Is a Maven “The Guy”?

Posted: May 20, 2007 at 10:01 am in community, people

Two different commenters have now said that my conception of “The Guy” was what Malcolm Gladwell dubbed a Maven in The Tipping Point. That didn’t feel right to me, so I went back and re-read the “Law of the Few” chapter where Gladwell describes Mavens to see if I could figure out why I thought “The Guy” and the Maven weren’t the same thing.

I feel like the Maven is more of a personality type. Mavens are the kind of people who read Consumer Reports, who compulsively figure out schemes to save money.

Alpert launched into a complicated story of how to make the best use of coupons in renting videos at Blockbuster. Then he stopped himself, as if he realized what he was saying, and burst out laughing. “Look, you can save a whole dollar! In a year’s time I could probably save enough for a whole bottle of wine!”

Mavens love telling you about the deals they have found, and the great products they have discovered. But I don’t think it’s something they limit to one area – they treat everything in their life like this. They’ll tell you about the great deal they got at a hotel or at the grocery store – they are overflowing with information. But it’s a resource to be tapped in a transactional exchange, when I need to know something. When I’m buying a stereo or a car, I might consult a Maven for their input, but then I don’t continue to compulsively check back on the latest prices or the newest releases.

So how does “The Guy” differ? I think anybody can become “The Guy” – it’s not a personality trait. It’s a choice to become the nexus of knowledge on a particular subject.

In one sense, “The Guy” is like the Maven, in that he is the person to whom others go to get a question answered. But I think it’s different in that “The Guy” engenders the formation of a community. It’s not a one-time transaction, but a continuing interaction.

Another difference is that I view “The Guy” as being a leader for their issue and for the associated community. Mavens aren’t really leaders – as Gladwell says, “Mavens are really information brokers, sharing and trading what they know.” They will help you out, but it’s not really about you – it’s about their joy in mastering their domain. Consulting them is like consulting any specialist, whether a database expert or a physicist – they are happy to talk at length about their domain but have no real interests outside of it. Great people to have on your team, but not the people you want in charge.

What’s odd is that being “The Guy” requires an amalgam of all three of Gladwell’s personality types. It takes the domain expertise of the Maven to earn respect, the social wherewithal of the Connector to generate a community in that domain, and the Salesman to convince people of the importance of that domain and community. So there are definite overlaps between what Gladwell is saying and what I’m trying to say. He’s describing the skills which are necessary for something to “tip”, and I’m describing the person who aspires to make that happen. Something like that, at least.

4 Responses to “Is a Maven “The Guy”?”

  1. Seppo Says:

    I don’t know – while I don’t necessarily disagree with your specific points, I think the thing that pointed me initially at the “Maven” comparison is that I didn’t really perceive the “Maven-ness” as relegated to that transactional interaction. I saw it as a state of being.

    In some sense, I think anyone *can* become a Maven, it’s just that some people are biased towards that type of behaviour. I don’t think that “Guy-ness” is any different. Anyone *can* become “The Guy,” but it does take as specific bias to do that naturally – and those people are the ones who become “Guys.” Other people who aren’t biased towards that behaviour don’t.

    re: the Mavens requiring Connector-ness – I think that the way you’ve described “Guy-ness,” people create their social links with them because of their “Guy-ness.” Same with the Mavens – their Maven-ness requires a certain connectibility for the Maven-ness to actually be *useful*. They’re not connectors, but within their relatively limited sphere, they’re known for their Maven-ness.

    Same goes with “Guys.” The connectors are, in some sense, the people that go out and connect – “Guys” and Mavens, on the other hand, are sought out for their specific abilities.

    I dunno – again – I’m not specifically disagreeing with what you’ve said – I just don’t think that what you’ve said really separates “Guys” from Mavens.

    seppo

  2. Eric Says:

    I see what you’re saying. I guess I see being a maven or a connector as more of a personality trait, of which people have varying quantities. All the descriptions Gladwell used of Mavens were of people compelled to seek out deals and the best way to do things in all aspects of their lives. “The Guy” is more a role that people choose to play with regard to a specific issue in a specific ocntext.

    To use the specific example of my time at Signature, I was passionate about the issue of getting the management team to acknowledge the reality of what was happening at the “peon” levels of the company. Everybody in the company, both management and peon, came to talk to me about that issue. I was “The Guy”. But I do not have Gladwell’s Maven personality traits in more than trace quantities on most issues.

    Being “The Guy” involves taking responsibilty for being the spokesperson for an emerging community. It’s a role. People with personality traits of being a Connector or a Maven may be more successful at that role, but those traits aren’t specifically necessary.

    Thanks for continuing to question – articulating this helped me figure out what I meant better.

  3. Seppo Says:

    Hm. I think I see what you’re getting at. I guess my presumption was that the Maven was a more specialized role, simply because people have limited interests. So, even if “Maven-ness” was a personality trait, it’d naturally be limited to what that person was specifically interested in.

    So, for me, I’d consider myself a “Maven” with regard to media – I’m constantly trying to expose people to things I think they’d like, and trying to get them to consume it in the best way possible, whether that’s cheaply, or getting exposed to high-quality stuff, etc.

    I feel the same way about a couple other subjects, but not nearly with the same intensity, simply because my interests in those fields is less intense.

    It seems like the thing you’re trying to distinguish, though, is the formation of a community around a lynchpin – in that case, the distinction between the Maven and the Guy then seems to be the ability of the Guy to foster that sense of community, and then bear responsibility for it.

    The Maven, as you’ve said before, may only be interested in those transactional interactions. Hrm.

    ?

  4. Anca Says:

    I think that the Maven has more in common with the Geek (defined as someone who has a great deal of expertise in a particular area of knowledge, though in the case of the Geek, the knowledge is not considered useful by a large segment of society), than “The Guy”.

    It’s funny – as soon as someone comes up with a way to divide people into groups based on personalities, other people try to figure out what fills the gaps between those types. Perhaps some people are really uncategorizable… Though based on your description, it seems like “The Guy” is a leader precisely because they are able to use the talents of others, be they Mavens, Connectors, or Salespeople, to accomplish a larger goal.

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