What Is Tipping Point Leadership And Why It Matters In Business

Tipping Point Leadership is a low-cost means of achieving a strategic shift in an organization by focusing on extremes. Here, the extremes may refer to small groups of people, acts, and activities that exert a disproportionate influence over business performance.

Framework NameTipping Point Leadership
OriginDeveloped by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne, professors at INSEAD and co-authors of the book “Blue Ocean Strategy.”
PurposeTipping Point Leadership is a framework designed to guide leaders and organizations in identifying and navigating critical strategic shifts or “tipping points” that can lead to significant transformations and competitive advantages.
ComponentsThe framework consists of three key components:
1. As-Is Perspective: Understanding the current state of the industry, market, or organization and the existing competitive landscape.
2. Future-Back Perspective: Envisioning a future state that breaks away from industry norms and creates a “blue ocean” of uncontested market space.
3. Tipping Point Leadership: Implementing leadership actions and strategies that drive the organization from the current state to the desired future state by overcoming key hurdles and challenges.
As-Is Perspective– Analyze the existing industry conditions, competitors, customer preferences, and market trends.
– Identify pain points, limitations, and constraints in the current business model or strategy.
Future-Back Perspective– Visualize a future state where the organization can differentiate itself and create new market opportunities.
– Challenge industry assumptions and explore unconventional approaches to value creation.
Tipping Point Leadership– Develop a comprehensive strategy to bridge the gap between the current state and the future state.
– Mobilize the organization to embrace the necessary changes and overcome resistance.
Applications– Strategic planning and execution.
– Business model innovation.
– Competitive analysis and differentiation.
Benefits– Helps organizations break away from competition and create “blue oceans” of uncontested market space.
– Encourages innovative thinking and bold strategic moves.
– Addresses challenges associated with change management and transformation.
Drawbacks– Requires a high level of commitment, vision, and leadership capability.
– May face resistance from stakeholders who prefer maintaining the status quo.
Tools– The framework can be used alongside tools such as SWOT analysis, value proposition design, and scenario planning.
Key TakeawayTipping Point Leadership is a strategic framework that encourages organizations to challenge industry norms, envision innovative futures, and take bold actions to create new market opportunities. It emphasizes the role of leadership in driving transformative change.

Understanding Tipping Point Leadership

Tipping Point Leadership was created by researchers W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne to show how leadership can work in business.

When new ideas spread quickly through an organization, Chan and Mauborgne argued that this would only happen when a critical mass of people become engaged in the idea. 

To institute change however, the critical mass must consist of people who make strong and robust arguments for change. These people concentrate on what matters most and have a unique ability for mobilising others in support of a cause. Importantly, they only comprise a small fraction of the total workforce. 

Indeed, Tipping Point Leadership contradicts conventional wisdom around organizational change which suggests that it can only be achieved through the resource-intensive conversion of the majority of employees.

The archetypal example of Tipping Point Leadership

This strategy is perhaps best demonstrated by reflecting on the example of the New York City Police Department (NYPD). When Police Commissioner William Bratton took the helm in 1994, the NYPD was notoriously difficult to manage. The city itself had also experienced three decades of escalating crime rates. 

It’s important to note that Bratton faced the same hurdles that any business manager might face, such as:

  • Organizational dependence on the status quo.
  • Opposition from vested, political influences.
  • Limited resources.
  • Unmotivated staff due to low wages and dangerous work conditions.

However, Bratton used the Tipping Point Strategy to turn New York City into one of the safest large cities in the United States. Remarkably, he achieved this in under two years and without a budget increase.

Bratton focused on the resources he did have. Notably, he secured the commitment of key players in the NYPD. Players that could help Bratton mobilise change and turn even the most seasoned pessimists.

This is how Bratton overpowered hurdles to change and in the case of the NYPD, improvement. We can examine his methodology by looking at how he handled each of the four key hurdles common to most scenarios.

The four key hurdles of Tipping Point Leadership

1. Cognitive hurdles

The most difficult step in overcoming hurdles is convincing others to agree that problems exist in the first place. The best way of convincing managers of the need for change is in exposing them to the problems firsthand. 

