If you work in PR, you’ve probably read Malcolm Gladwell’s seminal book The Tipping Point. If you haven’t, you should. Sub-titled ‘How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference’, in a nutshell it explores how something which starts life as nothing more than a niche trend in a specific geographical area can quickly, given the right circumstances, become a genuinely global sensation.
“GROUNDREAKING!” I hear you scoff, as you enumerate the many ways this can happen - PR; expensive, elaborate launch events; social media influencers being sent product for #sponsored posts; online advertising…clearly you know your stuff. Except Gladwell’s book looks at how it happens without any of these; indeed, it pre-dates many of them, having first been published in 2000.
The part of the book which most interests me is the first, ‘The Law of the Few’, which defines three key personality types needed for something tiny to become an epidemic [side note - Gladwell was referring to ‘epidemics’ before ‘to go viral’ came into common usage.] One of the three types is ‘Connectors’, people with large professional and social networks who "link us up with the world...people with a special gift for bringing the world together."
I’ve been thinking about Connectors a lot lately, because I realise how much I’ve benefitted from them in my working life (and in my personal life, but this being a business blog I’ll concentrate here on the professional side of things.)
To take one example, at a dinner I hosted for a client recently, I sat next to one of my favourite journalists - come on, this is PR not parenthood, we’re allowed to have favourites - to whom I’d been introduced a couple of years ago by someone who “just knew we’d get on”. The journalist brought as her guest an author and broadcaster who she’d wanted me to meet (and vice-versa) who in turn invited me to her book launch in London the next day, hosted by…the person who’d originally introduced me to the journalist. Making four of us, now all in touch, all connected.
You could easily say that four people working in the same industry would inevitably end up meeting each other one day, and by the laws of probability, you’d probably be right. Equally you could say that this example has nothing to do with deliberately connecting people and is just a case of a friend introducing a friend who then introduces them to another friend, and again, you’d be sort of right.
It’s no accident though that if you work back to how everyone at the party knew each other, it came down to all knowing the same person, the Connector. In any industry, but particularly in PR, when one of your most valuable assets is who you know (even though the days of the physical Rolodex and Filofax, as closely guarded as the crown jewels, may be long gone) it’s easy to be wary of introducing people lest they become a little too friendly, a little too useful to each other. And of course you’d be crazy - not to mention in breach of GDPR, but that’s a whole other topic - to share your contacts with anyone.
But that’s to see people as commodities, the type of thinking which keeps, to my enduring bafflement, the practice of ‘networking’ alive - going to events solely designed for people to meet other people because they might be ‘useful’.
Connectors are unselfish - indeed generous - with their introductions. People they know across multiple social, business, cultural and even geographic spheres aren’t mere ‘contacts’; they’re each unique and interesting to them in their own way, but among them the Connector instinctively, almost compulsively, spots common interests and brings individuals together not with any expectation of personal benefit, but for the pleasure of, well, connecting people. Everybody wins.
Not everyone’s a natural Connector - indeed, very few people are - but I do think we could all try, even if only a little, to be moreso. Only connect, to paraphrase E.M. Forster (not Victoria Coren Mitchell, as my fiancé adorably thought), and all shall be exalted.