Malcolm Gladwell has talked about Bill Gates, Blue’s Clues and spaghetti in the same sentence, but I’ve never heard him talk about nonprofit boards. Nonetheless, I think he has a lot to share about building great boards.

If you don’t know Malcolm Gladwell, you should.  As a New Yorker writer and prolific author, Malcolm has an incomparable gift for interpreting new ideas in the social sciences and making them understandable, practical and valuable.  In the Tipping Point (my favorite all-time book, behind The Lorax and Pride and Prejudice), he explains social change, referring to them as “epidemics”, through stories of Paul Revere and Sesame Street.

But, again, the question is what can we learn about our boards?

Malcolm introduces us to the Connector. We’re all looking for the next impassioned philanthropist, but Malcolm suggests any great change requires a Connector, someone who knows a lot of people.  A lot of people!

"Connectors are the kinds of people who know everyone.  All of us know someone like this.  But I don't think that we spend a lot of time thinking about the importance of these kinds of people.  I'm not even sure that most of us really believe that the kind of person who knows everyone really knows everyone. But they do."

Following Malcolm’s directions, let’s see if YOU are a Connector and who on your board is a Connector.

Go down the list below and give yourself a point every time you see a surname that is shared by someone you know.  (The definition of "know" here is very broad. It is if you sat down next to that person on a train, you would know their name if they introduced themselves to you, and they would know your name.)

Multiple names count.  If the name is Johnson, in other words, and you know three Johnsons, you get three points.  The idea is that your score on this test should roughly represent how social you are.  It's a simple way of estimating how many friends and acquaintances you have.

In Malcolm’s experience, young adults tend to know about 21. The average for those of us who “get” to celebrate hitting middle age is 41.

"The students were all in their late teens or early twenties, many of them recent immigrants to America, and of middle and lower income.  The average score in that class was 20.96, meaning that the average person in the class knew 21 people with the same last names as the people on my list.  I also gave the test to a group of health educators and academics at a conference in Princeton, New Jersey.  This group were mostly in their forties and fifties, largely white, highly educated-- many had Ph.D.'s-- and wealthy. Their average score was 39.  Then I gave the test to a relatively random sample of my friends and acquaintances, mostly journalists and professionals in their late twenties and thirties.  The average score was 41. But Malcolm points out that the range was huge from a low score of 2 in one of his college classes to a handful over 100 (out of 400 participants). "

The key lesson here, is that we need to actively seek board members with vast connections. They will be our Tipping Point.

My number was 98. What was yours?

Phone Book Names – Malcolm Gladwell Connector Exercise

Algazi, Alvarez, Alpern, Ametrano, Andrews, Aran, Arnstein, Ashford, Bailey, Ballout, Bamberger, Baptista, Barr, Barrows, Baskerville, Bassiri, Bell, Bokgese, Brandao, Bravo, Brooke, Brightman, Billy, Blau, Bohen, Bohn, Borsuk, Brendle, Butler, Calle, Cantwell, Carrell, Chinlund, Cirker, Cohen, Collas, Couch, Callegher, Calcaterra, Cook, Carey, Cassell, Chen, Chung, Clarke, Cohn, Carton, Crowley, Curbelo, Dellamanna, Diaz, Dirar, Duncan, Dagostino, Delakas, Dillon, Donaghey, Daly, Dawson, Edery, Ellis, Elliott, Eastman, Easton, Famous, Fermin, Fialco, Finklestein, Farber, Falkin, Feinman, Friedman, Gardner, Gelpi, Glascock, Grandfield, Greenbaum, Greenwood, Gruber, Garil, Goff, Gladwell, Greenup, Gannon, Ganshaw, Garcia, Gennis, Gerard, Gericke, Gilbert, Glassman, Glazer, Gomendio, Gonzalez, Greenstein, Guglielmo, Gurman, Haberkorn, Hoskins, Hussein, Hamm, Hardwick, Harrell, Hauptman, Hawkins, Henderson, Hayman, Hibara, Hehmann, Herbst, Hedges, Hogan, Hoffman, Horowitz, Hsu, Huber, Ikiz, Jaroschy, Johann, Jacobs, Jara, Johnson, Kassel, Keegan, Kuroda, Kavanau, Keller, Kevill, Kiew, Kimbrough, Kline, Kossoff, Kotzitzky, Kahn, Kiesler, Kosser, Korte, Leibowitz, Lin, Liu, Lowrance, Lundh, Laux, Leifer, Leung, Levine, Leiw, Lockwood, Logrono, Lohnes, Lowet, Laber, Leonardi, Marten, McLean, Michaels, Miranda, Moy, Marin, Muir, Murphy, Marodon, Matos, Mendoza, Muraki, Neck, Needham, Noboa, Null, O'Flynn, O'Neill, Orlowski, Perkins, Pieper, Pierre, Pons, Pruska, Paulino, Popper, Potter, Purpura, Palma, Perez, Portocarrero, Punwasi, Rader, Rankin, Ray, Reyes, Richardson, Ritter, Roos, Rose, Rosenfeld, Roth, Rutherford, Rustin, Ramos, Regan, Reisman, Renkert, Roberts, Rowan, Rene, Rosario, Rothbart, Saperstein, Schoenbrod, Schwed, Sears, Statosky, Sutphen, Sheehy, Silverton, Silverman, Silverstein, Sklar, Slotkin, Speros, Stollman, Sadowski, Schles, Shapiro, Sigdel, Snow, Spencer, Steinkol, Stewart, Stires, Stopnik, Stonehill, Tayss, Tilney, Temple, Torfield, Townsend, Trimpin, Turchin,Villa, Vasillov, Voda, Waring, Weber, Weinstein, Wang, Wegimont, Weed, Weishaus

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