"How little things can make a big difference." This is the subtitle to the clever new bestseller across the Atlantic, The Tipping Point. Its author, Malcolm Gladwell, finds that behind phenomena such as the fall in crime in New York City in the 1980s, or the American colonists' stand against the British in 1776, one small but significant factor played a key role. Repairing broken windows in the worst neighbourhoods of the big apple; Paul Revere riding through the night to warn fellow colonists of British plans to march on the town of Lexington: these events unleashed great unstoppable forces that changed a nation.
It is when he explains the impact of Revere, the American icon, that Gladwell really gets you hooked. In a gimmick designed to ensure newspaper excerpts and chat-show appearances, Gladwell sets up three key categories of people: the connectors, the salesmen and the mavens. The game of fitting today's movers and shakers into these pigeon-holes proves irresistible - especially when you realise that Britain has elected a salesman as Prime Minister, but would be better off with a maven.
Connectors are the Ruthie and Richard Rogerses of this world: people who know people and take pleasure in getting them together, fixing and matching them, and often, as a result, facilitating their progress through life.
The salesmen are the Tony Blairs of this world, charismatic personalities who know just how to pitch their message and bamboozle their audience into buying anything from them. Salesmen rely on eloquence, but above all "emotional contagion", to manipulate us. They are transparently expressive people who can communicate through smiles, tear-filled eyes and voice level, their faith in a better tomorrow, sorrow at Princess Diana's death, and determination to step into the Kosovo conflict.
Finally, we come to the mavens (from the Yiddish for one who accumulates knowledge). They are the experts and know-it-alls who manage not to be odious by being so eager to help YOU. The mavens spend their lives behind their desks, crunching figures and studying graphs, and basically doing the homework for the rest of us. When they eventually emerge from their office, it is with a eureka idea to help the community - new deal, parental leave, working families tax credit, increased duty on cigarettes and petrol. You often don't like their message, yet you can't help but warm to the mavens, who so obviously want to share their knowledge and help you lead a better life. The maven is your ally - though he's too bookish to be a mate; he is the unsung hero who will test products to see if their manufacturing claims are true, or work out the sums to see if we're being overcharged. The perfect maven is, yes, you guessed it, Gordon Brown. Part nerd, part martyr, wholly selfless, the Chancellor will do the paperwork that allows the rest of his party to look good - he will put in the hours to find us a short cut to a better job, a better wage, a better family life. The beauty of the maven is that he would never regard his role as unrewarding or those who benefit from his hard work as ungrateful. He just can't help himself: he is genuinely anxious to share his expertise in everything from the Bank of England to the advantages of the euro.
The maven is content to be a supporting player - thank goodness, because traditionally it is the salesman - all charisma and me-me-me - who's the star. And yet, take a look at the features pages of any newspaper, or the shelves in any bookstore, and you'll find rivers of words dedicated to self-help. We're eager, it would seem, to be told how to be and what to do, how best to use our time and spend our time. We buy up any guide or handbook that promises us a lesson in lifestyle - whether it be eating organic or yoga meditation. We are looking for someone who's done the graft, broken in the shoes, and is ready to point the way.
Could it be, then, that this is the time of the maven?