Thursday, November 3, 2011

Still Looking For The Silver Bullet: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen

Remember The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, published in 2000? We were young then, weren’t we?

One of my colleagues from the Natural Resources Defense Council got us all excited with his excitement about how connectors, mavens and salesmen could bring about the West Coast adoption of marine protected areas.

Gladwell had identified what he called “The Law of the Few.” For a trend or a phenomenon to ‘tip’ into widespread popular acceptance, it required a few influential types of people.

“Connectors” are people with ties in many different areas of society and who can make connections and relationships about a new idea or product.

“Mavens” are people who are knowledgeable and who are turned to by others about making informed decisions about new ideas or products.

“Salesmen” are people whose charisma makes them very persuasive in influencing other people’s decisions about ideas and products.

There we were, ready to change the world for the better, once we could find the connectors, mavens and salesmen who could help us promote marine protected areas to the public and regulators.

The problem was that we couldn’t identify individuals who filled the roles of connectors, mavens and salesmen. Those that we could identify (‘big Rolodex people’) were either doing the work already or were so far removed from marine resource protection that it would take a miracle to get them on board.

The problem wasn’t just with a campaign like establishing marine protected areas; it was in all the areas of environmental conservation where we took Gladwell’s tipping point concepts and tried to apply them to a specific cause or campaign. Connectors, mavens and salesmen were busily connecting, informing and selling what they were already promoting.

It was looking through the wrong end of the telescope.

It’s out of the enthusiasm for a cause that its connectors, mavens and salesmen arise. If a cause didn’t engender enthusiasm, it would never attract its connectors, mavens and salesmen. There are many, many causes — good ones and not-so-good ones. How many of them are you enthused about enough to think they will ‘tip’ ?

--Mike Sato

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