In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
These three terms refer essentially to the same phenomenon: A seemingly insignificant action or event produces –or results in — major consequences. For example, King Richard III’s horse was missing one nail, lost a shoe, fell down, and cost the English monarch his throne (and his life) at Bosworth Field in 1485.
Michael Kami appropriated the term “trigger point” from natural science to explain, in Trigger Points (1988), how making one or more minor decisions in a timely manner can accelerate an appropriate response to a crisis or opportunity in business.
Andrew Grove is generally credited with applying the term “inflection point” (from differential calculus) to corporate strategy in business situations. As he explains in Only the Paranoid Survive (1996), “a strategic inflection point is a time in the life of a business when its fundamentals are about to change. That change can mean an opportunity to rise to new heights. But it may just as likely signal the beginning of the end.”
To the best of my knowledge, the term “tipping point” was introduced by Malcolm Gladwell in an article for The New Yorker and then in a book, The Tipping Point (2000), when explaining how and why “little things can make a big difference.” Originally a physics term (i.e. “the levels at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable”), Gladwell re-defines a tipping point as a sociological term: “the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point…one that describes mysterious” sociological changes that mark everyday life. As Gladwell states, “Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.”
There is one other concept worth noting: The “Broken Window” theory introduced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling, in an article about crime prevention that appeared in the March 1982 issue The Atlantic Monthly. The relevance to various “points” (trigger, inflection, and tipping) is suggested in this brief excerpt from the article: “Consider a building with a few broken windows. If the windows are not repaired, the tendency is for vandals to break a few more windows. Eventually, they may even break into the building, and if it’s unoccupied, perhaps become squatters or light fires inside. Or consider a sidewalk. Some litter accumulates. Soon, more litter accumulates. Eventually, people even start leaving bags of trash from take-out restaurants there or breaking into cars.” A successful strategy for preventing or at least reducing the number of major crimes such as armed robbery, Wilson and Kelling assert, is to eliminate the so-called small crimes such as vandalism.
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob