I heard a great article on NPR this morning about a study which shows that when an individual quits smoking, this has a ripple effect on family members and friends, with the result that those in the social network are more likely to quit as well.
"There's no doubt that people are influenced by the behaviors of individuals that are not just one degree of separation from them, but two and three degrees of separation. There's a kind of cascading influence," says Nicholas Christakis, a professor at Harvard Medical School and a co-author of the study, which appears in Thursday's edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.
This story was an inspiration, as I see so many companies struggling with behavioral and cultural issues that affect productivity and delivery. If the clustering / hive intelligence effect that the article describes can work the same way within the social network of an organization, then there's hope for cultural change if a few key individuals will adopt the desired behavior, and spread this to their colleagues.
What issues is your company struggling with, that technology alone can't solve? Here are a few that I see all the time:
- adopting a new tool, application, or platform
- using a naming or filing convention
- allotting time to non-billable activities that are critical to improving the practice or organization
In most cases there are at least a few people in any company who are doing the "right thing" already. What will encourage them to spread their behavior to their network, and beyond? How can the social network be strengthened so that desired behaviors might spread more rapidly? And how can you start tracking this spread, to be able to show that positive change is happening?
Update - my colleague Marcel pointed me to a similar NPR article about social networks and weight gain / weight loss.