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You may have heard the saying, “two heads are better than one.” But what if you could have two – or more – heads working as one?

According to Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., it is possible to leverage social connections at work that sow positive ideas, encourage good deeds and influence groups to unleash innovation, cooperation and productivity. His research and frameworks for identifying influential individuals and developing a shared meaning between a company and its employees are helping leaders across the world motivate workers, keeping them aligned, coordinated and committed to their organization. Similar principles apply to a company’s customers, whose behavior can also be positively shaped.

For decades, Christakis – renowned Yale social scientist and New York Times bestselling author of “Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society” (2019) – has studied the evolution of human social networks and how these networks spread ideas and actions within populations. As director of the Human Nature Lab, and co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, he and his team research patterns of human social interactions and uncover ways to move group behavior in positive directions.

How Social Dynamics Can Spread Ideas

“In my lab, we have demonstrated that when you connect a group of people one way, they’re healthy, happy, cooperative, innovative, and productive. But assembled in a different way, they’re unhealthy, unhappy, uncooperative, hidebound and unproductive,” explains Christakis, who is both engaging and enthusiastic about sharing his ideas. “In practice, it’s often difficult to manipulate the structure of networks, but instead, we can intervene in how the ideas spread. By identifying the most structurally influential individuals, we can speed the diffusion of innovation through an entire organization.”

After more than a decade of studying influencers, Christakis and his team discovered it is possible to influence offline and online social networks to encourage positive changes in group health, cooperation, coordination and learning. Surprisingly humorous, he draws in audiences by revealing how we can use network science, game theory and artificial intelligence to highlight specific challenges groups experience. He then explains how we can use contagious behaviors to solve them. Using his lab’s breadboard software as a teaching tool, Christakis actively demonstrates the science behind grouping people together in ways that optimize cooperation and creativity.

The Hidden Power of Shared Meaning

When Christakis wrote “Blueprint,” he found himself especially fascinated by histories of intentional and unintentional communities and the factors that played into their success or failure. Through colorful stories, he illuminates the ways shipwreck castaways, hippie communes and other diverse populations organically organized and made decisions with a shared ideology, which ultimately determined their fates. By showing how shared beliefs bind groups closer together, he reveals how any group can develop social meaning and purpose that drives courage, confidence and prosperity.

Prompted by the major impact of the Covid-19 pandemic that he foresaw in advance, Christakis’ acclaimed 2020 book, “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live” (Little, Brown Spark, 2020), predicted much of how group behavior impacts the outcome of a crisis. His classic TED Talk with nearly two million views, “The Hidden Influence of Social Networks,” shows that organizations can use the same network effects they saw play out during the pandemic to understand interactions, visualize interpersonal connections and ultimately drive lasting culture change – both in employees and customers.

By studying the science behind getting groups to work better together, Christakis has arrived at a fascinating conclusion: by better utilizing social dynamics, we can improve communication, cooperation and creativity, help people explore ideas more broadly, and foster the spread of desirable behaviors.

“With this science, we can understand exactly how the whole comes to be greater than the sum of its parts,” he encourages. “And we can use these insights to enhance human well-being.”


Understanding the existing social networks at play can shed light on employee interactions, shape customer behavior and ultimately drive lasting cultural change. Stern Strategy Group connects you with renowned thought leaders whose insights, strategies and management frameworks help organizations fuel growth and disruptive innovation to better compete in a constantly changing world. Let us arrange for these esteemed experts to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting sessions, workshops and keynotes.

Your People Are Connected. Here’s How to Leverage It was last modified: November 29th, 2022 by Meg Virag