7. Gladwell’s Law of the Few
Who are the few who make the difference? Amongst the Few, Gladwell identifies Connectors – people with a special gift for bringing the world together – Mavens – experts, information-spreaders and campaigners – and Salesmen – the persuaders who argue the case to others. As an example Gladwell uses Paul Revere’s midnight ride from Boston to Lexington with the message ‘The British are coming!’. This resulted in the local militia turning out and finally inflicting a defeat on the British troops, which effectively started the American War of Independence. But what is not very well known is that at the same time, William Davis set out west from Boston – and had no noticeable effect. No militia turned out from that area, and he is forgotten in the annals of history.
The difference: Revere was involved in all sorts of groups; knew key people in these groups and passed the message on – he was a Connector – and as his judgement was valued, also a Maven. He also had a ‘sticky’ message – simple and urgent and a call to action – and the context was favourable: people aroused from their beds in the night, underlying the urgency. Connectors in particular are people with very wide circles of contacts, and who interface with key people in other groups so that their influence is exponential.
For small businesses, recognising who these people are can be critical. One story I was told is of a roofer – let’s call him Jim – who started his own business. Things were tough initially but then he was fortunate enough to win a project with a prominent local businessman and they became friendly. From then his business grew steadily – until they had an argument. Only as Jim’s business dropped away did he realise that his reputation locally was heavily dependent on this one person. Once he started to say he had been mistaken in his judgement of Jim and stopped referring clients, the business began to decline.
Lesson for small business: make sure you know where your referrals are coming from – it’s usually relatively few people – and know who your champions are. The sort of thing that Seth Godin would certainly advocate – they are likely to be people who take the trouble to respond to e-mails and client surveys favourably, to join an interest group on the internet etc. Target these people and look after them.