James Governor's Monkchips

The rise and rise of the social/digital bridgebuilder

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When he wrote the Tipping Point Malcom Gladwell introduced a new lexicon – ideas spread, he said, through Mavens (those in the know that like to share the fruit), Salespeople (those with the mutant sales gene) and Connectors (those that only need to meet someone once to make them a friend for life). It struck me powerfully at the time- what about people that combined one or more of those characters, how powerful were they, and would they become as agents of change in a digitally connected world where they had tools designed to amplify their natural skills.

Blogging has introduced many maven/salesman/connector mashup people to the world- Scoble is the most obvious example. He may not be the most knowledgeable, or the best salesman, or the most connected guy out there- but as a “treefer” he is pretty damned impressive, and undeniably a powerful influencer. One of the most interesting aspects of Scoble 2.0 (when he was at Microsoft, he is on the 3.0 version now) was the bridge-building role he played. He bridged the outside world to Microsoft, he bridged Web 2.0 to Microsoft, he even bridged ethics to the Corporation in an act of real courage.

Wikipedia defines bridge blogs:

Bridges are more interactive than windows, but less complex than cafés. They’re usually the project of a single blogger, or a small group of authors. Bridge bloggers write for an audience outside their everyday reality – for instance, when Ory Okolloh writes about corruption in Kenya, reaching family at home and readers at Harvard, she is bridge blogging.

Scoble helped to make Microsoft some more human again. He is not alone. We have an artist of the porous membrane in Hugh.


Never mind objects of sociability, I am talking about people of digitally enhanced sociability, people that know how to work ambient intimacy and have enough domain knowledge to really make it count.

When Andy Piper from IBM asked for help today with a new strapline it seemed natural to suggest he call himself a bridge-builder. Why so? For me the incredible thing about Andy and his role at IBM is that he lives in two, at first glance mutually exclusive worlds. One week he is going to some cool Web 2.0 conference, the next three weeks he is up in Edinburgh at a customer site configuring a high end IBM Unix server to deploy a WebSphere Message Broker-based integration architecture. Andy is not a specialist, he is a synthesiser.

Social bridge-builders. All great brands should have them. I see Thomas Otter (SAP Human Resources meets Flob and the ecosystem) and Craig Cmehil (“next time I go first to the community“).

At SAP Tech Ed last week Marilyn Pratt asked us to run a session about the geek suit divide, which prevents organisations from successfully innovating. There is a new book called The Geek Gap which talks to the geek suit divide.

The world needs bridge-builders. People that can span development and design, design and build, build and market. Sometimes the spanning role is internal, rather than external. Check Irving WB.

Specialism is a good thing, but its not the only thing. Do you know any good bridge-builders? If you don’t, find some and hire them.

picture courtesy of paul_everett82.
IBM and SAP are clients.


  1. I think as people move out if the office more and more to earn their income this technology will become more important.

    In 15 to 20 years I think about half if not more will work outside the office, movile work force. This technology is how they’ll keep connected, get work done, make new contacts. Its here to stay with some morphing along the way.

  2. As a geek in a suit, I’m not sure where the divide is … maybe I’ve already been “andypipered”.

  3. Ric- i mostly see you in a t-shirt mate. a redmonk t-shirt.

  4. Bridgebuilding is a powerful new role enabled by the web.

    Consider another new aspect of the web as it relates to tipping points. Gladwell’s connectors, mavens, and salesmen refer to people traditionally, but in the Web 2.0, these functions may also be performed by entire groups.

    For example, Social Networks can serve in the role of Connector if properly utilized. A well-recognized blog run by a group is as powerful as any maven. And the groundswell a popular meme encourages fulfills the role of Salesman.

    More on my blog:


  5. James, I had meant to write about this when I read one of your previous posts on this subject (http://redmonk.com/jgovernor/2007/03/04/knowledge-workers-as-switchboard-operators/)

    I think the “connector” notion is spot on. I’d strongly recommend Rainbow’s End by Vernor Vinge. In this novel, Vinge depicts the future extrapolating from the very technologies/concepts of today. In the book, characters are in a school, learning skills of the age and what he describes (IMHO) is very much inline with your connector concept. It looks like in the future we all will have to learn to be more like you 🙂



  6. Bob – great point. i think I was edging towards that. The truth is tipping points have always been somewhat community-based. its kids in the east village wearing plain black hush puppies, not kid singular. While mavens, connectors and salemen are individuals, Tipping points only make sense in a community context.

    Berkay – thanks. You’re doing a better job of remembering my stuff than i am, which kind of confirms the point above. And as for “more like me” – why shucks. I better get Rainbow’s End

  7. I actually do a good line in t-shirts – 1 Redmonk, 2 gapingvoid and 1 Occasionals (Jeffrey Walker’s “occasional” musical outing) … but it’s a suit and tie most days I get paid for geekery!

    As for the rest of the discussion – I think “connector” is a more powerful concept than “bridge-builder”. It carries the same idea, but more networked and omni-directional, where a bridge seems limited to connecting two sides rather than many.

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