When it happens you're in a conversation with friends, or attending a seminar, or reading a random article. You're unexpectedly introduced to someone whose perspective changes yours. At that moment you know you won't be able to see the world in the same way again. I call these people Accidental Heroes or AH. Frankly AHA would be a better acronym since that's what you say when this hero brings you to an enlightened view point. You know, the natural reaction is to say "a ha!". You’ll see what I mean once I share a couple of personal examples.
On my top ten list is Wilbur Schramm. Often called the "father of communication studies," he continues to have a great influence on the development of communication research. His famous model of "shared fields of experience" rocked my grad student world because in examining human interaction he diagrammed what happens when two people are talking to each other.
In fact, social networking services like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+, are based on this principal that shared experiences are necessary for understanding. (Where to you think the idea for those circles originated?) This is why it is so much easier to talk to a friend than with a stranger. Your common experiences make it possible to comprehend each other. The dialog with a stranger is more of an adventure as it starts with speaking the same language and then evolves as you discover you have similar interests, skills, or friends.
Another of my accidental heroes is Hugh MacLeod. He is a cartoonist, who succinctly reveals our true nature in an Occum's Razor kind of way. His value to me is his daily work, where he offers up insights into human behavior and the psychology of marketing like this one for example (used with permission -gapingvoid.com).
Good stuff, sometimes funny but always forcing me to take a look beyond my normal parameters. In both AH examples, Hugh and Wilbur, their discoveries become part of my journey as I strive to solve my favorite riddle, the buying behavior puzzle.
Last thought is that you just never know where or when new folks with new ideas will surface. You need to keep your eyes open, read things you don't agree with and look in places that challenge your comfort zone. Your Accidental Heroes are waiting, do me a favor and let them in.