Big Men for a big world

Posted by on Aug 6, 2009 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments


Pic c/o Infobrasil

A really delightful last day in SF today (not just time with the awesome Craig Newmark of Craigslist and lunch with the ever stimulating Mark Lewis), but kicked off by breakfast with someone I've emailed but never met before, Mike O'Brien.

Of these, I guess many readers will know Mike least but you shouldn't: he's one of the world's leading anthropologists and an expert in social learning (one of our species' core skills as I'm sure you've heard before ). Also, as I discovered today, he effectively invented that behaviour cascade modelling which Duncan et al use to understand how things spread through populations.  And he's a really nice fella, too.

But here's the thing: over a very pleasant breakfast in the Cafe de la Presse (my new home from home in SF, it turns out), he gently pointed me to our obsession with Big Men in our thinking about social phenomena and social influence – the chiefs, the warriors, the warlords, the experts, and…oh, yes…the Influentials. 

Made me think of Alex's recent observation that while most evolutionary anthropologists (being male) had taken the Machiavelli hypothesis to explain the growth in human brain size relative to our cousins (i.e. that our brains evolved for understanding and plotting power and prestige advantages for our super social ape), Sarah Hrdy points to thereproductive advantages of being (uniquely among apes) an alloparenting/parented species (that is where more than mother/father protect, nurture and provide for infants) which would require a huge brain for social interaction from birth.

The Big Man thing is big amongst the men. Go figure!

So next time you leap on an influentials strategy ask yourself are you just falling in with the boys or are things really working that way…?


  1. John Dodds
    August 6, 2009

    Does this leads to presentations that only cite male influences and examples?

  2. Mark Earls
    August 11, 2009

    Oh, no! I’ve done it again…