In his book, The Tipping Point, author Malcolm Gladwell makes the same mistake with regard to social epidemics—viral cascades of ideas that are elusively transferred from one person to another.
He calls this his “Law of the Few” and it is very convincing. We all know people who seem to have rare social gifts, such as those with lots of friends or the gift of gab, and it makes sense that that such “influentials” would play an important role in the spread of ideas. Unfortunately, influentials are a myth.
The truth is that social influence is quite complex and defies simple explanations. The science of networks does offer a very effective framework for understanding social epidemics, but it is highly mathematical and somewhat counterintuitive, so most people are perfectly happy to chase the influential myth even though it’s all for naught.