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Friday, September 24, 2010


Lois Weisburg ran a drama troupe in Chicago in the 1950s. From there, her love of George Bernard Shaw led her to start publishing a newspaper devoted his work, which became an underground weekly. When that paper went under she got a job doing PR for a rehab program. From there she got work at a public interest law firm and then became so aware of some of the issues facing the community that she began lobbying for Chicago's Parks first, and then for the South Shore Railroad. She worked for the government for a while, then quit and ran a flea market stand. She later went on to become the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs for the city of Chicago. 

Lois Weisburg is one of my new personal heroes. That synopsis of her life is wildly abbreviated. When I am in my 80s, I want the list of things I've done to look like that. I want to start now.

In The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell discusses the way social epidemics (trends in consumerism, fashion, and other aspects of pop culture) come into existence. Along the way he touches upon the critical involvement of three categories of people: Mavens, Salesmen and Connectors.

Connectors know a lot of people. They have "an extraordinary knack of making friends and acquaintances." *
But, Malcolm points out, Connectors are important because of the may different types of people they know. They do not , for example, just know hundreds of people who do what they do, but they have contacts in many different areas of specialty and niche, and can connect them with great results. As he puts it "by having a foot in so many different worlds, they have the effect of bringing them all together."**

 He goes on to point out that "weak ties," or acquaintances,  (as opposed to close friends), are more important when it comes to networking and connecting. This was shown in a study by sociologist Mark Granovetter in 1974 called Getting a Job. The reason is, as Gladwell explains, your acquaintances are likely to know people that you don't know, whereas your close friends occupy the same world that you do.

Connectors are important in the spread of social epidemics, professional networking, and - as seen in Weisburg's work - community change.

The Tipping Point was published in 2002, which predates online social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. These sites are in and of themselves a social epidemic (why not orkut?). But, besides that, with the ease of "friending"  and "following" so many different people, I suspect that many people may find themselves in the position of being a Connector who otherwise wouldn't have been.***

Regardless, I do believe there are many Connectors out there who would be doing their thing with or without social media technology.

I consider myself a Connector. I have many friends whom I recognize as Connectors. The whole "extraordinary knack of making friends..." thing comes easily to most performers. Plus most performers who also have a day job have the advantage of a foot in at least two different worlds right there.  The more odd jobs we do to pay rent, and more strange gigs we take on in the name of love of our craft, the more worlds we can be a bridge to.

Lois Weisburg, Gladwell says, is a "classic connector," because she lived in so many worlds and brought them together. That was the key not only to her success, but to the success of every program and project she launched.
I wonder if, when The Paper went under, did Weisburg stress and angst over whether to start another newspaper or whether to just go for the PR job? Or did the decision come easily to her, the obvious next step?

I have a lot of trouble sometimes deciding whether to identify as a performer or a healthcare worker. But my strength comes from involvement in both these two worlds, as well as the many others I dabble in and visit.

My ability to make and keep connections, and to share connections with others has yielded some wonderful collaborations in my life so far. Modest collaborations, for sure, but the patterns are heartening nonetheless.
 I hope to create positive social change by utilizing the energy and power of the multiple worlds I live in, instead of feeling pressured to fit myself into one career path at the moment. With the right forces behind me, maybe I can follow in the meandering footsteps of Lois Weisburg.

And in the meantime, you and I should get a cup of coffee. Text me later.

*The Tipping Point,  page 40
** The Tipping Point page 51; also... you have to have a LOT of feet to be an awesome Connector.
*** Likewise websites like give a voice to people who otherwise would not have become Salesmen. And shouldn't have.

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