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  • Writer's pictureAnanya Ak

Tipping Point Book Review and Musings

Everyone who’s ever travelled by the Mumbai local train would agree on how messy the atmosphere is. The suffocating crowds, the pushing, the junk strewn around…I once read on a Buzzfeed post that it’s one of the things everyone must experience at least once. And it probably is. If you’re not claustrophobic and if you don’t have to go through that every day, then sure! It’s an adventure.

Anyway…picture the Mumbai local train. Messy, lots of people, garbage strewn around in the station, people pushing each other to get into the train…

Now picture another mode of transport – the much more sophisticated Mumbai metro. Still crowded but definitely not messy. High-tech, everyone standing in line to get into the train, escalators all in full working condition, no paan spit anywhere…it’s a dream!

But it’s real.

The Mumbai metro, with similar people travelling in it (only a little less in number), actually manages to remain sophisticated. And don’t argue. I’ve travelled through the worst Mumbai local routes and on the Mumbai metro, both in the terribly sticky monsoon season, so I know.

Why is it that the metro is so different, so clean compared to the local? Both are trains, so it can’t be that one is a better mode of transport. Both have similar sets of people, so it can’t be that the metro simply sees more sophisticated people. Then what’s the reason?

I’ve wondered this every time I switched between a local and a metro to get to a far-off place in Mumbai. But I didn’t know the answer.

You must be wondering why I’m rambling on about trains in a book review. But there’s a point, I promise!

Well, you have a picture of the Mumbai local train in your head, right? Now imagine it with much fewer people and much more junk. Food lying around here and there; graffiti on the walls of the stations and trains. Broken turnstiles (well, there are no turnstiles in a Mumbai local train station, but you get the point).

Now imagine this with more crime. People hitting each other. A random shooting in a train here. A random mugging in the station there…only, it’s so regular that even the police ignores it now (for the record, Mumbai local, for all its notoriety, has very little crime except the occasional pickpocket).

This was the state of the New York subway in the 1980s. In fact, this was how New York City was in the 1980s. Hard to believe, right? Now that things are all good? But it’s true.

So how did it all turn around? Did the police round up all the criminals in the city? Did the people all suddenly reform? Did the criminal generation die, replaced by a better, more law-abiding generation?

Of course not.

According to Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, everything remained the same. Except for one thing. One little thing.

The new subway director David Gunn, who was appointed in the mid-1980s, decided that there was no point focusing on the big things like murder or assault in the subway. How many people could one arrest, after all? Instead, he decided to focus on the small things. He cleaned the graffiti on all the trains. He fixed the turnstiles. He started cracking down on simple ticket violations.

And, surprise of surprises, crime rates in the subway came down!

Why? Well, Malcolm Gladwell has dedicated two whole chapters in his book to explaining the concept. He calls it the “Power of Context”.

But this is not the only concept he explains.

Tipping Point is about how an idea goes from being a random, insignificant thing somewhere in the corner of the world to a trend.

He calls this spread of an idea "epidemic". Perhaps this is where the term "viral" originated? Huh. That's a thought...

I spoke about another social psychology book, Predictably Irrational, in which Dan Ariely talks a little bit about a lot of things.

In Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell instead zooms in on a single thing – how an idea becomes viral – and talks about how several concepts of social psychology affect it.

His book is peppered with rich examples like the one I described above to explain the three rules that, according to him, make something go viral. Every example is written in the form of a story; one that we probably know a bit about. He talks about relevant issues and happenings in history and how certain specific entities made them worth talking about.

His book is a lesson in social psychology, marketing, and persuasion – full of case studies you probably won’t find anywhere else, explored through a unique lens, a perspective you probably haven’t thought of.

Tipping Point takes all my assumptions about non-fiction books (that they’re slow-paced, that they can’t be read in one go, that they are too complicated to be engaging...) and throws them out the window.

Malcolm Gladwell is an excellent storyteller and I couldn’t put this book down. Which is out of character for me, because I usually give myself at least two weeks to read a non-fiction book – especially one that’s educational (I’m a psychology student and a content marketing writer, so it’s doubly educational for me).

But I read this book in two days flat, and I even remember the concepts!

It’s a gift; make no mistake.

The only thing I found a little annoying about this book is that the budding psychologist in me likes seeing references when research studies are mentioned, and this one didn’t have any citations. Oh, there’s a reference section at the end, but it isn’t very organized. Like, seriously. The one time I actually want to read research papers and the author made them so hard to find!

I think it was down to a compromise between good, uninterrupted storytelling and an academic-style presentation with a lot of markings like this: [1] after every sentence.

But that’s it. Otherwise, this book is the most perfect non-fiction book I’ve ever read. Such great storytelling...and I remember all the new stuff I learnt! Wow....

I recommend this book to everyone who’s reading this review. If you regularly read non-fiction, pick it up. If you never read non-fiction, well, pick this up! It’s so interesting that you’ll forget it’s not your typical story. I especially recommend it to everyone in the marketing profession. It has a lot of unusual case studies for you to learn from and it’s an awesome indirect lesson in persuasion. I also recommend it to everyone with the slightest interest in human psychology.

Actually, chuck it. I don’t usually say this, but this is one book that I think absolutely everyone should read. From beginners to avid readers, from people who prefer tragedy to those who prefer comedy; this is a really engaging book and I can’t talk about it enough, especially since it surprised me so much.

I never thought I’d find a non-fiction unputdownable, but, well…here we are!

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