With the Fourth of July holiday upon us, it’s a great time to remember America’s founders and how they are still relevant today. Last year I wrote about George Washington’s use of intelligence to gain the upper hand and outmaneuver a vastly better-armed and -supplied British Army. But America’s independence wasn’t just won through smart military action; it was also a war of ideas in which a few key people effectively communicated and rallied colonist support for a revolution based on new republican philosophies and ideals.

Brilliant intellectuals and writers such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine were at the forefront of putting quill to parchment and explaining why America should rule itself. But it is not to enough develop ideas and theories; people need to communicate and spread those messages. People like Paul Revere were the type who could make an idea spread like wildfire. Well before he jumped on his horse on April 18, 1775, to spread an alert that British forces were on their way to Concord, Massachusetts, Revere was known for being knowledgeable about important matters of his day, having a vast network of professional and personal connections and being able to effectively communicate a message. In other words, he had the ability to convey an idea or message quickly and effectively. This ability is just as important to businesses today, especially those in the security and corporate investigations field, such as Hillard Heintze.

Revere: Connector, Maven and Salesman

I recently re-read Malcom Gladwell’s bestseller Tipping Point, in which he described how “ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.” That is, just like a virus can start with “patient zero” and quickly spread into an outbreak, ideas, trends and social behaviors can go from a small group and spread very quickly to become a “cultural epidemic” or major trend. Gladwell explains that one of the main ways a new idea or trend starts is through what he calls the “law of the few.” Gladwell says that, “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.” Gladwell refers to these people as connectors, mavens and salesmen and he describes Revere as both a great connector and maven, while I see him as a great salesman also. Generally speaking, Gladwell describes these groups in the following way:

  • Connectors know large numbers of people and make introductions and connect other people as a matter of habit. Connectors “link us up with the world” and are “people with a special gift for bringing the world together,” according to Gladwell. Connectors have huge social networks of hundreds of people they know or can leverage to facilitate the growth of an idea.
  • Mavens are “information specialists” and “people we rely upon to connect us with new information.” According to Gladwell, Mavens can start “word-of-mouth epidemics” because they have a deep understanding of important issues.
  • Salesmen are charismatic and have great negotiation skills and make people want to agree with them. Although they can be seen sometimes as pushing an agenda purely for profit, a good salesperson will understand your needs and help deliver you the right solution.

Although Revere is famous for his midnight ride to warn his fellow American colonists that “the British are coming” on their way to capture and destroy colonial supplies in Concord and Lexington, he was much more than a messenger on a horse. Revere was a prominent silversmith and businessman, and one of the most well-connected men in Boston. He belonged to dozens of professional and social organizations – giving him connections to hundreds of people – and he was known to be an effective communicator.

Gladwell claims that is why Revere’s ride was so effective in mustering American minutemen at Concord while another messenger that night, William Dawes, was far less effective. According to accounts of Revere’s ride, his message was taken seriously and spread very quickly because he was so well respected for being knowledgeable (maven); he knew exactly the right people to pass his urgent message to and where they lived (connector); and could effectively communicate his message (salesman) in each town he passed through. Dawes, on the other hand, had very little knowledge of the towns in which he rode, was not well known among the right people and was not a particularly effective communicator. As a result, his warnings were largely ignored and his message did not spread.

Revere’s Ride Is a Relevant Lesson

As mentioned above, Revere’s ability to take an important message and spread it quickly and effectively resonates with the team at Hillard Heintze. In our daily work, we know that clients need trustworthy information quickly in critical situations and that they need it communicated in a clear and concise way, just like Revere did on a late night ride in April 1775.

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