Communicators: 2 * Three Types of People

In mathematics and sociology a small-world network is a system in which all agents can be reached from every other agent with only a small number of steps through the network, despite most of them not being direct neighbors of each other. An organization is such a small-world network. Everyone knows everyone, either directly or indirectly, through one or two other persons (quite often a secretary, office manager, or janitor). But interestingly enough, the whole population on Earth is also a small-world network. This has been argued using the famous concept of six degrees of separation, which says that everyone on this planet is at most six social steps removed from each other.

Social network analysis is a branch of network theory dealing with social networks and how information flows through them. Karen Stephenson, a “corporate anthropologist,” identifies three archetypes of communicators in a social network:

  • Hubs are people who draw information to themselves and then broadcast it all around them;
  • Gatekeepers are experts at carefully managing information flows, knowing what to say to whom, and what not;
  • Pulsetakers are great observers of people and trends, making excellent mentors and coaches.

Stephenson writes that “Hubs know the most people; Gatekeepers know the right people; and Pulsetakers know the most people who know the right people.”

In his bestselling book The Tipping Point Malcolm Gladwell offers another categorization of people in social networks:

  • Connectors exchange information with many people, but don’t share deep relationships with them;
  • Mavens know fewer people, but they tend to invest more time in them and know them better;
  • Salesmen are masters of interpersonal communication, getting messages across where others can’t.

Stephenson claims that Gladwell’s three types of people are different combinations of her own archetypes. And maybe she’s right. But I believe that, whichever model one uses, a categorization of only three kinds of people is a too simplistic approach. Based on our earlier observation of what communication really means, with signals traveling from one mind to another, and overcoming many obstacles on the way, I want to offer an alternative.

But I will tell you more about that in the next blog post…

(figure by jimmybrown)

This article will be part of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. You can follow its progress here.

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  • Joshua Letourneau

    Jurgen, good post . . . however, I believe that you may not understand Dr. Karen Stephenson’s theory on Network Archetypes.
    This is what I mean: Malcom Gladwell (in “The Tipping Point”) spoke to network archetypes as they relate to creating *mass-change*. He wasn’t listing all Human Beings into one of 3 categories alone.
    Likewise, Dr. Karen Stephenson is not doing that, either. It’s important to keep in mind that she is speaking to common network archetypes that arise in every Human Network when evaluated through a SNA (Social Network Analysis). . . just as you understand that humanity is a series of Small-World Networks (Watts-Strogatz). Through the math, we identify the crucial individuals in a Human Network (or series of Human Networks) through their network position. This is NOT subjective, while Malcom Gladwell’s characterizations are.
    When we evaluate all Human Networks through SNA, we identify these critical Network Archetypes mathematically (different individuals have varying algorithms, however they’re largely the product of Linton Freeman). In doing so, it’s worth noting that SNA is not the be-all, end-all . . . however illumination of Informal Networks is important because without being aware of them (and those individuals within them that hold critical roles), we are largely operating “in the blind” (i.e. relying in intuition, which is largely limited by our Network Horizon, or our 2nd degree).
    In closing, it’s worth noting that SNA shows these Network Archetypes – they are not an attempt to put all Human Beings into one of three buckets.
    Feel free to come check us out (and Karen’s work) at Thanks!!!
    – Josh Letourneau
    Director, Client Engagement & Solutions Delivery

  • Jurgen Appelo

    Thanks for your input!
    I will further review your work and try to incorporate some of your conclusions in my writings.

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