Infographic Overkill

You didn’t think I wasn’t going to combine my macro (The Foolscap Global Story Grid) and my micro (The Story Grid Spreadsheet) for The Tipping Point and create a super-cool Story Grid infographic, did you?

I can’t begin to describe the internal resistance I’ve battled pulling this together. Judging from the reactions, or lack of reactions I’ve had over the last few TP posts…there was a great deal of justification for just letting this whole project wither away.  I was beginning to feel like the professor Donald Sutherland played in Animal House:

Don’t write this down, but I find Milton as boring as you find Milton…Mrs. Milton found him boring too…he’s a little bit long-winded, he doesn’t translate very well into our generation, and his jokes are terrible…but that does not relieve you of your responsibility for this material…I’m not joking…This is my job!

Let’s not surrender.  Let’s beat this dead horse into the ground properly shall we?

Gladwell’s book is just too good not to crack out a final Story Grid for it.

So here’s the Beginning Hook of The Tipping Point in final Story Grid form.

The Story Grid for the Beginning Hook of The Tipping Point

Let me walk you through it…

On the vertical “Y” axis of the graph, I’ve indicated the spectrum of global value charges for both the external content genre of the book (Action Adventure) in red and the internal content genre (Worldview Revelation) in blue.

Here’s the Foolscap page again for quick reference:

foolscap story grid for THE TIPPING POINT.xlsx copy

Above the horizontal X-axis, the charge moves ever more positive. Below the X-axis, the charge moves ever more negative.

Action Adventure’s value spectrum moves from Life to Unconsciousness to Death to Damnation (the fate worse than death).

Worldview Revelation’s value spectrum moves from Universal Wisdom to Ignorance to Stupidity to Stupidity Masquerading as Wisdom.

Remember that Ignorance is an ability to discover a truth but just not being exposed to its evidence while Stupidity is the state of being incapable of discovering a truth. That means that one is just not capable of understanding. Like a chipmunk exposed to differential equations. You’ll just never get a chipmunk to understand them. So the chipmunk is stupid with regard to differential equations.  Sorry chipmunks out there.  No offense.

Now, Stupidity Masquerading as Wisdom is the negation of the negation of Worldview Revelation. This is the state where someone incapable of understanding is viewed as “wise.” The best example of SMW is the character Chauncey Gardiner portrayed so well by Peter Sellers in the film adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There.

For fun, I added two additional value spectrum data points for Gladwell’s graph…Research Wisdom and Shoe Leather Wisdom. Research Wisdom is a little less positive in my estimation because it doesn’t require “physical” effort beyond an online search or trip to the library. Shoe Leather Wisdom is harder earned. You have to actually communicate with another human being (an interview) in order to suss out an acorn of knowledge.  Gladwell does both throughout the book, so it will be fun to see when he cites research versus when he sites an interview.

Remember how Story Grid graphing works?

For each “scene” in the book (which I’ve already broken down in my Story Grid Spreadsheet) we remind ourselves of what event occurred in that scene as well as the polarity shift. We stick those scenes on the horizontal X-axis and track the scene by scene shifts while we plot the global value charges above or below.

The beginning hook comprises four scenes/events.

  1. Hush Puppies sales explode.
  2. New York City crime plummets.
  3. Change happens all at once.
  4. Epidemic change defies conventional wisdom.

And the polarity shifts scene by scene are as follows:

  1. (-) Unpopular to (+) Popular
  2. (-) Dangerous to (+) Safe
  3. (-) Ignorance to (+) Wisdom
  4. (-) Ignorance to (+) Wisdom

So far so good. We stick them on the graph above and below the scene number.

Now comes the tricky part. We’ll examine each scene and think about how the global values of the Story are moving.

So for Scene 1, the little story about how Hush Puppies became popular again, let’s take a look at the external action value, the one we’re marking as red.

Before Hush Puppies “tipped,” they were out of the public consciousness. Sure you could still get a pair of Hush Puppies, but you’d have to do some legwork to find them. So the beginning of scene 1 is a time when Hush Puppies were not “dead” but sort of “unconscious” in the greater public zeitgeist.  At the end of scene 1, though, they’re selling like hotcakes. So I’ve plotted the end result as a data point above “Unconsciousness” on the Y-Axis, but not all the way up to full “Life.”


They are popular by the end of scene 1, but they’re not exactly Nike or Addidas. So they’re not fully reflective of the greatest expression of the “Life” value.

What about the Internal Revelation Value for Scene 1, the one we’re marking as blue?

We don’t know why Hush Puppies “tipped.” So we’re in “Ignorance.” We don’t know, but we’re capable of knowing.  We’re not Stupid or Gladwell wouldn’t have written the book.  So I put a data point at “Ignorance” for the internal revelation status of Scene 1.

For Scene 2, the external value shift is tremendous. Murder rates in New York City drop precipitously. Tipping isn’t just about explosive growth. It’s about diminution too. So with “Death” prevention comes “Life” value is at its peak.

What about the Internal Revelation Value for Scene 2?

Again, we don’t know why crime fell in New York. So we’re in “Ignorance.” We don’t know, but we’re capable of knowing.

What’s with the dashes for the blue line and the unbroken red line between the two scenes?

The unbroken line represents the “dominant genre” for the scene. For Scenes 1 and 2, the dominant genre is the external action adventure story (red), not the worldview revelation (blue). These are core support stories that Gladwell is reporting from his adventures figuring out his big idea…not the logical conclusions he’s drawn from them.

For scenes 3 and 4, though, the dominant genre shifts to the internal revelation genre. Gladwell lays it on the line in these scenes and tells the reader the wisdom he’s gleaned from all of the work he’s put into writing the book. So the blue line becomes solid, while the red line goes to the neutral and is dashed in scenes 3 and 4.

