"By paying attention to the guy drinking beer on the corner," Bratton said, "if you stop him early in the evening before he finally gets drunk and pulls a knife and stabs the guy next to him, you basically -- by dealing with the small problem -- you prevent the bigger problem from occurring later. It's much the same as inoculating a population against the flu."
Bratton pointed to the early failure in Iraq to stop the looting as a tipping point that he believes initially drove the country into chaos. And he's convinced that more troops and aggressive policing could tip the balance back.
"It worked in Boston, New York [and] could work in Los Angeles, if I had the resources," he said. "Over time -- because it's going to take a long time -- it could work in an area right now as tumultuous as Iraq. I truly do believe that."
In fighting violence or establishing a democracy or battling disease, the theory is complicated by the possibility of numerous tipping points over a period of time. And perhaps it is only in looking back that we will be able to recognize exactly what they might have been.
"Of course, it's easiest to see these kinds of things in retrospect," Gladwell said. "But I think there are moments, and occasions, when it is obvious to us when we're going through one of these kind of cataclysmic shifts.
"We have a very, very strong suspicion that what's going on in Iraq right now with the election is such a shift," he added. "I think we can develop a strong suspicion that this is something worth examining and watching."
Tom Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a columnist for The New York Times, believes the prism of the elections has reframed the way people see the situation in Iraq.
"Before the election … the meta-story in Iraq was 'Iraqi insurgents, against American occupiers and their Iraqi lackeys.'" Friedman said. "After the election, the whole issue in Iraq has been reframed much more as a civil war between a tiny jihadist insurgency and Baathist insurgency, against what is clearly an overwhelming Iraqi majority that aspires to some form of constitutionalism and pluralism."
But often it takes more than a single factor to create a decisive tipping point, Gladwell said.
"There was a tipping point with rock music in the early 1960s, and that had to do with music but also technology -- portable radios, which had to do with … the development of special kinds of batteries and the transistor," Gladwell said. "There was a confluence of … cultural forces and technological forces that combined to create a tipping point in that area.
"I would like to see, if this [election] is to serve as a tipping point for Iraq, some similar combination of factors," he said. "It's not enough for this simply to be a political transformation. There has to be some other kind of transformation that joins forces with this to create some kind of lasting and permanent change. I'd like to see, for example, some sort of economic … tipping point. Or I would like to see some change on the religious front that permits the political change to have much more legs."
The number of tipping point elements surrounding Iraq may be building, Friedman said, but are not necessarily all in place yet for the last tipping point to the region's final outcome.