"The success of any kind of social epidemic is heavily dependent on the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts."

Throughout The Tipping Point, Gladwell crafts an extended metaphor between social and pathogenic epidemics. All epidemics, social or otherwise, need a mode of transmission to spread. Whereas Contagions depend on animals, food, and water to disseminate an illness, the vehicles in the spread of ideas are far more complex. Gladwell's "Law of the Few" explains that a very select group of people is responsible for the "tipping" of almost all social epidemics. These three unique groups of people are special for their incredible abilities to communicate, teach, and persuade.

The Connectors

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Connectors are the rare people who have incredibly widespread "social networks." They are often successful businessmen or politicians, and play an integral role in the spread of ideas. With their wide reaching group of friends and acquaintances, connectors can spread a message rapidly to a receptive audience. Nowhere was the role of connectors more clear than in the midnight ride of Paul Revere.
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Revere was possible the best-connected man in Boston, and when alerted to the impending British attack on the armory at Concord, he was able to alert and arm much of the Boston countryside. Both Revere and William Dawes rode out that night, but Revere was far more effective in delivering his message. In any given town, Revere would know the right doors to knock on, the right people to talk to, and the right message to convey. Dawes, on the other hand, had very little knowledge of these towns, and was not a particularly effective communicator, making his warnings largely ignored. Paul Revere's vast web of acquaintances allowed him to spread the word that the British would soon attack, but he also relied on his knowledge of the current situation, a trait not typically associated with connectors. These two traits made Paul Revere an extraordinary man: he had the communication skills of a connector, and the knowledge of a maven.

The Mavens

Paul Revere was both a connector and a maven: that is, he had a wide social circle and vast knowledge that he wanted to share with them. A maven (originally a Yiddish word) is a connoisseur or expert in a subject. Mavens yearn to share their knowledge, but more importantly, feel a need to learn more about a subject. A maven might be a fashion-forward teenager or a technological wizard. In fact, a maven can be literally anyone with a deep understanding of any given field. What makes mavens so effective is not their persuasiveness (that falls under the real of the salesmen), but their overpowering understanding of a subject. The advice of mavens is often what allows connectors to spread ideas. Without the guidance of mavens, the connectors would rarely have exciting or important messages to share.

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Salesmen are possibly the most easily identifiable group in "The Few." A salesman specializes in the art of persuasion. These are the people who are responsible for advertisements and marketing, and who strive to convince others of "needs" that may or may not exist. Salesmen are masters of The Stickiness Factor, and know how to make ideas and products simpler and more attractive in general. One obvious distinction between salesmen and mavens is that salesmen are far more likely to be paid for their gift, whereas mavens exercise theirs for the simple pleasure of learning and helping others.

If you would like to find out which of "The Few" you are, click here!

Next: The Stickiness Factor >