Inside The Weird, Profitable Study Of “Social Physics”

Here’s an interesting article, “Inside the Weird, Profitable Study of ‘Social Physics’,” by Ciara Byrne on Labs that stresses the importance of social interaction in learning and change in behavior.

Habits are also hard to break so people tend to be conservative about adopting new ones. The collective habits of a particular company add up to what is often called its culture.

What changes behavior is seeing people experimenting with the same behavior,” says Pentland. “I mean really physically seeing it. It’s a sort of cooperative group behavior where people explore new ways of doing things without even being aware that it’s cooperative. It’s what the community is thinking about as a collective and that’s very different from the newest topic of conversation. Those sometimes turn into behaviors but very rarely.”

In Pentland’s view only rich channels of communication like face-to-face and to a lesser extent video conferencing and telephone lead to changes in behavior and therefore in culture. Email and text are particularly ineffective when it comes to the adoption of ideas. So effectively electronic channels can help maintain culture but they rarely create it (Bold added).

This idea on the importance of social learning harkens back to Dewey, who suggested that “The informally social side of education, the æsthetic environment and influences, are all-important.”

In studying the productivity of teams, the following insight into social learning was further uncovered:

The number of opportunities a workplace provides for social learning via engagement is often the largest single factor in its productivity.

There’s much more of interest in the article, so go and check it out!

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