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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Learning How to Grow Faster from the Metaphor of Epidemics!, 12 May 2004
This review is from: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference (Hardcover)
Tipping points are those places where geometric increases follow, that are temporarily unbounded by other limits. For example, when lily pads cover a little more than half of a pond, the rest of the pond's surface will soon follow. That last doubling will cause almost more surface to be covered than all of the prior growth, but will take only a fraction of the time. Although this book focuses on tipping points, it is really about systems dynamics -- how related phenomena build on each other in feedback loops (for example, how adding food to the environment for rapidly growing species expands their populations). This subject is an essential part of books like The Fifth Discipline, The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook, The Dance of Change, and The Soul at Work. Because the book never makes that connection to systems dynamics, most readers won't either. That's a problem because you will need the tools from these other resources and disciplines to apply this book's thesis of pushing the tipping point. Missing this connection is the book's main weakness.
For people who are interested in how to start (or stop) trends, this book is a useful encapsulation of much of the best and most provocative behavioral research in recent years. Unless you follow this subject closely (someone the author would call a Maven), you will find that much of this is new to you.
On the other hand, if you have been involved in the marketing of trendy items or stopping medical epidemics, this will seem very elementary and old hat.
I found the book to be a pleasant and quick read of how behaviors move from equilibrium into disequilibrium, caused by some factor that creates the tipping point to expand or decrease the behavior. If you are like me, I suspect you will, too.
If you want to apply these lessons, you will probably find the book's explanation of the concepts to be just a little too general for your real needs. A good related book to fill in your sense of how human behavior works is Influence by Robert Cialdini.
Essentially, the book's thesis is that trends grow by expanding the base of those who will spread the word of mouth and be listened to, aided by powerful messages that stick indelibly into the mind and an environment that psychologically encourages the trend.
The weakness of that argument is that it fails to fully address the physical needs that might be served to support the trend. Sure, psychology is important, but so is physiology. To the author's credit, the examples clearly deal with physiology (such as the smoking and children's television sections), but the book's thesis does not really do so. It is a strange omission. I think some people will be confused about what to do as a result.
Clearly, this book is about identifying what causes behavior through careful measurement. The examples are especially interesting because the common sense causes are seldom the right ones. For example, some children do not seem to pay much attention to a given educational television show while they play with toys. Actually, these children are picking up as much information from the show as those that do pay undivided attention, because no more than partial attention is needed for these viewers. This reminds me of the lessons about human behavior in the beer game example in The Fifth Discipline where role-playing beer retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers willy-nilly over order and over produce beer because of misinterpreting a temporary shortage as a permanent one, creating a long-term disaster for all concerned. The obvious is often obviously wrong.
Anyone applying these ideas needs to develop those causation-finding measurement skills. Since the book does not provide much guidance beyond examples of successfully and unsuccessfully using them, about all you can hope for is to remember to get expert help and double check the expert's conclusions with measurements.
Almost any reader will at least get a few great stories to use at the next cocktail party or dinner, assuming your companions have not yet read this book. Have fun, and enjoy more irresistible growth as a result!
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Donald Mitchell

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