Contagious Reciprocity Header Image

Creating Contagious Happiness

A blend of rich minds assemple on Twitter every Tuesday at 11am for a discussion hosted by @ChicagoIdeas. Mick Ebeling of Not Impossible Labs broke from 3D printing for humanity and joined us as a co-host this past Tuesday. He led a discussion on “Help One, Help Many.” Of the customary five questions proposed throughout the #ideaschat hour, the second question recollected a theory/thought I had several years ago that was accompanied by a diagram.


A woman with short hair, glasses, in her early/mid 40’s and the brightest smile you’ve ever seen was a checkout clerk at the Dominick’s grocery store a few blocks from my apartment. I’d see her there regularly. And every time I checked out, I would seek out her line—even if it meant waiting an extra five or ten minutes (Avoid grocery shopping immediately after work if you can help it!).

Consequential Strangers

At this point in time, I was reading an evocative social science book called Consequential Strangers. Imagine a spectrum of interpersonal relationships with complete strangers on one end and intimate friends and beyond on the other. In between are varying degrees of consequential strangers. One segment I find particularly fascinating is nearer the complete strangers and the impact they can have on one’s life. Think of your mailman or barista or …grocery store checkout clerk.

Here’s a brief clip of the author Melinda Blau explaining this segment of consequential strangers:

Why I waited in line for Sharon

Sharon was one of those people that just shines. Radiating happiness, it was impossible not to smile when you’re talking with her. It’s the kind of feeling typically reserved for momentously positive occasions like scratching off $500 on a $2 lottery ticket from the gas station. We knew one another as ‘consequential strangers.’ She always recognized me and in our brief encounters we might speak about our upcoming plans with friends and family but nothing much beyond. We weren’t strangers but we weren’t friends either. Oddly, my favorite moment of each of those abbreviated conversations took place outside when I reflected upon my trip along the conveyor belt and impulse buys.

From a distance, it seems silly that a visit to the grocery store could create an impact so positive. Particularly because grocery stores typically elicit remorse for having to drudge through the cold. And the only redeeming factor is buying a box of cookies sold with regretful satisfaction.

An interaction with Sharon though, could set the mood for the next hour and sometimes the rest of the day. I would make it a point to pass on good vibes to all those I encountered.

Several ideas came to me one day.

Contagious Happiness/Positivity

Happiness like negativity, can be contagious. But it seems to be more difficult to transmit. Certainly compliments can be effective, but what about general demeanor? Sharon’s disposition for instance. It comes naturally to some and others need a bit of inspiration. My natural state is upbeat but it takes more than waking up on the right side of the bed to make it contagious to others.

Some people are more sensitive or receptive than others. Some are in states of mind that cannot change and some won’t care.

How does one break the barrier of those that aren’t initially open to the idea of changing their mindset, whether conscious or unconscious?

How long do the effects last? By transmiting the positivity yourself, can you reinforce the effects so they last longer?

In the end, there will always be one who doesn’t pay it forward, but we can at least try.

To the interested #ideaschatters: I found a first draft of my diagram but it was drawn as a cycle (and it was rather incomplete). This idea makes more sense as a network.

Social Contagion Network Image

Help One, Help Many

Social and positive psychology can provide some answers and this contagious happiness theory seems to be comprised of at least internalization, a broad category of social influence. According to Wikipedia, internalization is when “The individual accepts the influence because the content of the influence accepted is intrinsically rewarding..” And it also looks to be a behavioral contagion — “a spontaneous, unsolicited and uncritical imitation of another’s behavior.”

We can also derive ideas from network theory, particularly diffusion on networks. But I’ll leave that for another day.


Have you experienced anyone like Sharon? 

Do you have any thoughts on contagious happiness?


**Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on any assumptions


Yossarian. The Curious Search Engine.

Fast Company, this week, published an interesting article about a new search engine called, Yossarian. It’s promise is that it can make you more creative. But the diagram below the headline was more eye-catching than the click-baity hook!


Instead of returning results matching your search phrase, Yossarian returns metaphors. It tries to counteract group-think/ filter failure. They claim, “With Yossarian you can increase the diversity and frequency of your aha moments.”

So far this sounds like a pretty damn good tool for writing! This could really push the “ideas from ideas” philosophy. What sounds even more is the psychology behind interacting with Yossarian.

J. Paul Neeley, its founder, mentions that it takes us a moment to recognize a metaphor when it’s heard or seen because metaphors are not “directly” true by nature. Hence, a metaphor. What’s so fascinating about this, is that through repetition, we can speed up that processing time.

And with repetition, it’s also a fantastic primer! It’s similar to listening to stand-up comedy before writing or speaking. It really loosens up your narrow focus and allows you to think in different ways like inverting or fragmenting ideas to create new ones. Much in the same way comedians or anybody with a bit of wit can do.

There’s also no need to worry about search results being too far fetched either. There’s a sliding scale for search result randomness!
This is no doubt a powerful tool and it’ll requires a thoughtful mind. It’ll show us paths, but it’s our job to choose one. Overall, this sounds like an exciting project.

Evolution of the Mild Goosechase

Theories and hypotheses allow you to move forward; they’re pragmatic problem solving devices. They make sense of facts or lackthereof. They help you make decisions. But is there a way to make better decisions? Could you more accurately predict future outcomes? 

A theory of theories

Suppose you have a grand theory. A theory of theories. But it’s a work in progress and resides at the back of your mind steering your curiosity. It’s also nearly impossible to articulate because of its latency and oscillating magnitude. Lost yet? I was.

One day in December of 2013 I clicked arbitrarily on a video for lunchtime viewing pleasures and everything changed.

Dr. Feynman postured in front of his whiteboard, one hand in the other, listening. You can see the gears moving and formulating an analogy to explain in simple terms, Perturbation Theory.

