Transitions Through Life

Surviving every stage of life.

Malcolm Gladwell's Concept of the Connector Works As a "What's Next Strategy"

Using connectors is a "what's next" strategy that works.

People of all ages have questions about "what's next." Baby boomers have many questions. Can they afford to retire? Where do they want to retire? How to get meaning in their lives? Should they make a career change? Younger individuals question whether they are on the right path. And older people begin to question what they will do in retirement. Whatever the age, there are "what's next" questions.

Justin's story is instructive. He defined himself as a serial entrepreneur. First, he owned a ski resort and sold it to a marketing company; then, he bought a chain of small monthly newspapers. At sixty, he sold the papers at 12 times what he paid for them. He had remarried a younger woman and was now the father of twin boys.

On the first day after his work life ended, his wife went to work, his boys went to school and there he was with his mother-in-law. By day 2 he knew this was not for him. He did not want to buy another business but he had to do something.

He had read Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Difference. He realized that he needed someone to help him figure out his next steps. Gladwell describes connectors as those people who know many worlds and can link people to networks they did not know existed. According to Gladwell there are two kinds of connectors--those who are part of your social circle and those with whom you have "weak ties." Both kinds of connectors can expand one's social horizon.

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Justin had a number of options. He first considered Facebook after seeing the movie, "The Social Network", and knew that there were over 5 million active users. However, he wanted a personal contact. He decided to identify a connector-someone he did not know.

Here's how it worked for Justin. He called a woman who had written career articles for one of his papers. He said, "I need your help. You write about employment. Here I am in need of something. Can you help me find something to do?" She found a volunteer summer job working for a forest ranger. Even though that was a "low level" job compared to what he had done in his life, he worked at it with gusto. At the end of the summer, he called her again saying, "Now What?" She was so impressed with him that she asked him to work for her on a part-time basis. Justin felt as if he had found an angel.

As you consider your next move, consider how you would go about finding a connector. Here are some things to consider:

1. Locate someone you admire. E mail the person explaining what you want. If you know the person, a call suggesting a meeting might be the way to go. Marianne was burned out as a marketing person for a health club. She wanted to do something new. She thought about someone she had heard of-a psychiatrist who was a friend of her mother-in-laws.

2. Be upfront. Explain what you want. If you are exploring a career change, state that. And explain why you selected that person. Marianne contacted the psychiatrist and asked if they could meet for coffee at a place convenient to the psychiatrist's office. They had a wonderful meeting and the psychiatrist told her of an organization that helps adolescents with eating disorders. The connection worked. Marianne got a great job there.

3. After your initial conversation or meeting, request a follow-up conversation. Marianne thanked her connector and keeps in touch by e mail.

Justin and Marianne found new possibilities as a result of finding the right connector. Every contact does not end in an immediate success. Sometimes it takes contacting two or three connectors. It is a "what's next" strategy that can work.

Nancy K. Schlossberg
Author, Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships and Purpose
Copyright 2011

Nancy Schlossberg, Ed.D., is a Professor Emerita at University of Maryland, College Park. She is the author of nine books.

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