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®.
Blueprint: Why Cooperation is Our Evolutionary Destiny
The current climate of social upheaval can cause us to lose sight of the inherent goodness in people and society. But Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis’ research offers a more optimistic view. As the renowned social scientist in charge of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University, Christakis has taken a deep look at how we interact with each other and how we assemble ourselves into social networks. He’s found that our evolution has positively shaped us, providing us with beneficial social features — including our capacity for cooperation, friendship and learning — that comprise our common humanity. In this bold, innovative talk, based on his New York Times bestselling 2019 book, “Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society,” Christakis reveals fascinating research and anecdotes drawn from history, genetics, economics and more, taking audiences on a captivating journey – from South Pacific shipwrecks to remote African tribes – to reveal our inescapable social blueprint for goodness. He infuses his remarks with tangible and inspiring takeaways for leaders to improve cooperation, innovation and performance within their organizations.
Want to Build a Better Organization? Start with Shared Purpose
When faced with hardship, some groups of people can rise to the challenge and some groups utterly fail. Why? According to Yale social scientist and New York Times bestselling author Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, the simple answer is a shared purpose. When Christakis was researching his book, “Blueprint,” he was fascinated to discover that a common thread between many successful communities was a shared sense of meaning. His diverse examples of collaboration – from unintentional communities of shipwreck survivors to planned attempts at utopian populations – illustrate how a shared belief system ultimately shapes collective outcomes and reveal a path to improve a group’s effectiveness. Audiences walk away from this presentation with a research-backed understanding of how to foster cohesion and collaboration, make better decisions as a group and influence the spread of desirable behaviors that motivate individuals at all levels.
The Surprising Power of Social Networks to Shape Organizational Culture
Every person is embedded several social networks of family, friends, coworkers, and so on. For more than a decade, social scientist and co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis has studied how and why humans assemble themselves into social networks. His research shows that a friend’s friend’s friend can influence us to change, even when we don’t actually know them. The good news is once you understand these networks, as he describes in his book “Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives,” you can harness their power to shape workplaces for the better. “This capacity for social learning, this desire to be like others, is actually quite valuable,” he describes. “It allows you to use network methods to implement interventions that drive culture change and manage risk within organizations.” A relatable and down-to-earth scholar, Christakis effectively demonstrates how organizations can spread desirable behaviors –like tightened cybersecurity practices or heightened communication – by approaching the most influential individuals in an organization (who may not be the highest on the org chart) or by tweaking the structural makeup of a team, allowing teams to become more innovative and collaborative.
Social AI: How Artificial Intelligence Agents Can Help and Hinder Human Performance
A key challenge of artificial intelligence (AI) in coming years will be not so much how to optimize human-machine interactions, but rather how to optimize human-human interactions within what Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis calls “hybrid systems” of humans and machines. Christakis has shown how the careful yet simple programming of AI agents can enhance the performance of human groups, making people within such groups better able to cooperate, coordinate, and share information, ultimately contributing to their superior performance. In this presentation, he takes audiences behind the scenes of his groundbreaking, cutting-edge work on how AI agents can affect human social processes and performance. Christakis decodes his latest findings on the interactions between humans and AI and reveals what the disruptive introduction of AI in our work and lives could mean for the future of human social behavior.
How Artificial Intelligence Will Re-Shape Human Interactions
Popular culture often depicts artificial intelligence (AI) as either hostile forces acting in opposition to humanity’s goals or as ignorant machines serving masters without question. But what if we dare to imagine how robots might function as our friends instead? As director of the Human Nature Lab at Yale University and as co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, social scientist Nicholas A. Christakis and his team research the complex dynamics of hybrid systems composed of human and machines endowed with artificial intelligence. Such systems can include everything from people sharing space with bots online to people interacting with autonomous vehicles on a roadway, autonomous check-out clerks in a store, humanoid robots in workplaces, or digital assistants at home. This work has led to groundbreaking discoveries, including new ways that “social AI” can facilitate work, optimize interactions and help groups of people to help themselves. Through colorful stories and humorous examples from Christakis’ research, audiences learn how AI can encourage altruism, increase flexibility and relieve stress, leading to a friendlier and more supportive culture.
Disruptive Data: The Hidden Force Driving Organizations to New Heights
Organizations have access to more data than ever before, but is every organization taking full advantage of it? According to the pioneering authority on human social networks, Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis, by taking data to the next level, groups can make a bigger impact than ever before. As co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science, Christakis has over two decades of research analyzing data to reveal common behaviors within our interactions and buying patterns. His findings reveal new pathways for leveraging online buying data to uncover future product ideas and groundbreaking ways to improve user experiences. This innovative approach to visualizing connected prospects leads to higher sales. Perfect for any group interested in taking their analytics to the next level, Christakis’ clear demonstrations of how to capture fresh audience insights using existing data mapped in a new way will raise creative questions and inspire new developments in any organization.
