Wednesday, April 27, 2011

How to Start an Epidemic

I just finished reading Malcolm Gladwell's book "The Tipping Point." I think he should have titled it "How to Start an Epidemic" because he outlines a theory of how social epidemics are started in society, from unnatural suicide rates in Micronesia, the success of Sesame Street to the dramatic drop in crime rate in New York City and implicitly explains how you can start one.

Instead of going into an analysis of the book, I am going to suggest that two types of people read this book: pastors and teachers.

Why Teachers Should Read "The Tipping Point"

When I first started the book, I noticed that one of the rules for what causes a "tipping point" (The point at which a social epidemic occurs in society.) is "The Law of the Few." This rule essentially says that there are certain people in society that work to promote certainideas. These ideas will eventually reach the tipping point and become social epidemics.

There are three types of people: connectors, mavens and salesmen. Connectors are people who everyone seems to know them. Mavens are people who know everything there is to know about a certain topic. Salesmen are people who are really good at convincing people about an idea.

Teachers, in my opinion, should look at these types of people and see themselves to be like them, in a sense. Certainly, not everyone is a "maven." Yet because of their unique position, teachers have a great place to fulfill these important roles.

Furthermore, this book deals with the issue of why certain ideas tend to "stick" in people's heads and why others don't. That's right up the alley of education, getting ideas to stick in people's heads. If a teacher can apply the concepts in this book, I think his/her students will become better educated. Specifically, the question is "how can I communicate ideas (concepts, skills and content) to students so that they remember them?" I think Gladwell helps answer this question.

Why Pastors Should Read "The Tipping Point"

When I was reading this book, I kept thinking that the person who should read this book is a pastor. A pastor's calling is to disseminate a specific form of information to his congregation and the world. "The Tipping Point" is a book just on that topic. It explains, in a way, why revivals occur and why they don't. It explains why some people listen to you and why some people do not. It explains how society changes, improves or falters. Why wouldn't a pastor want to know more about that?

One might say, "its the Holy Spirit that works in people's hearts. It's not these foreign 'rules' put forward by Gladwell." I don't think that Gladwell is demystifying the work of the Holy Spirit. Rather, I think he is giving an explanation of a way that the Holy Spirit works through to bring about the will of the Father. Furthermore, Paul says "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Gladwell gives pastors a means to better apply Paul's example.

A Possible Objection

One may be suspicious of Gladwell's book because it appears to give an all-encompassing explanation for everything that occurs in society. My response is first, this is not a book explaining everything about society. It is explaining why social epidemics occur. For example: why was Sesame Street such a great success for so long.

Second, Gladwell makes a great point at the end of the book. He says "All of these things [his theory] are expressions of the peculiarities of the human mind and heart, a refutation of the notion that the way we function and communicate and process information is straightforward and transparent. It is not. It is messy and opaque." (pg 257) If anything, read this book so that you acquire a more nuanced and thoughtful understanding of how communication occurs in society, even if you don't agree with the theory. It certainly has helped me think more carefully on how I see society.

p.s. It's not a hard read.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thank you for your comment, I'll review it as soon as I can!