I recently watched the Asch Conformity Experiment on YouTube. It was filmed in the late 1950’s and features a group of Brady Bunch-like looking students who carry out an experiment to determine the degree to which a group influences an individual. Although I’ve seen more current stuff on the influence of the environment on a person, most recently the Smoke Filled Room Study,  I noted that irrespective of when it was conducted the results are always as fascinating and as conclusive as ever – namely that we are all mere products of our environment.

The fact that we are social creatures, highly influenced by others, their fashions, opinions and behaviors is evident enough, and we can find examples of this almost everywhere. I remember when my mother would say to me: “Those friends of yours, hmmm…they’re a bad influence on you. If you keep running around with them you’ll get into trouble.” How right she was! Among my friends we had built a culture of pure mischief, and we were united and motivated by one exalted goal: to jump the fence into Mr. Brown’s garden and pinch his apples.

Companies like Zappos, Virgin, IBM and Google understand this very well and take great care in hiring only those people they feel will integrate well with the established culture. This means that even when a person is technically and professionally ideal for a position, they will not be hired unless their personality is also complementary to the team. This is a wise policy since we all know that a rotten apple spoils the barrel.

However, hiring the right people is only half of the work. Companies are starting to understand the value of building a culture of trust, collaboration and open communication between all employees, from the CEO down to the cleaning staff (visit our Resources page for some examples). By doing this, a new emotional currency is gained and a good feeling is evoked throughout the company. This, although abstract in its manifestation, is nevertheless very real on an emotional level and generates a strong collective influence that affects everyone even if they are unaware of it. Essentially, it unites people. Today it is not enough to hire a bunch of talented individuals; to succeed, companies are having to understand how people integrate, tapping into the power of collaboration, and sharing, the wisdom of the crowd and creating a “one company” culture.

Another important point that is being understood is that if an organization or company doesn’t shape and define its culture, the culture will define itself.  Like a garden with no guiding hand, culture or the social environment will thrive in any case. Whether it produces roses, herbs and apple trees or just resilient weeds and vines that eventually take over, this is up to the management team. In one way or another everyone is influenced through the network of relationships within the work environment. It is up to the leadership of a company to ensure that this influence is as clean and beneficial as possible.

As I write these words I remember the connection and camaraderie we had among my neighborhood friends. My mother would see us on the front porch and say: “What are you planning now?…You’re all in cahoots!” How quickly and easily we would define and carry out our plans. Corporate leaders and managers would be jealous and poor Mr. Brown, well, he didn’t stand a chance!

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