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.