What happens in the next seven minutes was the key to pushing that grand theory forward into the limelight.

I wasn’t familiar with this “Perturbation Theory,” but I made a connection to his explanation. I subbed in my own application into the formula example he wrote out and it lined up precisely with what I couldn’t spit out on my own. Without a physics or math background, I didn’t quite know how to express it. And here it was– the beginning of my grand theory.

Keep this in mind: Problems in general, tend to be oversimplified. And situational outcomes are the result of a lot of factors.

Approximations are more accurate!

In short, Perturbation theory provides methods to solve for an ‘approximate’ thus more correct solution to an imprecise problem, rather than seeking a precise solution that turns out to be less accurate.

Here’s an Example:

Think of a whole number versus a decimal. Rounding a decimal to zero places leaves you with a whole number and it’s less accurate.

The real answer = 5.28604837…?

A bad answer is = 5
A better answer is = 5.2860
An even better answer = 5.286048

My previously inexpressible grand theory, aka The Mild Goosechase, aka the interconnectedness of everything began to express itself when two things happened:

1. I abstracted the equation and created a derivative that Dr. Feynman put on the chalkboard.

2. I recognized a problem.

To set this up, here’s the equation/analogy that Feynman used:

(Side A) 1/ 1 – .01 = (Side B) 1 + (.01)(.01) + (.01)^3….
1 + .01 + .0001 + .000001


Here’s what’s the equation says: Side A = Side B when Side B equals Side A plus detail + more detail…(+ even more detail etc.)
The more detail added on Side B, the more accurate and the better equivalence to side A. Remember, the answer is the best approximate.

My two observations:

1. Abstracted Derivative: There’s usually more than meets the eye. It’s just that the information typically omitted is complex and more difficult to use and so it’s thrown out. The problem with the omission is that it can be dramatically less accurate (particularly in system iterations). Which leads to the problem.

2. The Problem: This equation could potentially go on forever and becomes incredibly complicated and difficult to calculate. Imagine a different circumstance. One in which there are more than just a few variables. It becomes complex AND complicated! It’s really a question of optimization or optimal state.
How can this be addressed?


Meet the new Mild Goosechase

Relationships between people, objects and environments can be highly complex. They’re not only interconnected but interdependent. Solutions to challenges or problems can also be complex.

Perturbation theory showed mathematical proof of “complicated” systems. Adding more variables to the equation implies complexity.

With that, how can complexity be represented mathematically?

The months following this mind-bending and otherwise typical lunch have opened an entirely new world to me. A world I’ve been exploring ever since.

TLDR: A Random click will change your life.

Drew Rose - Intro to Complexity Certificate

Mitch Joel & Seth Godin, “CTRL ALT DELETE” | Talks At Google

When you set out to learn something new, how to do you do it? And when I say ‘something,’ I mean something BIG. Something that will change your life. Like the work you choose to pursue…

If school isn’t an option, who will you learn from?

I connected with marketing and never looked back at the end of 2008. Mitch Joel and Seth Godin are majorly responsible for my business and marketing philosophies. Between Mitch’s podcast and both of their blogs and books, they’ve been virtual-mentors for me. Thanks guys! Thanks for discussing the why instead of the what.

Google hosted them this past summer to discuss Mitch’s new book, “CTRL ALT DELETE.” These two together are always a treat! And there’s always lots to learn.

When you’re done here, see their latest ideas:

Mitch Joel

Seth Godin

ctrl alt delete mitch joel seth godin

Chicago Ideas Week 2013 Approaching

The yellow balloons are out! That means Chicago Ideas Week is quickly approaching.

If you’re not familiar with this rad week, here’s a

A brief introduction

What is Chicago Ideas Week?

Chicago Ideas Week is a premier annual gathering of global thought leaders created to provoke new ideas and inspire actionable results. Our goal is to stimulate new initiatives and ventures, create new connections and collaborations, and establish a community of people who have the desire to achieve great things.

How are we different?

Many ideas-based events across the globe are exclusive, invitation-only and costs thousands of dollars to attend. CIW events are just $15 per event, helping our community put their ideas into action.”


One thing that makes CIW great, is what differentiates them: Accessibility.

In fact, even if you can’t make the annual event, you can connect with the CIW community through  Continue reading…

Mild Goosechase: Chicago Recycling Pt. 1

Did you know that there’s a social good search engine. WHAT?!

I can’t believe I haven’t come across that before. *Each search performed earns a bit of money for a cause of your choice.

My choice, huh? The waste dilemma in America is quite concerning to me. A variety of causes showed up after searching for “recycling,” including the Chicago Recycling Coalition. I have no ties to any of the organizations…but I live in Chicago so I made my preliminary decision.

I did a search for Chicago Recycling Coalition for due diligence. And the mild goosechase was on!


Continue reading…

Chicago Content Strategists Meetup - Exploring Branded content

Chicago Content Strategists: Exploring Branded Content

I got in the game a bit late but I’m there now and I gotta say, Chicago Content Strategists MeetUp is a lot of fun. Tonight was my second time out and there’s more to come. Thanks VSA for hosting! We’re heading over to Leo Burnett for the next one and from the description, it sounds awesome! The official description should appear on the group site in the coming weeks. Continue reading…

Social Media Week Chicago

Finally. A Reason To Come To Social Media Week Chicago

It’s almost that time of the year again. Social Media Week Chicago is coming up at the end of the month. I’m a bit more excited this year than last. I was invited to be part of a panel! I’ll be sharing the stage with Liz Strauss, Tim Toomey, Jaime Black and Katy Lynch.

The topic is Social Media: You’re Doing it Wrong!!! Continue reading…