Learn More About Nicholas A. Christakis, MD
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.
“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.”
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Nicholas A. Christakis, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., is the Sterling Professor of Social and Natural Science at Yale University where he is appointed in the Departments of Sociology; Medicine; Data Science; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology; Biomedical Engineering; and the School of Management. He is the author of more than 200 articles and several books. His influential 2009 book, Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives, documented how social networks affect our lives and was translated into over 20 languages. His most recent work has used artificial intelligence (AI) agents (“bots”) to affect social processes online and in-person.
His 2019 book, “Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society” (2019), which detailed the evolutionary science behind the inherent goodness in human society, was a New York Times bestseller. It was translated into nearly 20 languages. His most recent book, “Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live” (Little, Brown Spark, 2020), was longlisted for the 2021 PEN America Literary Awards and will be translated into more than 10 languages.
In 2009, Christakis was named to Time magazine’s annual list of 100 most influential people in the world. In 2009 and in 2010, Foreign Policy magazine named him to its annual list of Top 100 Global Thinkers.
Christakis received his B.S. from Yale, his M.D. from Harvard Medical School, his M.P.H. from the Harvard School of Public Health, and his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania. He was elected to the National Academy of Medicine in 2006; the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2010; and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2017.
Nicholas A. Christakis is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops, and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.
Executive Workshop: Working Together
Using vivid examples, customized software developed by his laboratory (breadboard.yale.edu), and the active participation of workshop participants, Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis shows how groups of people in firms can work better together. Based on scientific discoveries published by his lab in journals such as Nature and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Christakis explains how groups can be structured in ways that enhance their ability to cooperate, coordinate, innovate, and share information. Participants will also learn about the impact of network science and artificial intelligence on team performance.