“Sometimes, idealistic people are put off by the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in Heaven. To succeed in this world you have to be known to people.”
—SONIA SOTOMAYOR, MY BELOVED WORLD
Mahatma Gandhi mobilized tens of thousands of people to participate in the Salt March in 1930 to protest British rule. It was a walk of more than two hundred miles from Gandhi’s base to the town of Dandi near the sea, where salt was produced from seawater. The narrow purpose of the march was to protest a salt tax. In such a hot climate, salt is essential and is consumed in large quantities, and high salt taxes were particularly symbolic of the hardships imposed on India by the British colonialists. More generally, the Salt March put in motion the acts of civil disobedience that would eventually end British rule.
If you see a parallel to earlier protests of British taxes on its colonies, you are not alone. The Boston Tea Party that protested British taxes more than a century before was not lost on Gandhi. In fact, he stated, “Even as America won its independence through suffering, valour and sacrifice, so shall India, in God’s good time achieve her freedom by suffering, sacrifice and non-violence.” It is said that after the Salt March, at Gandhi’s meeting in London with Lord Irwin (the Viceroy of India), when asked if he wanted sugar or cream for his tea, Gandhi replied that no, he preferred salt “to remind us of the famous Boston tea party."
The Salt March offered just a glimpse of what Gandhi would later accomplish, and his act of illegally producing salt in April of 1930 encouraged millions to follow in civil disobedience. Martin Luther King Jr. mentions being moved when he first read of Gandhi’s march to the sea, and it is easy to see how it inspired King’s approach to the civil rights movement and organized marches.
These are examples in which an individual had the ability to, directly and indirectly, encourage millions of people to act. That reach was essential in Gandhi’s and King’s eventual success in changing the world. Judging power and influence by how many people a person can mobilize or impact is a natural starting point as it captures a person’s reach.
Networks help us to identify and measure this sort of reach. A first measure of reach is simply counting how many people one knows or can count as a friend or colleague. In today’s world we might also ask how many followers one has on social media. As we shall see, how many friends and followers a person has matters in subtle ways in driving a population’s perceptions and social norms.
However, having many direct friends or connections is just one way in which a person can be influential, and much of this chapter will be devoted to understanding other network sources of power. Neither Gandhi nor King directly knew more than a small fraction of, nor could they personally contact, everyone they mobilized. They had key allies and friends, and also reached many through the publicity that their acts created. The Salt March began with a contingent of dedicated followers and swelled as it progressed and its publicity grew.
A person can have few friends or contacts and still be very influential if those few friends and contacts are themselves highly influential. This sort of indirect reach is often where power resides, and we can see this sort of influence very clearly via network concepts. Gaining influence via influential friends becomes an iterative and somewhat circular notion, but one that turns out to be quite understandable in a network context, with many implications. Iterative, network-based measures of power and influence will help us understand how to best seed a diffusion, as well as what it was that made Google an innovative search engine.
When it comes to measuring power, this will not be the end of our story. Another way in which people can be important, and one that is particularly evident when considering networks, is being a key connector or coordinator. A person can be a bridge or intermediary between people who don’t know each other directly—enabling that person to broker favors and consolidate power by being uniquely positioned to coordinate the actions of others. This sort of power is seen in stories like The Godfather, and is evident in networks that explain the rise of the Medici in medieval Florence.