Gladwell begins by discussing the inexplicable resurgence of then-terminally-uncool Hush Puppies shoes among a handful of hipsters in Manhattan’s cutting-edge enclaves in the 1990s, a trend which soon spread across the United States and resulted in exponential increases in the company’s sales. Using this phenomenon as an introduction to the book’s analytical theme, the author states that he will identify, dissect and explain the mechanisms by which certain trends take hold, while others fail.
Gladwell asserts that most trends, styles, and phenomena are born and spread according to routes of transmission and conveyance that are strikingly similar. In most of these scenarios, whether the event in question is the spread of syphilis in Baltimore’s mean streets or the sudden spike in the popularity of Hush Puppies sales, there is a crucial juncture, which Gladwell terms the “tipping point,” that signals a key moment of crystallization that unifies isolated events into a significant trend. What factors decide whether a particular trend or pattern will take hold? Gladwell introduces three variables that determine whether and when the tipping point will be achieved.
The three “rules of epidemics” that Gladwell identifies are: the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context. He concludes the chapter with a preliminary discussion of the Law of the Few, noting that the origins of most major epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases can be traced back to the disproportionate influence of a few “super infectors” who are personally responsible for dozens, or in some cases, hundreds of transmissions. This role is analogous to the category of people that Gladwell identifies as “Connectors,” who play an inordinate role in helping new trends begin to “tip,” or spread rapidly.