In 2005, I was listening to a sermon while at the gym (ah, the days of self-discipline and improvement) and the preacher giving the sermon mentioned a book and the name of its author, which would stick with me. The book was The Tipping Point and the author was Malcolm Gladwell. Since that first encounter, Gladwell has popped up again and again from being quoted, to interviews, to TED Talks, which built in me a desire to read the books that began all the fuss. With the accessibility to a digital library through my Kindle, I decided it was finally time. I wish that what follows in my review was a vivid recollection of the many things that impacted me from both books, but as I learned from reading Gladwell’s work, when approaching such information-rich books, I need a notebook and pencil present. Like being at a buffet where you quickly forget the flavor of one dish as you eat the next, I was quite overwhelmed by the continuous insights I was coming across. So instead of regurgitating the premise of the two books I read, I am going to attempt to sway you to consider not just the books, but the author himself. My hope is that you would give this amazing Canadian-raised and educated author a try (sorry, I was so amazed to find out he was from Canada – I couldn’t help but mention it).
The books I ended up reading were The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. In The Tipping Point, Gladwell attempts to explain the small things that can cause significant social change. His view is that there is often a “tipping point” that is set off by small influences that bring about social changes, whether that change is the popularity of commercial products or the decrease of crime rates in cities. He compares the tipping point to a virus, suggesting that these changes are the social equivalent of a viral epidemic. In Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Gladwell offers a look behind the door of our subconscious and how something called our “adaptive unconscious” affects our decision- making. Both the positives and negatives of our snap judgments are explored and what can be done to influence this powerful form of decision-making.
After going through both books, here is one thing from each that still stands out in my mind: from The Tipping Point, the idea that stuck with me is that our brains only have the capacity to handle social knowledge of about 150 people. This is the maximum number of people I can socially interact with and still manage to know basic relational information about. This was the research the pastor from seven years ago had quoted, which started my interest in reading this book. The reason this sticks with me is that it confirms something I have often experienced as I have been involved with churches and other ministries. At YWAM Montana last year, there were somewhere between 150-170 staff and if I am honest, if there were closer to 200 I don’t know if I would have had the same sense of family on staff. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to know who I could go to for things, as I wouldn’t have been able to remember that many people’s different roles. This principle also shows why churches often have trouble getting past 150 people under the leadership of one generalist pastor. Anymore than 150, and you really need to bring in additional people to shepherd the flock.
As for Blink, what stands out to me is how much our unconscious mind affects the way we treat people. If we have been conditioned over time with certain subconscious messages about certain types of people or things, there will be a certain level of effect from that conditioning with regards to how we respond to those people or things. If we make a conscious effort to change that conditioning, however, it is possible to make important decisions very quickly and accurately. As I look at being part of a missions organization long term, and as Helen and I start to go on outreach, I want to make sure that I am conditioning myself to make the right snap judgments, so as to not hinder my efforts to bring the message of the Gospel to people.
Both of the aforementioned thoughts are only small pieces of the beautiful work that Gladwell has done in both books. I really would recommend both to anyone interested in understanding how both the world around us and the world within us works. If you are too intimidated to pick up these books (as I was seven years ago), I would recommend looking for one of Gladwell’s many lectures that he has given – they are available online – particularly the ones he has done for TED Talks. Once again, I want to thank you for taking the time to read my rambling thoughts on the books that are currently filling my time when I am not studying to teach on SBS. I have been greatly encouraged to read more through the opportunity to share what I’m reading, and I hope you will be encouraged to read more also.