Networking Tips from “The Tipping Point”

In browsing through the New York Times bestseller lists recently, I happened to notice that Malcolm Gladwell’s book “The Tipping Point” has now appeared on the paperback nonfiction list for more than 370 weeks – or, put another way, it has just entered its eighth year on the list!  While pausing to reflect upon the amazing longevity of its popularity, I remembered that several years ago I had adapted one of the book’s key concepts as the basis for a brief article on networking strategies for members of a professional organization I belonged to at the time.

This key concept, which Gladwell calls “The Law of the Few”, can still be useful today for a broad range of professionals – particularly, though not exclusively, for entrepreneurs.  And, in keeping with this blog’s theme of “engaging mindfully”, I would propose that being more mindful of the principles underlying this law can help us to engage with others more effectively as we proceed with our ongoing professional endeavors.

So, what follows is a slightly updated version of the original article I wrote a few years ago ….

In his remarkable book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell notes that, in many cases where a new idea takes hold and successfully establishes itself across a broad spectrum of society, hindsight shows that a very few people involved at the outset of the trend have had a disproportionately large impact on its eventual success. These rare individuals can be differentiated under three unique categories of personality, termed by Gladwell as either “connectors”, “salespeople”, or “mavens”.

He then proceeds to define a principle he calls “The Law of the Few”, which asserts that, for anyone attempting to market a new product or service, it is essential to have as many of these three types of individuals involved in spreading your message.

So how can we put this “Law of the Few” to work in our own networking and marketing efforts?  Let’s take a closer look at each of the three personality types, and see what conclusions we can draw.

1. Connectors make it their business to connect people from different social groups, people who otherwise would never meet.  The majority of us are not connectors.  Instead, we tend to associate with people who belong to groups we already belong to – professionals get to know other professionals in their field by attending the same conferences and workshops, parents get to know other parents in their community by attending the same events at their children’s school, social activists get to know other activists working for similar causes by attending the same rallies, and so on.  Even though we may know a lot of people, those people tend to be from the same few social groups to which we belong.  Hence, the range of our networking possibilities is limited.

Connectors are, by their nature, more curious than the rest of us about people from groups they don’t belong to, and as a result they are constantly making new connections with individuals from these new social groups.  Thus, connectors not only know a lot of people, but more importantly, they know a lot of people with skills and interests different from themselves.  Hence, the range of their networking possibilities is huge to begin with, and is always expanding.

Networking Tip #1 – Identify the connectors in your own network, and ask them to introduce you to individuals in their network whose interests are different from your own.  By doing so, you will generate many more opportunities for meeting people you would otherwise not have access to.

2. Salespeople are incredibly persuasive individuals who are able to enroll almost anyone into at least seriously considering, if not actually purchasing, the product or service they are offering.  They are masters of one of the vital skills for anyone actively engaged in networking, that of attracting both potential new clients/customers and potential referrers of new clients/customers.

Networking Tip #2 – Identify the salespeople in your own network, and make a special effort to keep them informed about any new projects you’re taking on.  By doing so, you will empower them to be better spokespersons for your business, which in turn will make them more effective referral sources for you.

3. Mavens are self-taught experts, driven by their personality to master subjects more arcane or more complex than most of us have the patience for.  They are the “go-to” people for the rest of us, when we’re not sure of which new smartphone to buy or how to find the best affordable hotels while we’re backpacking through the south of France for three weeks next summer.  They almost always know the answer, and when they don’t, they usually have a good idea of  how to find the answer.

While mavens in general are relatively scarce by virtue of their esoteric interests, we all contribute to the development of very specific kinds of mavens on a regular basis.  Each client, each customer, and each colleague who experiences a successful outcome from a professional interaction with us becomes a newly-minted expert – a maven, if you will – on the skills we possess and the services we offer.

Networking Tip #3 – Consider your clients, customers, and colleagues – past and present – as the “mavens” in your network, and keep in contact with them on a regular basis.  By doing so, you will not only sustain positive relationships, but you will also keep your network populated with the most persuasive advocates you can have – the people who already know your skills and talents on a first-hand basis .

To summarize – first, recognize the significant differences among the members of your network; then, identify your own connectors, salespeople, and mavens; and finally, adjust your outreach efforts to capitalize on the key strengths of these three indispensable groups within your network.  By understanding the Law of the Few and applying its principles wisely, it’s possible for you to achieve your own personal “tipping point” – where more and more of your time can be spent engaged in the business you’re passionate about because less and less of it is being spent looking for new clients and customers for that business.

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About Tom Cummings

A life-long news and current events junkie, an occasional political activist and volunteer, and for the past five years a practitioner of daily meditation and a student of Buddhist philosophy, I write this blog to explore what I see as the inherent tensions and contradictions between practicing mindfulness - so rooted in the Buddhist virtues of compassion, generosity, and non-attachment to self - and being an engaged citizen in today's world - where the very opposite traits are all too often the ones that prevail.
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