Little Miss Popular Connects Us To The World

Do I have a “particular and rare set of social gifts”? Does anyone I know? These were the questions I was asking myself as I was reading through my latest book.

I am just coming to the end of my third book in as many days and this one has proved to be a real thinker. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is a thought provoking 259 pages full of psychological studies, sociological experiments, reports, surveys and expert opinions. It uses case studies and detailed analysis to expertly convey the authors argument which is that at a certain point, a certain number, ideas and/or trends move from relatively small to incredibly popular. Something tips them over the edge and the support for the ideas and/or trends spirals into whirlwinds of popularity and success.

One of the early chapters is entitled The Law of The Few and discusses the very special people within society that have this “rare set of social gifts” Gladwell speaks of, he calls these people, Connectors. This gift is that, as the name suggests, they are able to connect people. They exist in numerous different worlds, and circles, and when something rapidly gains popularity or success, it inevitably, and predominantly, travels through these people.

The concept of six degrees of separation is fairly common nowadays, this is the idea that through six people you are able to connect with anyone in the world. For example if I wanted to connect with Barrack Obama I would speak to one of my friends, my friend has a contact in journalism, the journalism contact knew a media representative in America, this media representative regularly spoke with American political figures, and these political figures come in to daily contact with Obama. Simple.

Gladwell expands on this idea somewhat and says that not all the links in the chain are the same, within the six degrees of separation, not all the degrees are equal. He states that “six degrees of separation doesn’t mean everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few”.

Gladwell then invites us to explore his theory, and that is precisely what I am going to do now.
If you have the time, I encourage you to do the same.

He states that “suppose that you made a list of the forty people whom you would call your circle of friends (not including family or co-workers) and in each case worked backward until you could identify the person who is ultimately responsible for setting in motion the series of connections that led to that friendship”. If his theory holds true then once this process has been done and once all the connections have been made “you will find the same names coming up again and again”.

Let’s put it to the test…
After the first round nothing really conclusive came of it to be honest. The large majority of my forty I met myself and we introduced ourselves to each other. That occurred eighteen times out of the forty people. Does this mean that perhaps I am a Connector? Or could it just mean that I am unsociable and only make friends and connections through myself. Let’s try again, but this time excluding those people whom I met myself…
Second time around, the names that keep appearing are Ben (5/40), Conrad (4/40) and Nadia (4/40) followed by various other personnel on two or three.

In his book Gladwell has a friend named Jacob that is responsible for thirty out of the forty connections he has. This is not the case with me, and it appears I do not fit into the Connectors theory (unless of course I am one, which I highly doubt seeing as I am so unsociable). For Gladwell Connectors are people that know everyone, and luckily he provides another exercise for those who believe they may be Connectors. (This then is the part whereby I am exposed as a nobody). Find a list of 250 names, I am using this site, go through the list and every time you see a name which belongs to someone you know, give yourself a point. (Note that this site is a site of the most popular names, therefore I do not recommend using any of the top 500 names. They are just too popular. Your results will not be accurate). You can get multiple points for one name, say if you know three Williams’ for example. “Know” is taken loosely, it is defined as if they were to sit beside you, you would know their name.

Am I a Connector? If I am then I should score 90+ on this exercise.
Here goes…
A pathetically mediocre 27. It was fun whilst it lasted. I guess that proves that I am not a Connector and I do not possess that “rare set of social gifts”. My own friends, and the connections I have, don’t appear to follow Gladwell’s theory, as most of my friendships have come about because of my own doing, rather than being introduced by a friend. Maybe I need more time to connect with more people as right now, a large number of my connections are still college and uni based. Gladwell notes in his book that students, on average scored 21, older academics scored 39, and professional friends of his, mostly journalists, scored an average of 41. With that being said, I have not deviated from the norm and it seems, that in fact, I fit into the studies findings quite well.

In a few years time it would be interesting to come back to this, and see if anything has changed. For now though, I can conclude that I am not a Connector, and I can go to bed safe in the knowledge that I will not break from my cocoon any time soon. Paddy Vipond the social butterfly? Not just yet.


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