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Innovation

How to keep wallflowers from poisoning your company

The lesson is that organizations need to take loneliness seriously. Loneliness can spread through your whole group, helping you miss deadlines and lose money.
Written by Dana Blankenhorn, Inactive on

Today's study you may not care about is from researchers at Harvard, the University of Chicago and UC-San Diego.

It calls loneliness contagious.

(The image is from Darkstation.net, a Japanese anime site. Find the book's plot on the page. I think you'll get a kick out of it.)

The title really says it all. "Alone in the Crowd: The Structure and Spread of Loneliness in a Large Social Network." We're not talking here about Facebook, but about a school. Or a workplace.

Results indicated that loneliness occurs in clusters, extends up to three degrees of separation, is disproportionately represented at the periphery of social networks, and spreads through a contagious process.

I'm lonely, you're lonely, so it's possible Kevin Bacon is lonely too.

Two of the study's co-authors, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, got a book on this subject, Connected, onto Oprah's fall reading guide. (Did this make co-author John T. Cacioppo lonely?)

The new study offers confirmation of their thesis, that aggressively targeting people on the edge of a network can keep the whole fabric from unraveling.

Ladies may have experienced this at their prom. You know that one girl in the corner, the one who had no friends, the one who seemed to be having a bad time? Maybe you tried to ignore her and your whole group's good time fell apart. Or maybe you tried to bring her in and everyone felt happier.

This becomes important when you think about a work group, or a company.

That one jerk on the periphery, the one who is always grousing about stupid managers or the stupid government, they may just be lonely. Going to some lengths to fix those feelings may boost everyone's productivity. So, after a while, may be firing them.

The lesson is that organizations need to take loneliness seriously. Loneliness can spread through your whole group, helping you miss deadlines and lose money.

This may also be why some women managers have an advantage today. Many women understand this intuitively. Many men don't. I don't. And even if I get it intellectually, I know trying to fix this problem would be real hard.

So if your organization is going to go places, have a people person on the org chart, a good one, and trust their judgment.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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