Social Networks for Good: Assembling Groups That Work Better Together
Human beings choose their friends, and often their neighbors and co-workers, and we inherit our relatives. Each person to whom we are connected does the same. In the end, we humans assemble ourselves into face-to-face social networks. Why do we do this? And how might a deep understanding of human social network structure and function be used to intervene in the world to make it better? By taking into account people’s structural embeddedness in social networks, and by understanding social influence, Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis says it is possible to intervene in social systems to enhance desirable population-level properties as diverse as health, wealth, cooperation, coordination, and learning. Drawing from research in his lab, he reveals three classes of interventions – involving both offline and online networks – that can bring about positive outcomes: (1) interventions that rewire the connections between people; (2) interventions that manipulate social contagion, facilitating the flow of desirable properties within groups (or decreasing the spread of undesirable properties like viruses or fake news); and (3) interventions that manipulate the position of people within network structures. He illustrates the variety of ways these interventions can be used to, for example, foster cooperation in networked groups online, facilitate the diffusion of innovation and coordination in groups, and change health behaviors in developing world villages or firms. He also focuses on recent experiments with “hybrid systems” comprised of both humans and artificial intelligence (AI) agents interacting in small groups. His work offers organizations in every sector a dramatic opportunity to improve key areas of business from marketing, customer service, and health care delivery, to innovation and team performance.
Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live
Unleashing new divisions in our society, as well as opportunities for cooperation, this 21st-century pandemic has upended our lives in ways that will test, but not vanquish, our already frayed collective culture. Drawing on momentous (yet dimly remembered) historical epidemics, contemporary analyses, and cutting-edge research from a range of scientific disciplines, Dr. Nicholas A. Christakis’ new book, “Apollo’s Arrow,” explores what it means to live in a time of plague — an experience that is paradoxically uncommon to the vast majority of humans who are alive today, yet deeply fundamental to our species. “Apollo’s Arrow” offers a riveting account of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic as it swept through our society in 2020 and 2021, and of how the recovery may unfold in the coming years. Featuring new, provocative arguments and vivid examples – ranging from medicine, epidemiology, and data science to history, sociology, economics, and genetics – this presentation offers a deeply informed account of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and envisions what happens when the great force of a deadly germ meets the enduring reality of our evolved social nature. Dr. Christakis’ thorough understanding of the social and public health implications of past pandemics gives organizations and individuals a valuable and much-needed window into what the future of work – and life – may look like so they can better plan ahead.
Your People Are Connected. Here's How to Leverage It
November 22, 2022
The Better Angels of Our Nature (Audio)
October 27, 2022
Yale's Nicholas Christakis on the Pandemic Script
February 8, 2022
What Have We Learned from the Pandemic?
December 14, 2021
An Interview with Yale University’s Nicholas Christakis
November 9, 2021
Enduring Impact of COVID-19 (Audio)
November 4, 2021
Being Addicted to Discovery (Audio)
October 27, 2021
Sometimes Altruism Needs to Be Enforced ($)
October 20, 2021
How Much Do Your Friends Affect Your Future? (Audio)
October 17, 2021
Genes, Germs, & Justice (Audio)
October 11, 2021
Yale Physician: Aftershocks of COVID-19 Will Last Until 2024
September 22, 2021
The Long Goodbye to Covid-19 ($)
July 3, 2021
Pandemic Impacts and Contagious Behavior (Audio)
June 22, 2021
The Legacy Of Covid-19 (Audio)
April 26, 2021
The World COVID Will Leave Behind (Audio)
April 21, 2021
Living Through the Pandemic: A Review One Year Later
March 16, 2021
Opinion: Why the Pandemic Won't be Over Until 2024 (Video)
February 3, 2021
Why Don’t Americans Trust Public Health Agencies?
