Inside the beltway: If your job is affected by public whimsy (hint: it is) then here’s a book you should be reading

Every once in a while, a book comes along so apt and relevant, so well written and so revealing to a particular group of citizens, there is a reason everyone in that group should read it.

Every once in a while, a book comes along so apt and relevant, so well written and so revealing to a particular group of citizens, there is a reason everyone in that group should read it.

Every once in a while, a book comes along so apt and relevant, so

well written and so revealing to a particular group of citizens, there

is a reason everyone in that group should read it.



Right now, there is such a book, and the people affected are in our

crowd - PR folks, advertisers, image consultants, reputation managers -

even change enablers. The book is The Tipping Point, by Malcolm

Gladwell.



Gladwell directs us to an explanation of social change, whether in crime

(why has urban crime plummeted in just a few years?), fashion (how did

Hush Puppies become a smashing youth culture best seller?) or television

ratings (why one program succeeds and not another, when they are

virtually interchangeable?).



These are phenomena, as we know, which are the stuff of our professional

lives, and Gladwell shows us, first of all, that our preconceived

notions of the causes of social change are almost all wrong - or at

least contradicted by important data. ’For every difficult problem,’ the

saying goes, ’there is one simple answer, and it is almost always

wrong.’ This book confirms that, over and over.



Gladwell’s theses are serious, if couched in often whimsical terms, and

need to be studied by any of us who really care to know how mass

decisions are influenced. He describes widespread opinion shifts in

terms of ’epidemics,’ spread by a few contacts - physical or mental - at

first, and then multiplied and re-multiplied epidemiologically, and all

without the benefit of a dollar of advertising, a small PR campaign or

even one focus group.



Gladwell acquaints us with his notion of ’connectors,’ the men and women

who ’know everybody,’ whether from having served together on a corporate

board (or in an infantry platoon), or having once sat side by side on a

transcontinental airline flight. Most people in this situation, he says,

pick up a book or go to sleep; the connector starts a conversation - and

is able to continue it years later as part of a social change

epidemic/campaign.



The Tipping Point is not only a brilliant didactic effort; it is a

steady source of delight. We learn of the role of ’mavens,’ of the magic

of the number 150, and why there is no celebratory poem about the

midnight ride of William Dawes: he wasn’t one of the few: a connector, a

maven or a salesman, and Paul Revere was a bit of all three.



It is one of those books, I imagine, that will be around for some time -

an inspiration for our trade from a wholly different vantage point.



If the Bush and Gore managers aren’t reading The Tipping Point, they are

ill-serving our country.



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