Monday, October 13, 2008

Malcolm Gladwell: The Tipping Point

Somewhere, in between cooking, and entertaining family friends, I finally managed to finish The Tipping Point, this long weekend. Would I recommend this to anyone? I honestly don't know, the book was definitely interesting but it was very redundant too. You can probably get the gist, of what the book is all about, by reading the numerous reviews floating around the internet.

The one thing, I would like to share is Malcolm Gladwell's discussion about context. In the book he mentions, how our brain associates absolute traits when we meet someone new, or when we are describing them to others. For instance, say a hypothetical Ethan is friends with Joe, who he met at a halloween party. Joe came across as a fun loving person, at the party. But Joe's co-worker Kyle (I am just coming up with random names here), who has never seen Joe out of work and office parties, sees Joe as a very studious serious person. Since both Ethan and Kyle know Joe under different social circumstances, their perception of Joe differs from each other. When asked, both Ethan and Kyle would describe Joe using different absolute traits. Therefore, our behaviour, choices, actions, and choice of words depend on the setting we are in. We, generally speaking, act or behave differently when we are around our work friends, friends we grew up with, acquaintances, and family members.

Take facebook for example, your friends are organized based on the school you went/go to, your work place, city, and several other categories. But since the interaction between you and your friends unfolds on your facebook wall, in front of others to see, the meaning of context, in my opinion, is lost. On facebook, you might have a friend that you met at a club, and one you met at a religious event. Both of them know you under distinct circumstances, and in the real world are probably exposed to two different sides of you. But on facebook, where they are both sharing the same space, they become exposed to a side of you, they didn't expect, based on your affiliation with them, or based on the circumstances you met them under.

Moreover, people are not purely evil or saintly. Our situation and timing determine our behaviour. We really cannot/must not judge anyone. If someone spoke to us rudely, it is not because they are rude, they might be having a bad day, or maybe they are just misunderstood. So the grouping of people into absolute traits deprives us of actually getting to know the person.

Same thing applies to people with intellectual disabilities. Too often we determine their behaviour based on the intellectual disability they have. Just like two people with diabetes are not the same; two people with the same intellectual disability, say autism, are not the same either. By labelling them, and predicting their behaviour based on their disability, we are yet again depriving ourselves from the opportunity to learn about the actual individual.

By the way, The Tipping Point is a psychological book, the format and the language are very similar to the one seen in scientific journals. The author's main thesis is what makes certain ideas stick with people, in other words, how can we make a message more effective. When trying to solve crime, or selling a product, how should we present the information, and who should be our target audience.

If the goal is to be an effective orator, then definitely pick up this book. It will be a helpful read.


changetheworld360 said...

The Tipping Point is a great read...really fascinating. I would also recommend Blink if you haven't read it already.

Zany said...

No, I haven't read 'Blink', but have heard of it. I might borrow it from my friend. Thanks for the recommendation :-).