The Tipping Point Challenged?

When learning about power in social networks, Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point came into mind. The book is an interesting read, and I highly recommend it. Malcolm Gladwell asserted that there are few people who possess certain social gifts and labels them as connectors (people who know a large amount of people and excel at introductions), mavens (information hoarder-sharers), and salesmen (charismatic negotiators). When I read it, I thought it was clever and an interesting analysis of how people influence each other. However, recently, Jonah Berger has challenged Gladwell’s analysis of the ‘tipping point’ phenomenon (or at least half of it), specifically addressing the section in Gladwell’s book in which ‘special’ (influential) people are mentioned. In “”Fifty Percent Of ‘The Tipping Point’ Is Wrong.” Jonah Berger Shows You Which Half” by Danielle Sacks (link to source below), Jonah Berger asserts that Gladwell’s idea is wrong, and that the existence of these influential people is questionable:

“”This is a really compelling argument, right?” [Berger] posits. “There’s this notion that there are special people out there, and if we can just find them, our product will become popular. … Berger’s dismantling of Gladwell is at the core of the class and his new book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On, out this March. Berger says marketers have been obsessed with the wrong part of the viral equation. “By focusing so much on the messenger, we’ve neglected a much more obvious driver of sharing: the message,” he writes. The Tipping Point‘s notion that social epidemics are driven “by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people,” dubbed by Gladwell as mavens, connectors, and salesmen, is just plain wrong, Berger argues. “Gladwell is great at telling stories,” he allows, “but sometimes the stories get ahead of the facts. I really love applying hard-science tools to social science questions.””

I find this article relevant to the class currently, only because we are going over power in social networks. I likened power with influence, and found that perhaps Gladwell did hit upon something valid when he analyzed the different types of influencers necessary for any social epidemic to occur. In Chapter 12, we learned about the general principles that allow us to determine which node/person has the most power in relation to his or her neighbors: dependence, exclusion, satiation, and betweenness. The book states that it makes sense to evaluate a “node’s power in terms of its role as an access point between different parts of the network makes sense in contexts where we are concerned with about issues like the flow of information” (our text book, pg 341).

Gladwell’s response to Berger is documented in the article, and he states that he has since refined some of the ideas that catapulted his socioeconomic book into popculture, and that he was aiming towards a more specific idea. He uses an example of a popular song – and explains that it would be rather foolish to apply his idea of connectors, mavens, and salesmen to that situation.

Because of this, I think both sides have valid points. Gladwell’s influencers definitely have a lot of power/influence in terms of information flow, and if they were graphed, then they would be nodes with a lot of power in relation to their neighbors (or perhaps the entire network?). However, Berger is right, in that their power is irrelevant, specifically in certain aspects – like Gladwell’s example of a pop song. I think because of the intrinsic nature of the technology that has invaded our lives, Gladwell’s influencers have less power because everyone is more connected and has access to all types of information, yet there is still proof that validates Gladwell’s theory of influencers in our very own textbook.

I highly recommend Gladwell’s book, The Tipping Point, as well as the article (link below), as both are interesting reads.

Sarah K.



One thought on “The Tipping Point Challenged?”

  1. This is an interesting way of putting the two topics together. I read Gladwell’s Tipping Point as well and thinking back on it can understand where someone could apply the concepts we’ve been learning. I think that they both are have good points but in different respects. I think that the ideas themselves are influential beyond the influencers who carry them. I also would think that it takes an exceptional level of affluences for the ideas to proliferate as they have. So they are both right in some way.

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