There is an interesting article here by Jeff Guo at the Washington Post that describes how people around you can influence your thoughts and actions. The article describes recent research that shows that during a flight, if the person sitting next to you buys something, you are 30% more likely to buy something yourself.
This is significant because the restrictions imposed on air travel make these “experiments” very controlled. The ability to look through thousands of pieces of data on passengers on various flights makes these findings even more significant.
How is this linked to your lazy colleague who sits next to you, does the minimum work and never tries to find a creative solution to any problem? This research suggests that the people you are surrounded by are quite influential on your actions.
This is linked to another well-known phenomenon: Priming. Priming is described by Daniel Kahneman in his bestseller “Thinking, Fast and Slow”, through a very fascinating experiment by John Bargh at NYU. In this experiment, he asked subjects to arrange five words into four-word sentences. Some groups were given words relating to the elderly (wrinkled, gray, Florida) and the other group was given “normal” words. When these groups were asked to walk down a hall to the next “experiment” (this walk was the experiment), the groups exposed to words relating to the elderly, walked slower than those that were not. Read more here.
In terms of creativity in your work place, this goes beyond simply who is sitting around you, but also includes the atmosphere of your entire work area – but this is a whole other topic.
Following on from my post on office seating arrangements, the above research suggests how important where people sit is. This isn’t just about putting “creative people” with “creative people”*, or evening out qualities over the office floor, it is about using the dynamics between people to truly bring out their key strengths relative to what projects they are working on.
This is, in my experience, an aspect of office management that is consistently overlooked.
* I hate this term. Everyone is creative.
Feature image courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar