Bb World ’06.003: Keynote: Malcolm Gladwell

Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, was our keynote speaker. He shared several entertaining stories of tipping point moments – those moments when someone does something that transforms. The big message was that we’re on the verge of a tipping point with eLearning. We just need someone to come along with a transformational application of systems like Blackboard. It’ll be cheap and will require putting several disparate pieces together that none of us see today, but when it happens it will be transformational.

Not sure I agree here. While most of us would like a transformational embrace of the resources we provide, not all changes are transformational. The academy in particular is slow to embrace change because the current methods of teaching have been adjusted and proven over time.

He focused on Connectors – people who know people from a large number of social circles. Most of us have work circles, home circles and maybe two or three other circles depending on our interests. Connectors have 10 or more circles, and they’re the ones you want to find when you’re trying to get the word out. They know people you don’t, and what’s more important – people know them and listen to them. Paul Revere was a connector – Gladwell highlights him in his book. While Paul Revere rode in one direction to alert the populace, William Dawes rode in the other. Revere’s towns raised the alarm and were ready when the British showed up. Dawes, who didn’t know people the way Revere did, failed to reach the people who would gather the troops, and the British rolled through those towns.

He also explained Mavens – people who know everything (instead of everyone), and who are driven to share the good things they know. Gladwell’s brother is a computer Maven, helping him to buy the right computer so he doesn’t have to understand the world of MHz and GB. Mavens are the ones who keep grocery stores in line. Stores have learned that people buy stuff when you put a “Consistently Low Price!” sign on everything. So what keeps stores from setting high prices and putting “Consistently Low Price!” signs out there? Mavens. Mavens know when a price is low, when a bargain is good or bad, and if you’re not behaving nicely they’ll tell everyone they know.

All in all a pleasant keynote. And I’ll keep thinking about what it is we need to tip eLearning, but I’m not convinced it’s a tip-able thing.

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