Building a Collaboration Circle


What your network should look like in a few years…

As you are business networking and meet many people, there are very rare individuals you will want to keep an eye out for.  If you can learn to spot them, you will definitely want them in your weak link circle.  If you see them in the future as a strong connection, you may want to invest time to make them part of your inner strong link circle. 

They will be master and expert networkers, rare personalities. As you meet them, you will find yourself naturally drawn to them want to cultivate a friendship. 

Here are the types of people you will be meeting:


It is no secret that most of us know about 250 people.  Connectors are a little different as they may know thousands and sometimes tens of thousands.  They are usually very people oriented.  A Connector loves to get to know you and learn about how you tick.  Their secret passion is also working as a kind of networking matchmaker.  They love to connect people together.

Connectors can actually know and maintain relationships with 1,000 people or more.  Some connector networks exceed 10,000 people, many more than the average of 250.  The true Connector is an outlier.

In his book “Tipping Point”, Malcom Gladwell talks about Paul Revere as a major connector.  He loved spending time the pub getting to know everyone.  In his ride, the reason Paul was so successful was because everyone knew him.  Imagine being woken up in the middle of the night by ruckus in the town square.  Now you are angry about some drunk waking everyone up.  So you look out the window to throw a boot or something.  Looking out the window you see Paul Revere.  You and he had been drinking at the pub a few weeks ago.  Paul was talking about British.  Suddenly you realize that he’s calling for the minute men to get organized. 

There were multiple riders that night, but Paul may have been the most successful.  According to the legends, Paul already had thousands of relationships in the colonies.  Everyone liked and trusted him.  This is what it means to be a Connector.


People can get confused trying to recognize a Rainmaker vs. a Connector.  The Rainmaker has a special talent most people don’t have.  Rainmakers have the ability to build almost instant rapport and trust.  The Rainmaker doesn’t do this by getting to know you as a person the way a connector does.  Instead they are very good at building consensus for the purpose of execution.  In a 30-minute meeting, the Rainmaker can build more trust than the average person builds in a year. 

In his book, Gladwell uses the term "Salesperson" to describe the Rainmaker.  I believe this term carries too much baggage and negativity as many will immediately have a used car salesperson come to mind. Most Rainmakers have three areas of focus: solving a problem, building consensus and execution.  

Subject Matter Experts (SME) and Mavens

The Subject Matter Expert or Maven is very different than the Connector or Rainmaker.  I remember my career counselor telling me that people focus their lives on three separate areas: People, Things and Ideas.  The Connector’s may have two focuses but the central focus is: People.  My career counselor would probably say that a Maven also spend their time focused ideas. Not just one idea, many ideas. 

There are Mavens who are experts on any topic you can imagine including medicine, engineering and social science.  A Maven will most likely become an expert in many areas.  Einstein was an example of a Maven. 

Einstein spent many years in a patent office learning about the latest advancements.  At the same time, he was investigating light, gravity, mathematics and many other topics.  Other physicists, engineers, scientists and even business leaders came to him for advice.  Advice on topics outside his core learning and training. 

This ability in Mavens can be seen when you give them a new topic or set of topics, they gain new insights.  The Maven will see the connections between topics others have not yet seen.

If you need to know something or figure out something…, ask a Maven. 

As I’ve mentioned these personality types are rare, but not impossible to find.  As Malcom Gladwell discusses outliers in his book by the same name "Outliers", he describes how if you measure the ability of 1,000 people, most fall into a bell curve.  For example, the average person knows and maintains relationships with about 250 people.  Since we know this is an average, some people will know less and others more.  The bell curve shows a majority of the people known in the middle of the curve.


Rainmakers build trusted relationship in minutes which takes an average person years. Mavens probably reads hundreds of books per year versus the average of four books per year. Some connector networks exceed 10,000 people, many more than the average of 250.

Be on the lookout for…

So what about you?  Are you a Connector, Rainmaker or Maven?  In his book Tipping Point, Gladwell discusses how something small can cause something big to happen.  If you want to make something big happen, you need two of these three of these outliers in your network and future collaboration.  If you want something big to happen, business growth, charity event, research project, you will need at least two of the three on your team. As you are networking, look for these personalities and hang on to their business card.

How to identify Connectors, Rainmakers & Mavens

Here are some Identifiers of a Connector:

  1. The Connector will probably be asking questions about you. 
  2. Do they seem to know most of the people in the room?
  3. Can they answer questions about other people in the room?
  4. Do you see their eyes light up when,
    1. Learning about people?
    2. They have made a good introduction?
  5. Will they make an introduction to someone you don’t know?
    1. Will they give you background on that person?
    2. Does that person seem to smile at the connector when they introduce you?
  6. Do the people you are introduced to by the connector,
    1. Ask how you know the Connector?
    2. Have a story about the Connector?
    3. Have a referral story about the Connector?
  7. Tell you that, “Anyone <Connector’s name> suggest I meet, I want to meet"?
  8. Does the Connector appreciate being introduced to other people?

If this sounds like who you are talking to, you are probably talking to a Connector.

Here are some Identifiers of a Rainmaker:

The Rainmaker will quickly become your best friend.  They won’t waste a lot of time in conversation. 

  1. Do you feel like you’ve just made a great friend within the first five minutes?
  2. Does the person know everyone in the room?
  3. Does the person discuss your opinion on projects they are working on?
  4. Does the Rainmaker ask questions about what you need?
  5. Does the Rainmaker ask you about people in the room that you might know?
  6. Does this person appear to be a go-getter?
  7. When leaving the conversation, do you really like the person?

If you can answer yes to these questions, you may have been talking to a Rainmaker.  Keep this person’s business card, especially if you need something difficult done and done well.

Here are some Identifiers of a Maven:

A Maven may or may not be talking with people.  A Maven’s conversations will be interesting and may be inclined to be instructive.

  1. Do you feel like you met someone knowledgeable?
  2. Does this person relate to complex problems?
  3. Is this person a good teacher?
  4. Does this person answer questions with thought and expertise?
  5. Is this person friendly and open to sharing information?
  6. Is this person a little intense and/or do they ask deeper questions?

Keep this person’s card for when you need information or expertise on a project or opportunity.  The Maven is also a good person to refer to others in your network who have a complex problem.

With this new information, you should be able to identify the special individuals who are outliers and valuable to any business network.  As you spot them, you will consider whether to add them to your weak link circle or your inner strong link circle.  

Instead of relying on random luck, stay alert and build a collaboration circle of quality.

Topics: Business Development Business Networking Executive Outlier Building a Professional Network Referrals