Thursday, July 19, 2012

Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference

A fascinating read if you are trying to create a successful business, promote an idea, stop smoking, prevent a deadly epidemic, or simply understand why the Kardashians or Facebook is popular. How does one get to a "tipping point" where something that just touches a few people, ends up touching a huge number of people? If you were ever curious this is the book for you!

I had heard of the 80/20 principle but did not know it applied to so many things. This is the idea economists refer to when they say that 20 percent of a workforce does 80 percent of the workload. Or as Gladwell extended it: 80 percent of crimes are committed by 20 percent of the criminal element, 20 percent of motorists cause 80 percent of accidents, 20 percent of people consume 80 percent of all beer. (Gladwell, 48)

Speaking of people who do all the work...old Paul Revere had a helper...someone who rode the other direction and covered the same amount of territory to tell people the British were coming. William Dawes, however was not as charismatic and his word of mouth epidemic did not spread. Why was Paul Revere so incredibly successful with mobilizing the revolutionaries while William Dawes mobilized no one? What makes a person charismatic? How do word of mouth epidemics get started? How does something like "Silly Bands" (animal shaped rubber bands) become a huge business? Gladwell will entertain you as he explains the science of epidemiology of social fads as well as medical epidemics.

Killing Lincoln

Killing Lincoln----a murder mystery it is not, or so one would think. We all know that Abraham Lincoln was shot at Ford's theater and died soon after. So how do Martin Dugard and Bill O'Reilly keep readers engrossed in the story knowing how it will end? They do this quite ably by explaining the circumstances and seemingly non related tangential events that all culminated in this horrifying event.

Where was our sixteenth president's bodyguard when John Wilkes Booth snuck into his theater box? The man was shirking his duties and drinking ale next door. John Parker, this never-do-well bodyguard did not have a good reputation, but was still hired to guard the president. Mary Todd Lincoln even wrote the letter that exempted him from serving in the military (enabling him to stay on the force protecting her husband.) Somehow he was acquitted of charges of dereliction of duty. John Parker showed up the morning after the assassination at the police station with a known prostitute. (The Secret Service appears to have had an early history of agents that enjoyed their company.)

The writers point out many of the great ironies of history. John Wilkes Booth's lover was also interested in Lincoln's own son. The bed that Lincoln was carried to and died upon had often been rented by his murderer. John Wilkes Booth slept in that bed just three weeks before the dying president's long, broken body was laid across it to die. These and other ironies enable the authors to engross the readers in a tale that has a sadly known outcome.