Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Ripple Effect

If I toss a stone into a pond, I see predictable ripples fanning out in every direction. I've seen it in pictures, I've seen it in person, and yes, I've actually seen in the office. It's part of a modified groupthink phenomenon which I've lately begun to realize has always been there. Let me explain.

Have you ever wondered why on two consecutive days you can go into the workplace, feeling exactly the same when you walk in the door, only to find that one day you are a hero, while the next you are but a lowly protozoan? It is certainly because of the ripple effect. Let's explore some examples.

Assume that you work in an office building full of cubes. A certain employee, we'll call him "E" for short, is having a wonderful day. Maybe he purchased a new car over the weekend, found the love of his life, or even just downed the perfect cup of dark roast coffee. Whatever the reason, E comes into the office in a great mood. Before long, because of the proximity of people to each other and the native curiosity we all possess, all those sitting around him become infected with his good spirit. People make random comments among themselves and the vibe passes among the aisles. You, the innocent employee, enter this scenario and cannot help but be swayed by the positive sentiment echoing throughout the floor. People smile at you, say hello, and offer you donuts. That is a good day.

Alternatively, let us assume that E had car problems on the way in, got into a major argument with his significant other, or got bad coffee at the QT. When E arrives at work, he will not be a happy camper, nor will anyone who has to listen to him kvetching. Within minutes, a viral sense of doom spreads around and between the aisles. You, still the innocent employee, walk into this morass and cannot help but be swayed by the negative sentiment echoing throughout the floor. People frown at you, ignore you, and steal your donuts. That is a bad day.

I believe it is as simple as that. If, like me, you are a fairly social person, the ambient sentiment will undoubtedly affect you for better or worse. The trick is to realize it for what it is and go about your business, because this collective consciousness is very much like the weather: it can, and often does, turn on a dime. Basically, we're all just trying to get along. So bring your umbrella, your sunglasses, a box of donuts, and rock on, you working person.