And as this is the beginning hook of a Big Idea work of nonfiction, Gladwell wisely throws his cards down on the table early…telling the reader exactly what they are going to come to understand from the experience of reading the rest of the book. He makes a promise to them with a clear destination. (Check out those obligatory scenes and conventions on the Foolscap and see just how many he’s delivered on just in this short opening…)

Here are the last three sentences of Scene 4…

The point of all of this is to answer two simply questions that lie at the heart of what we would all like to accomplish as educators, parents, marketers, business people, and policy makers. [Nice big market of people who can get something out of this book, eh?] Why is it that some ideas or behaviors or products start epidemics and others don’t? And what can we do to deliberately start and control positive epidemics of our own?

Ending his beginning hook with two questions is a very strong choice. Questions make us start wondering about the answers. As is his emphasis on the “positive.” We don’t want to read about the “negative” early on in a Big Idea Book.  We want to only hear about the good stuff.  Later on, when we’re deep inside the story, we’ll be willing to go dark.

With his super-streamlined Beginning Hook, Gladwell has expertly primed us for the serious “logos” work ahead. If the writer is not all that skilled, this is the very often extraordinarily pedantic and boring part of any Big Idea Book…the Middle Build.

That’s up next.

15 comments on “Infographic Overkill

  1. Hi Shawn. I’m glad you didn’t let the project wither away! I for one am out here reading with a great deal of interest and loving everything you write as always. I’m glad you successfully battled each round of resistance as it came up on this TP project. Your work continues to fascinate me and I’m learning a great deal. Here’s to you and the final few postings of the horse that is still very much alive and well in my world!

  2. Mary Doyle says:

    Shawn thanks for the fighting the good fight! This has been and continues to be a fascinating journey.

  3. Don Ice says:

    Hi Shawn, I’ve been quiet here only because I’m trying to absorb a deluge of insight. Rest assured that The Story Grid has been life-changing for me. You and Steven have got me up at 4:15am most mornings to sit down and get cracking on a project I’ve struggled with for over two years. Your podcast challenged me to write ten inciting incidents for my non-fiction book which has become an effective counter to Resistance. I find your Story Grid posts to be an extremely useful companion to Eco’s newly-translated classic How to Write a Thesis. This blog is a testament to your authenticity. I eagerly check each Wednesday evening to see if the next Tipping Point post has hit early. Thank you and keep up the great work.

  4. Spoken like an artist! Is this worth doing? Does anyone care?

    I think the silence you’re hearing is all of us nodding like mad, realizing we have little to add to the enormous amount of information you’re sharing.

    And as of today, I’ll be forever in your debt for the difference between (and names of) Research Wisdom and Shoe Leather Wisdom.

    I’m really glad all your projects in life haven’t kept you from soldiering on with this. It’s important, and we care.

    1. Doug Walsh says:

      Same here. I’ve never heard those phrases before (Research Wisdom vs Shoe Leather Wisdom) but they’re perfect. It’s almost like the old “street smarts” versus “book smarts” monikers, as applied to the realm of research/expertise.

      So glad to see you continue on with this project. While it may have at times seemed as if you were doing it just for the sake of doing it, I think it’s good to remember back when you first started Story Gridding The Tipping Point, that your BIG IDEA was that the SG process could be applied to Non-Fiction. You’ve done your research, certainly worked out the kinks and made the adjustments to the standard SG templates, and are proving that yes, you can. And that deserves a hearty round of applause!

  5. Tom says:

    My head hurts but I keep trying to understand your science.
    Reminds me of why I wanted to go to college and why I left.

  6. augustina says:

    I read this post. I would make more comments but I am extremely busy getting my stuff done.

  7. Loni McIntosh says:

    This is the most productive thread for me so far – it’s forcing my brain to approach the whole concept differently – makes for a huge learning curve. Thanks!

  8. Susanne says:

    I’m quiet because I’m trying to figure this all out! Loving the podcasts with Tim, by the way 🙂

  9. Susanne says:

    By the way, your overcoming your resistance is a great role model for us, heh.

  10. You are a great role model for me Shawn. Your teaching and sharing have formed a sort of template for the way I’d like to approach my writing. I look forward to every post and every product because I know that there is true value there for me. You’re part of the signal, not the noise, and that’s damn hard to find these days.

  11. Heather says:

    I’ve bought the audiobook of Tipping Point off the back of this. I had never heard of it before (sorry!) but, it’s fascinating. After listening to it, I’m going back to read the posts you’ve made. Like many others, Story Grid has made a huge difference to my approach to writing. I’m grateful that you have applied it to both fiction and non-fiction and for that, I owe you a huge ‘Thank you’.

  12. Tony Levelle says:

    Silence here only because swamped with holiday and family stuff! This is important. Have been listening to podcast in car on way to airport, on plane, in doctors offices and in aisles of grocery stores. All the while mentally noodling and applying it to a new nonfiction book idea. Keep on keeping on! Extremely valuable work!

  13. Daniel says:

    I read all your posts. Enjoy them greatly but comment only when I feel it adds value or in this case validates the article. Love your analysis, keep it up, it has been very enriching both to my writing and enjoyment of what I read.

  14. Mike says:


    Brillant work here! Thank you for your generosity. I am leaving a comment on this particiular post because I am seeking to understand how to write a great non-fiction book. I am enjoying your whole site. I am working on a version of Getting Things Done (by David Allen) for teenagers with David and another co-author. Your insights and wisdom will be put to use.

    With gratitude,


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