Book Review-”The Tipping Point-How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference” by Malcolm Gladwell

By mquinn • July 5th, 2013
How Little things Can Make a Big Difference
Malcolm Gladwell
reviewed by

Michael H. Quinn, PhD, ABPP
Malcolm Gladwell is an award winning nonfiction writer who published an incisive book about how quickly change erupts in social systems. According to Gladwell, “The Tipping Point is an examination of the social epidemics that surround us.”
Gladwell writes, “The Tipping Point is that magic moment when an idea, trend or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire. At what point does it become obvious that something has reached a boiling point and is about to tip…big changes occurring as a result of small events?” The tipping point is a critical point in a social relationship process. According to Gladwell, “The Tipping Point…comes from the world of epidemiology. It’s the name given to that moment in an epidemic when a virus reaches critical mass. It’s the boiling point. It’s the moment on the graph when the line starts to shoot straight upwards. AIDS tipped in 1982, when it went from a rare disease affecting a few gay men to a worldwide epidemic.”
A tipping point also can start a positive epidemic in a smaller system such as a nuclear family. In family systems therapy, the tipping point is when stuff gets real: A family member steps up to make critical decisions and changes in the family relationship system, starting a positive epidemic. Murray Bowen described families as being led by one who can step back, detach from the emotional process, and follow his or her own principles. Bowen referred to this process as differentiation of self. Differentiation of self conceptualizes the family as a living cell–as the family develops, it’s members differentiate into separate and functional units. One individual differentiating a self from the rest of the group is a boiling point from the perspective of Bowen Theory, and can lead to an epidemic of change or emotional separation, leading to a more resilient “cell” or family unit. Families that tend to thrive and function well are made up of members who are relatively emotionally autonomous or separate from one another. Emotional dependency on one another leads to more chronic anxiety–that is, being tied up with more physical, social, and emotional dysfunctions. In contrast, emotional independence means more productive use of energy. Healthy, or well-differentiated relationships are where individuals direct productive energy toward goals as opportunities arise, despite emotional pressure from relationships.
Malcolm Gladwell “…would like…to show people how to start ‘positive’ epidemics of their own. The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started, and it can spread very, very quickly. That makes it something of obvious and enormous interest to everyone from educators trying to reach students, to businesses trying to spread the word about their product, or for that matter to anyone who’s trying to create a change with limited resources.”
Or, anyone who’s trying to make changes in self in a relationship. In summary, Malcolm Gladwell’s well-written book illuminates our connection to one another, and positive changes that can be made one individual at a time.

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