I really enjoy the debates that people have (with me and with each other) around the keynotes that I'm asked to give. I remember with particular fondness being told back halfway through the decade by one rather puffed-up marketing exec (as I recall, from the Blue Monster!) that all this social influence stuff is interesting but not that important as ultimately it is always an individual who does the buying – why bother particularly if technology was going to help us find and target them precisely?
2009 was the year that that this finally got to sound silly to most ears (not just signed up members of the HERD club).
And – no coincidence – it was also the year that 3 really important books got published on the science behind all this:
First, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's extraordinary Mothers and Others which suggests that the origins of our incredible social nature lies in the shared child-rearing habits (alloparenting) of our ancestors, rather than the more masculine "machiavelli" hypothesis (i.e. in order to gain social power and status).[Watch her at the RSA here]
Secon, John Caccioppa's fantastic social neuroscience study of Loneliness which suggests that loneliness is an aversive adaptation – like pain – which if not acted on has real physical effects on our all-too-social selves.[See John at the RSA here]
And finally, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler's brilliant Connected which pulls together a really insightful review of what connectedness means – at the heart of which is their analysis of the famous Framingham longitudinal health study (not just a large sample but one which records social connectedness not just health indicators)[Here they are at (hey hey!) Microsoft labs…reminding us that online social networks are a very recent version of much older phenomena]
I'm not sure I can pick a winner for you out of these three (you should read all of them) but I know that work about the science of social (even work of this quality and coherence) would not have found the mainstream audience it now commands just a few years ago.
What cheers me is that in many spheres of human life – politics, medicine , social policy, management & of course, marketing – it's no longer a question of maybe for the whole "HERD" Social hypothesis; it's a given (even if we're still only just beginning to work through the implications Download BrainJuicer Paper – Me-to-We Research).
There's one thing you can count on going forward – there's no going back. It's us – you,me & everyone we know.
I won't say that I told you so, but…