I think everyone has noticed themselves, at some time or another, unconsciously picking up the slang, style, or even mannerisms of friends and coworkers. It seems that we have all have this sponge-like ability to soak things up and make them our own. I think this is something we are all pre-programmed to do as social animals – as babies we start right off learning the languages, accents, and even expressions of our parents – and we never stop.
This sprang to mind while reading an entry in Seth’s blog on marketing, who points out a recent study on how obesity is contagious. It brings to light something all of us who consider ourselves strong and independent hate to admit: we are constantly and deeply influenced by the company we keep, it happens unconsciously in ways that we can’t prevent, and it goes much deeper than our percentage body fat. At any point we might become more carefree, more careless, more religious, more promiscuous, more motivated, more happy or depressed – based on the people who are around us.
There are many contexts in which remembering this simple fact is useful – at home (how is your significant other changing you and you him/her? who are your kids hanging out with?) and at work (how does your team influence each other? how can you introduce a product into a group of heavy influencers in the market?). In that art most tied to influence, sales, it explains how the most successful salespeople open up opportunities to influence by being the kind of person those prospects want to be around.
But more personally, it’s a good piece of introspection. Who in your life influences you to be more like you want to be? More importantly, who really takes you off-track? The people you have in your life is a choice, why did you choose the ones you have?
You can’t change the fact that you are a sponge, but you can change who provides the inputs.
UPDATE: I like the related post over on Signal vs. Noise, In the Presence of Greatness