Nicholas Christakis, bestselling author and closing general session speaker for MPI’s 2012 World Education Congress (July 28-31 in St. Louis) helped to revitalized interest in social research behind social networks. It’s not just germs and ideas that spread, Christakis maintains that violence, money, seatbelt use, kindness, joy, sadness, unhealthy eating, loneliness and smoking are all contagious.
“We were very surprised at the extent to which a lot of non-obvious factors do actually spread in networks,” Christakis says. “Our findings regarding obesity and the extent to which your weight may depends upon the weight of people who are strangers to you—your friends’ friends or friends’ friends’ friends—this was surprising to us.”
Christakis likens human networks to ant colonies, where members work collectively toward a common goal. The same could be said of human networks at a high level: They aim to spread wellbeing among their members, but they end up spreading lots of other things, too.
“When I’m kind to you, this kindness ripples in a kind of pay-it-forward way, and the benefits to the group are much greater even than the benefits that accrue just from my kindness to you. So the network kind of magnifies my contribution,” he says. “Now it also magnifies evil, so there’s a complex balance that’s taken place over the eons, whereby we have come to have the kind of network that’s really optimized, over all, for the propagation of desirable properties.”
So, event pro, as a connector of people, what behaviors, attitudes and thoughts are you helping to perpetuate? (Check out the One+ exploration into behavior placement as a way to spread good at your events.) Read more about Nicholas Christakis in the June One+ feature profile—and for face time, check out his session at this year’s WEC!
Image (CC) jurvetson