After the NYPD was issued with excessively small patrol vehicles, Bratton invited the general manager for a district tour, picking him up in one of the small patrol cars. After two hours with little legroom, the manager understood the problem and Bratton received a fleet of much larger cars.

2. Resource hurdles

Even when a critical mass of people understands the need for change, they are often met with resistance from leaders who cite a lack of resources. Instead of losing heart, Bratton decided to make the most of the resources he did have by using them in high impact areas.

Bratton’s response to a transit unit which had an excess of cars and limited office space was ingenious. He simply traded with another division that had an excess of office space but a limited number of cars.

3. Motivational hurdles

Managers who do eventually see the need for change often try to incentivize others to get them motivated. This is a resource-intensive option that takes time and is often not effective.

Bratton instead identified the 76 most influential commanders in his area and interviewed each of them about the area’s performance. This gave him a bigger picture view of how thousands of employees were being managed and why they were so unmotivated to change. Importantly, it helped him create a new culture.

4. Political hurdles

Business politics are best silenced by setting a good example and presenting the relevant personnel with undeniable facts that refute their ways of thinking. 

Bratton, now extremely well-informed, used both to overcome the political hurdles endemic to the NYPD.

Case Studies

  • Apple Inc.:
    • Apple’s co-founder Steve Jobs was a charismatic leader who had a strong vision for the company. He focused on creating a critical mass of passionate employees who believed in the company’s mission of making innovative and user-friendly technology products.
  • Netflix:
    • Netflix CEO Reed Hastings led a strategic shift in the company’s business model from DVD rentals to streaming. He built a team of advocates within the company who believed in the potential of streaming, and they successfully transformed the entertainment industry.
  • Microsoft:
    • Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, initiated a cultural shift within the company by promoting a growth mindset and a focus on cloud computing. He encouraged employees to embrace change and innovation, leading to Microsoft’s resurgence in the tech industry.
  • Amazon:
    • Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder, created a culture of customer-centricity within the company. He empowered employees to challenge the status quo and prioritize long-term customer value, which played a pivotal role in Amazon’s growth and success.
  • Tesla:
    • Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, has been a driving force behind the electric vehicle (EV) revolution. His strong leadership and vision for sustainable transportation have attracted a critical mass of employees and investors who share his commitment to EVs and renewable energy.
  • Starbucks:
    • Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks, implemented a turnaround strategy by focusing on providing a premium coffee experience. He rallied employees around the idea of elevating the coffee culture and creating a third place between work and home.
  • Southwest Airlines:
    • Herb Kelleher, the co-founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, built a company culture centered on employees’ well-being and customer service. This unique culture created a critical mass of passionate employees who contributed to the airline’s success.
  • Google:
    • Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the co-founders of Google, fostered a culture of innovation and encouraged employees to spend a portion of their work hours on personal projects. This approach led to the development of numerous Google products and services.
  • Facebook:
    • Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s co-founder and CEO, has championed the mission of connecting people globally. His leadership has attracted a critical mass of employees who are dedicated to advancing the company’s social impact.
  • SpaceX:
    • Elon Musk’s leadership at SpaceX has driven ambitious goals in space exploration and colonization. His vision has inspired a dedicated team of engineers and scientists to work on groundbreaking space missions.

Key takeaways

  • Tipping Point Leadership is a suite of principles that allow business managers to overcome hurdles to institute change in a low-cost manner.
  • Tipping Point Leadership was popularized by William Bratton, who overcame institutional hurdles in New York City policing to affect lasting change.
  • Tipping Point Leadership is most commonly used to overcome four hurdles that are common to most businesses.

