Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives by Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler

Connected

In their book Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do, authors Nicholas A. Christakis and James H. Fowler suggest that connections from intricately linked social networks (not to be confused with social networking tools like Facebook or LinkedIn) are strong influences on our daily lives. They argue that these connections can be simple enough, such as husband and wife, or buyer and seller. But they also suggest that these simple connections can quickly agglomerate and stretch across more complex and elaborate networks that can influence the way we feel, think and live.

Christakis and Fowler suggest that scientists, philosophers and others who study human concerns have wrongly limited their questioning for decades, even centuries, to a debate between individual responsibility (the notion that we are in control of our destinies) and collective responsibility (that social forces like quality of education impact what happens to us). Through their research, they propose that a third factor is missing from this debate: that our connections to other people have a larger role in determining individual and personal experiences.

Their investigations demonstrate that larger social networks can often influence individuals who are not immediately known to us. This influence is important to note for economic developers. When considering planning or engagement initiatives, for example, it is essential to understand that people who are connected and working together have greater potential to change their local environment. The ability for networks to shape individual ideas therefore offers opportunities for economic development interventions to be more targeted, and subsequently have greater and more lasting impacts for communities.

While the authors do not specifically discuss the impact of social networks on business relationships, the notions presented propose that how we feel, think and do must be considered when developing economic development strategies. The notion of social nodes and overlap within social networks are elements that are easily applicable to the economic development field.

Connected is slightly over 300 pages and is well researched. For those interested in learning more about how social networks can influence economic development, it’s well worth picking up.