I’ve been thinking about social support networks lately and so pieces in recent books have stood out. Humans are social animals who are able to organize ourselves or act individually, but the family and small group networking connections are still more important than generally acknowledged. The implications for a creative economy is that how companies and cities are organized can be as important as what they do or make in their success.
These examples are mostly medical, partly because that’s where a lot of research goes on, but the implications for society are universal.
- The first chapter of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers talks about the town of Roseto, PA which was founded by Italians from Roseto, Italy in the 1890s. Doctors noticed that the residents were unusually healthy. But investigations showed little difference in diet, personal habits, the natural environment, etc. What they did find was that the social and friendship networks were unusually strong. This mutual support resulted in less heart disease and other maladies.
- This reminded me of Dr. Dean Ornish’s work with treating heart disease with diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, and social/family support. When his success in not only stopping but reversing heart disease was reported, the medical establishment said, “Yes, we know that if our patients shifted to a low-fat diet, exercised, and reduced stress it would reduce heart attacks. But people won’t follow our orders so we just schedule bypasses.” The difference was the social and family involvement, which got people to change their behaviors.
- In The Age of the Unthinkable, Ramos tells about AIDS patients in Tugela Ferry, South Africa who had extraordinary levels of medication compliance because rather than doctors just saying “take these pills” they explained the science and involved family members. People stuck to the regimen despite the extreme side effects, while groups who were just told to follow doctors orders would stop medication when they felt better.
- A growing evidence-based practice in residential drug treatment is the “Therapeutic Community,” where peers are involved in each others’ recovery. It has better results than just staff-led treatment.
- Then this article in the Portland Tribune tells about a program to have severely mentally ill people work real jobs rather than “sheltered workshops.” The job stress that was assumed to be too much for them to handle turns out to actually help them get better.
From quality circles to army platoons to extended families, people working together are healthier, more productive and more creative. How can this knowledge be used to build the creative economy?