Monday, August 22, 2005

A Maven, A Collector or a Salesman?

I just started reading Malcolm Gladwell's book, the Tipping Point. Very interesting idea. His thesis is that ideas and trends are like viruses. There is a "tipping point" that takes an everyday idea and pushes it to "epidemic" status. For instance, he tells the story of the revival of Hush Puppies as a fashionista trend in the late 90's/early 00's as attributable to a smallish cadre of SOHO-based individuals who started a craze for the antique shoe style. There was something about THIS idea that tipped it from a local craze to a culture-wide phenomenon.

I am really intrigued by the concept, and the deeper I go into the book, the more fascinated I become. He has spent time so far on HOW people communicate, WHAT sort of people can set off an "idea epidemic" and now I am learning about the "stickiness" of an idea. In other words, he is doing some amazing anthropology on the manner of primate communication in human beings/culture. Using analysis of things like non-verbal cues and historical, statistical references, he is setting up an argument that, once you understand what makes communication/people tick in a given moment...You can set off a trend.

What does that mean to me, a priest in Solebury, PA?

It means I get a chance to reflect back on how Christianity "tipped," both in Bucks County and our parish's locality...And also in how it tipped for the world back in the day. There is something salient and relevant to people's lives that draws them to the Church in a given age. According to this morning's issue of Newsweek, we are in the midst of a church attendance revival. What will make this revival "stick? What is it about this revival that is relevant to those who are already in church?

Newsweek suggests that we are on the lip of a revival, not just in religious interest, but also in traditional interpretations of religion. People are looking for worship that goes beyond the contemporary and touches something "deeper" that they can be fed with in the long run.

Makes me think of the Samaritan woman at the well. When Jesus asks her for something to drink from her jar, promising her water of life that will quench her thirst for ever, she challenges him to deliver. There is something "sticky" in the idea that Jesus can speak, then to now.

Interesting to see where Gladwell takes me as I "lense" him into my perspective as a rector.

He also offers some thoughts on WHO can set off these idea epidemics. There are, he says, personalities that demonstrate a particular affinity to communicating ideas across cultural and affinity lines. There are Mavens, people who collect, process and distribute information. There are Connectors, literally people who know people who know people. There are Salesmen...Enough said!

Each individual has the talent to get and idea out of a local network and take it out into the world. Each idea that "tips" needs some element or catalyst that propels it over the walls of our own narrow perspectives. Once it catches, then wild things happen. Gladwell points to the American Revolution and Paul Revere's ride: Revere, letting people he knew know that the British were coming, created enough of a buzz that Lexington was a victory for the Blues over the Redcoats. Revere was a Connector, knowing many people in many communities. He was a Maven, a collector of knowledge...And that allowed him to hear and know that the gossip of a planned British military incursion into the Massachusetts colony was a reality. Finally, he was a Salesman...Having the necessary charisma and communication skills to get the message across and have it heard. In contrast, his counterpart William Dawes, who also rode that night, had only a fraction of the success.

I wonder where that concept will take us as a parish?

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