Sunday, August 28, 2011

Outsourced Brainpower: An Untapped Resource for Opinion Molders

     Common sense incorrectly suggests that we should always think for ourselves. Actually, we often outsource brainpower for valid reasons, usually to friends, spouses, and other family members.
     Let’s say your teenage son is fascinated with computers, and you’re just barely computer savvy enough to be reading this article. Of course, you’re going to direct computer questions to your son, but there’s more to it than that. Your son knows that you expect him to know, so he’s more motivated to learn. In fact, each family member outsources some of his brainpower to other family members.
     In a recent study, married couples competed with paired individuals who didn’t know each other, in a Jeopardy-style contest. Consistently, the married couples scored significantly higher than the paired strangers. That's because close acquaintances have a tendency to outsource some of their memory and other brainpower to each other.  Each knows what interests the other has, so each outsources responsibility for finding out about those areas to that person.
     Most people rely on brainpower outsourcing when they vote. The good news is, they don't outsource their brainpower to the corporate media.  For people who “don’t have time to keep up with the issues,” as they say, that’s not really a bad strategy because most people who employ that strategy are outsourcing their brainpower to people they know, trust, and respect.
     People like that are called mavens—people who eagerly acquire information and share it with others. Because others recognize political mavens as such, they willingly outsource their political brainpower to them, which, in turn, further encourages them to keep up with the issues. In many cases, these mavens are also connectors: people who seem to know everybody and everybody seems to know them.
     Compare that arrangement to the people who tell you, “Oh, I just wait until the campaign season and listen to each candidate, and I make up my mind based on what each one has to say.”  People like that should stay home on Election Day.
They really should. Most elections are won or lost within a range of three percentage points. A switch of 1.5% of the vote can change the outcome of most elections. At the same time, think of how many people are still undecided when they arrive at the polling place—probably more than 1.5%. That suggests that most elections are decided by shallow, uninformed people who decided how they would vote only on the spur of the moment.
     Is it any surprise, then, that most congressmen are better looking and have more hair than the average people in their age groups? It’s true. Check out “How We Created the Mess in Washington, Part 1.”
     Let’s get back to the mavens to whom people outsource their political brainpower.
     Candidates for public office, as well as political pundits such as I, should take the education of these mavens more seriously. Most people think that the opinion molders are all famous people such as Scott Pelley or people in respected positions, such as ghetto ministers. In a way, they are because the mavens do pay some attention to what those people say. For 80% to 95% of the people, though, the mavens are their most important sources of actionable information.
     The late political strategist Lee Atwater once engineered an election victory in Charlotte, North Carolina, by surveying voters in key areas and asking them which of their acquaintances most influenced them in their voting habits. Then he focused on those very few people, often in underhanded ways.
     Let me stress here that the mavens can be anyone—the mailman, a mechanic, a barber, or even a minimum-wage hamburger flipper at McDonald’s. If you want to go the route of influencing the mavens, keep an open mind as to where you’re likely to find them.
     There’s a touch of irony here. One of the chief arguments against relying on blogs such as this one for your information is that “professional” news sources—simply because they’re “professional”—should be considered more reliable. My counter argument has been that paid witnesses are less reliable than volunteers. Just consider who pays them. [Click here for the inside story of how Fox News withheld life-and-death information on Monsanto, due to advertising pressure.] The mavens who are the subject of this article are a slam dunk. Even before there was an Internet, it was the mavens—not the corporation-paid talking heads—who had the most influence with most people.
     To most effectively influence the mavens, somebody who is more computer savvy than I am will have to identify three types of people in the neighborhoods. According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, those three types of people are mavens, connectors, and salesmen. While you’re at it, read the book. Like most important books, it’s a small book, so it won’t take long to read. I’ve already read it twice, and I’ll probably read it again.
     If we’re serious about taking our country back, we shouldn’t neglect the largest pools of outsourced brainpower and political influence in America. As a resource, they’re virtually untapped. We can change that equation. 
     Here's a parting thought for you: Why do you think that there are very few minorities at Tea Party rallies?  No, it's not because Tea Partiers are racists or because Tea Party issues don't matter to minorities.  It's because it's nothing new to minorities.  They've been lied to, cheated, and stepped on for more than a hundred years, and you haven't seen many white people at their rallies.  The Tea Parties came about because white people have suddenly realized that the same stuff is now happening to white people.
     We're all in the same boat now.  It's time to identify their real opinion molders, as opposed to the talking heads that get interviewed by the corporate media, and start rowing.

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