February 2, 2021
The Pandemic Bookshelf Grows
December 18, 2020
The Year of Covid-19
December 16, 2020
How the Swiss Cheese Model Can Help Us Beat Covid-19
November 13, 2020
'Apollo's Arrow,' by Nicholas A. Christakis
November 13, 2020
Understanding the Enduring Consequences of Covid-19
November 9, 2020
The Pandemic’s Future — and Ours
November 3, 2020
The Long Shadow of the Pandemic: 2024 and Beyond
October 16, 2020
Opinion: Compassion in the Time of Coronavirus
March 11, 2020
Greed is Dead
December 6, 2019
The Benevolent Power of Other People
May 10, 2019
How AI Will Rewire Us
Nicholas Christakis: The Science of Social Connections (Video)
October 20, 2013
Let’s Shake Up the Social Sciences
July 19, 2013
Americans Need to Leave Deadbeats Behind
March 28, 2012
Tapping the Power of Social Networks
The Bad News First
August 24, 2007
Apollo’s Arrow: The Profound and Enduring Impact of Coronavirus on the Way We Live
(Little, Brown Spark, October 2020)
Blueprint: The Evolutionary Origins of a Good Society
(Little, Brown Spark, March 2019)
Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives
(Little, Brown Spark, September 2009)
Death Foretold: Prophecy and Prognosis in Medical Care
(University of Chicago Press, February 2000)
Polarized Citizen Preferences for the Ethical Allocation of Scarce Medical Resources in 20 Countries
(MDM Policy & Practice, July 2022)
Algorithms for Seeding Social Networks Can Enhance the Adoption of a Public Health Intervention in Urban India
(Decision Analysis, May 2022)
Characterizing Super-Spreaders Using Population-level Weighted Social Networks in Rural Communities
(Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, November 22, 2021)
Population Flow Drives Spatio-temporal Distribution of COVID-19 in China
(Nature Research Journal, April 2020)
Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study
(American Journal of Epidemiology, February 2017)
Cooperative Behavior Cascades in Human Social Networks
(PNAS, March 2010)
Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network
(Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, January 2010)
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.
“Nicholas was absolutely terrific. The room was at capacity – 3,000+ or so and everyone was engaged, enlightened, enriched and entertained by his talk. No one left the room. A grand slam and excellent opening for our Annual Meeting. Numerous compliments and great post-talk questions.”
“Nicholas Christakis presented visionary ideas on how social networking can be utilized strategically to maximize business opportunities on many levels.”
Praise for "Apollo's Arrow"
Praise for “Apollo’s Arrow” “Seldom have we been gifted with a study of pandemic disease marked by such scope, wit, and erudition. Still rarer is one that appears while the rest of us scramble to make sense of a rapidly evolving crisis, one shaped by the very social forces that Nicholas Christakis has studied for decades. ‘Apollo’s Arrow’ is more than history’s first draft. It will live on as a journal of the plague years, certainly, and it inspires as it instructs. Definitive, engaging, and astonishing. A tour-de-force.”
“The world is ravenous for deep and accurate information about the most important event in the 21st century. No one is deeper than Nicholas Christakis, who ticks every box of expertise: medical, epidemiological, social, psychological, economic, historical. This is the place to go to understand the phenomenon that has turned the world, and our lives, upside down. ‘Apollo’s Arrow’ is gripping, enlightening, and vitally important.”
“In this brilliant and timely book, scientist, scholar, physician, and writer Nicholas Christakis shines the light of history on our dark moment, and illuminates it as no one else can. Insightful, informative, and urgently necessary, ‘Apollo’s Arrow’ is this year’s must-must-read.”
“Rich in psychological, sociological, and epidemiological insights, only Nicholas Christakis could write a book this comprehensive and profound and even optimistic during our national calamity.”
“Wow, what a feat this is — a fully developed book of extraordinary insight and superb narrative structure that was somehow written in the midst of a live-action recording of events. The journalist in me marvels. The failures Nicholas Christakis captures are so enormously discouraging, infuriating, and tragic. I can only imagine how long this book will be read for reasons beyond the obvious. I burned right through it and highly recommend it.”
“‘Apollo’s Arrow’ shoots straight and true to explain the scientific and social aspects of the coronavirus pandemic. Christakis’s background in biology, medicine, epidemiology, and sociology is a powerful formula for understanding this complex subject. I’m tempted to say that the gods created Christakis to write this book at this time. It is wise, vivid, and engaging.”
“To capture the COVID-19 pandemic requires unusually broad and deep scholarship, and an ability to integrate the too-often siloed domains of science, medicine, epidemiology, sociology, psychology, politics, and history, among other fields. In ‘Apollo’s Arrow,’ Nicholas Christakis accomplishes this challenging task as few others could, with unusual clarity and an endless array of surprising insights; this book will no doubt become essential reading for a very wide audience. A tour-de-force.”
“A useful contribution to this initial wave of COVID books, sensible and comprehensive, intelligent and well sourced.”
“An instant history of an event that is by no means over. Exceptional. Magisterial.”
“Gripping. An indelible portrait of a world transformed.”