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The Law of the Few

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Connectors

Gladwell goes over the story of several people in this chapter, and explains the three types of people that are most crucial to satisfy the Law of the Few.

Firstly, there are the Connectors. Connectors are basically people who know everybody. These people have a genuine and extraordinary interest in other people and relationships. Gladwell makes the point of explaining that many of his friends are friends of a particular friend of his, and so in a way, his social circle isn’t really his social circle- it’s really his friend’s social circle, and Gladwell is just allowed in the club. Gladwell emphasizes that these people are the type who live extremely interesting lives in all walks of life- these people will go through multiple unrelated jobs and meet all sorts of people along the way. But that is their source of power, because they can link people from different worlds together.

Gladwell goes over the psychologist Stanley Milgram’s Six Degrees of Seperation experiment. Basically, what Milgram did was send a packet to 160 random people who lived in Omaha, Nebraska and instructed them to write their name on the packet and mail it to the person who they thought would get it one step closer to a particular Stockbroker who worked in Boston and lived in Sharon, Massachusetts. On average, Milgram found that it took five to six steps to reach the Bostonian.

Gladwell mentions a study where a group of psychologists survey a bunch of people living in the Dyckman public housing project in northern Manhattan to name their closest friend in the project. They found that 88% of the friends lived in the same building and half lived on the same floor. The point being that while people will tell you that their friends generally share their interests, in reality, the most important factor is proximity, even moreso than age or race.

In another study, students at the University of Utah were asked why they were friendly with certain other people. They found that while people said it’s because they share similar attitudes, they actually just share similar activities. The point being that we’re friends with the people we do stuff as much as the people that share our attitudes.

The importance of Milgram’s findings were really that not all degrees were equal. Twenty four letters reached the stockbroker at his home in Sharon, and sixteen of those were given to him by the same clothing merchant. The other letters reached the stockbroker at his office, and of those the majority came through two other particular men. So clearly, these last links were a little stronger than others.

Gladwell find in his own personal studies, that if you survey a big enough group of people and ask them to take a test that measures approximately how many people they know, you will find that the average various according to age, and status and profession all as one might intuitively expect. What one might not intuitively expect though are the outliers- Gladwell routinely found people who scored way above average. Those people are the Connectors that Gladwell is really talking about. As Gladwell puts it, these people “make friends like others collect stamps”.

Gladwell mentions the Strength of Weak ties, whose strength was discovered by the sociologist Mark Granovetter. He conducted a “classic” study in 1974 called Getting a Job. Granovetter found that 56% of people found their job through a personal connection, 18.8% through formal means like ads, and 20% applied directly. Interestingly though, of those personal connections, the majority were weak ties- only 16.6% saw the contact often, 55.6 saw the contact occasionally, and 28% saw the contact rarely.

Mavens

While Connectors are the people specialists of epidemics, Mavens are the information specialists. These people are frequently studied in economics on the basis that if marketplaces depend on information, then the people with the most information must be the most important.

Gladwell goes over the fact that stores will often try to pull on a trick on consumers and advertise than an object is on sale when in fact the price is the same. Predictably, sales goes through the roof as most people don’t know the difference. But he points out that the stores have to be careful- if stores pull this trick too often, Mavens will do something about it. The Mavens will write complaints and tell their friends to avoid the store. Mavens keep the marketplace in check.

Linda Price, a marketing professor at the University of Nebraska, studies Mavens closely. Gladwell uses part of her research to demonstrate that like Connectors, Mavens are not your average person. These people are obsessed with the marketplace.

But these people, Glawell explains, are not just experts. They want to help others. And more importantly people listen- how can they not? While a Connector might tell a bunch of people about a new restaurant they found and these people might take the advice, a Maven might only tell a few friends something new and but all of his friends will listen.

Salesmen

While Connectors are good at spreading information and Mavens good at gathering it, there are always a few people who will never believe what they are hearing. In order to convince them,  an epidemic needs Persuaders.

Gladwell goes over the personality of Tom Gau, a finanical planner in Torrance, California. Gladwell describes Gau as a master of persuasion. But what Gladwell finds is that Gau isn’t really persuasive because of the content of words- instead it’s something else, something intangible.

Gladwell then describes an experiment that took place during the 1984 election between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale. A group of psychologists led by Brian Mullen of Syracuse University recorded the nightly new for eight straight days before the day of the election. Mullen then went through the tapes and eliminated all of the references to the candidates until he had 37 separate segments, each roughly two and half seconds long. The researchers than showed the clips with the sound off to randomly chosen people, who were asked to rate the facial expressions of each newscaster from 1 to 21 in each segment. Dan Rather at CBS scored 10.46- almost perfectly neutral- when he talked about Mondale and 10.37 when he talked Reagan. Likewise, Tom Brokaw a5 NBC scored an 11.21 for Mondale and 11.50 for Reagan. Finally, when Peter Jennings at ABC talked about Mondale he scored 13.38. But when talking about Reagan, Jennings face lit up, and he scored 17.44.

The researchers  wondered if Jennings was simply more expressive than his colleagues. To test this, they reran the experiment except with recording of the three men covering “happy” and “sad” stories. In this round, Jennings actually scored lower than Rather and Brokaw. The researchers concluded that Jennings must have been biased toward Reagan.

Written by Ceasar Bautista

2010/12/26 at 04:44

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