Key Highlights

  • Definition and Purpose:
    • Tipping Point Leadership is a cost-effective approach to achieving a strategic shift within an organization.
    • It focuses on identifying and leveraging the extremes, which may be small groups of people, actions, or activities that have a disproportionate impact on business performance.
  • Origin and Concept:
    • Tipping Point Leadership was developed by researchers W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne as a framework for understanding how leadership can drive change within a business.
    • It suggests that for new ideas to spread rapidly within an organization, a critical mass of individuals must become engaged in these ideas.
  • Critical Mass of Change Agents:
    • To institute meaningful change, this critical mass should consist of individuals who can make compelling arguments for change.
    • These change agents concentrate on what matters most and possess the ability to mobilize others in support of the change.
    • Importantly, this critical mass is typically a small fraction of the total workforce, challenging the conventional belief that change requires converting the majority of employees.
  • Archetypal Example – NYPD:
    • The strategy is exemplified by the case of William Bratton, who served as Police Commissioner in New York City in 1994.
    • Despite facing common hurdles like organizational resistance to change, political opposition, limited resources, and unmotivated staff, Bratton successfully applied Tipping Point Leadership principles.
  • Overcoming Key Hurdles:
    • Tipping Point Leadership identifies four key hurdles commonly encountered when trying to implement change:
      1. Cognitive Hurdles: Convincing others that problems exist by exposing them to issues firsthand.
      2. Resource Hurdles: Making the most of available resources by using them strategically in high-impact areas.
      3. Motivational Hurdles: Creating motivation by identifying influential individuals and understanding their perspectives.
      4. Political Hurdles: Overcoming resistance by setting a good example and presenting undeniable facts.
  • Key Takeaways:
    • Tipping Point Leadership provides a set of principles to help business managers overcome hurdles and drive change in a cost-effective manner.
    • It was popularized by William Bratton’s successful transformation of the NYPD, where he used these principles to effect lasting change.
    • The approach is particularly useful for addressing the four common hurdles encountered when implementing change in organizations.

Connected Business Heuristics

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and any eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Moonshot Thinking

Moonshot thinking is an approach to innovation, and it can be applied to business or any other discipline where you target at least 10X goals. That shifts the mindset, and it empowers a team of people to look for unconventional solutions, thus starting from first principles, by leveraging on fast-paced experimentation.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

Other connected business strategy frameworks

PESTEL Analysis

The PESTEL analysis is a framework that can help marketers assess whether macro-economic factors are affecting an organization. This is a critical step that helps organizations identify potential threats and weaknesses that can be used in other frameworks such as SWOT or to gain a broader and better understanding of the overall marketing environment.

STEEP Analysis

The STEEP analysis is a tool used to map the external factors that impact an organization. STEEP stands for the five key areas on which the analysis focuses: socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political. Usually, the STEEP analysis is complementary or alternative to other methods such as SWOT or PESTEL analyses.

STEEPLE Analysis

The STEEPLE analysis is a variation of the STEEP analysis. Where the step analysis comprises socio-cultural, technological, economic, environmental/ecological, and political factors as the base of the analysis. The STEEPLE analysis adds other two factors such as Legal and Ethical.

Porter’s Five Forces

Porter’s Five Forces is a model that helps organizations to gain a better understanding of their industries and competition. Published for the first time by Professor Michael Porter in his book “Competitive Strategy” in the 1980s. The model breaks down industries and markets by analyzing them through five forces.

SWOT Analysis

SWOT Analysis is a framework used for evaluating the business’s Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. It can aid in identifying the problematic areas of your business so that you can maximize your opportunities. It will also alert you to the challenges your organization might face in the future.

BCG Matrix

In the 1970s, Bruce D. Henderson, founder of the Boston Consulting Group, came up with The Product Portfolio (aka BCG Matrix, or Growth-share Matrix), which would look at a successful business product portfolio based on potential growth and market shares. It divided products into four main categories: cash cows, pets (dogs), question marks, and stars.

Balanced Scorecard

First proposed by accounting academic Robert Kaplan, the balanced scorecard is a management system that allows an organization to focus on big-picture strategic goals. The four perspectives of the balanced scorecard include financial, customer, business process, and organizational capacity. From there, according to the balanced scorecard, it’s possible to have a holistic view of the business.

Blue Ocean Strategy

A blue ocean is a strategy where the boundaries of existing markets are redefined, and new uncontested markets are created. At its core, there is value innovation, for which uncontested markets are created, where competition is made irrelevant. And the cost-value trade-off is broken. Thus, companies following a blue ocean strategy offer much more value at a lower cost for the end customers.

Scenario Planning

Businesses use scenario planning to make assumptions on future events and how their respective business environments may change in response to those future events. Therefore, scenario planning identifies specific uncertainties – or different realities and how they might affect future business operations. Scenario planning attempts at better strategic decision-making by avoiding two pitfalls: underprediction, and over-prediction.

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