.
Epidemics are an example of geometric progression. We need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that sometimes big changes follow from small events, and that sometimes these changes can happen very quickly.
All epidemics have Tipping Points. We are all, at heart, gradualists, our expectations set by the steady passage of time. But the world of the Tipping Point is a place where the unexpected becomes expected, where radical change is more than a possibility. It is, – contrary to all our expectations, – a certainty.
The point of all this is to answer two simple questions that lie at the heart of what we would all like to accomplish as educators, parents, marketers, business people, and policymakers. Why is it that some ideas or behaviours or products start epidemics and others don’t? And what can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?