A very dear friend of mine – let’s call him Jake – is a fanatic when it comes to cars. He is an expert on cars. His knowledge and insight is brilliant. He loves cars. He gets seduced by them. He reads about them. He researches them. He gets passionate when they come up for discussion. He probably dreams about them too. He has all episodes of Top Gear recorded twice – just in case he loses one of them. Associate a car with any activity and he will be game for it, no matter how disinterested he is with the activity itself.
Someone asked me if he also loves dogs too. Somehow, the guys who love cars tend to love dogs too. Well, I think he probably does – provided its a dog with a car.
But there is something else about Jake that differentiates him from other car fanatics. And it is certainly not dogs. Jake is not just an expert on cars. He wants to share his expertise too. He loves to help others with their car hunt. He is always ready to go on a car inspection. He will take your car to the workshop too. He can actually hold a half-hour conversation about cars with someone whom he hates otherwise. He expects nothing – absolutely nothing – in return for sharing his car expertise.
Jake is a car maven. Not a consultant. Not an advisor. Not the middle man for car sales. A car maven. A maven is an expert on a subject who has an extreme intrinsic desire to help others related to it. Jake just does not know about cars. He loves to help others about them as well. That is what differentiates him from other car experts.
Mavens are critically important people in our lives – both personal and professional. Malcom Gladwell’s Tipping Point describes mavens as one of the main components in an idea, trend or message to gain widespread adoption. Mavens are the early adopters, the innovators – folks who would be the first to try a new service and hence get the epidemic started. They pre-order a new product, stand in line outside Apple store all night to be the first ones to buy a new iPhone 5 and are the first ones to test drive a new car. They are targeted by the marketing and business development people to adopt a new idea or product and to get its widespread adoption started.
So why should we leverage the mavens?
- Well, they are experts in their areas and are willing – even overly willing – to help us in anyway we want.
- They can be the ideal folks for trying out new ideas or products. They can be the earliest adopters, don’t need much convincing to use it and their feedback is immensely useful.
Personally, we can explicitly identify mavens around us in people we know. The food connoisseur. The car expert. The dog fanatic. The enthusiastic graphics designer. The guy who knows all the deals in the town. The movies go-to guy. The baseball data house. The computer geek. When you go to them for help, they will make it their problem.
Professionally, an organization, specially a knowledge based organization, can identify mavens within its boundaries. This can be more difficult than us identifying mavens in our personal lives. We know our friends and family better than organizations know their employees outside their jobs. And typically the maven expertise area is not in their job descriptions. But its doable. Knowledge organizations are more about relationships and strong networks than a production unit where Taylorism ensures everyone does exactly what they are supposed to do and kill any deviations. It should be easier to identify mavens through the team building activities or managers doing their regular One-on-Ones with their reports and skips.
It makes sense for us personally to be engaged with mavens. They can help us when we are buying a new car or when our dog gets a cough. But what benefits an organization gets from them? Well, the organization’s capacity to do effective work increases. Knowledge organizations, where employees are involved in creative work with vague boundaries, mavens can add great value in their area of ‘expertise’. Mavens have a storehouse of useful knowledge and seemingly infinite capacity to share that. This can help a project in trouble or a new initiative. It can be help in selecting a project management tool, improving the graphic design of the corporate internal network, optimizing the way the organization manages its documentation or help in organizing outdoor team building activities. More importantly, it keeps mavens engaged and can potentially help offset any negatives they have with the organization. Done right, this can increase effectiveness in their work and their relationship with others within the organization.
So, who is your dog maven?