Proximity might have only been part of the equation. The other part of the equation might have more to do with who sat around you. Or, more specifically, how you perceived the people you sat next to and interacted with, much like you do today.
The reason has to do with mirror neurons in our brains, which fire both when animals act and when animals observe similar actions performed by another. Humans too. Many neuroscientists believe it's how we learn language, empathy, and inference. It may even be tied to creativity and collaboration, as suggested in Brain Leaders and Learners by Dr. Ellen Weber, who inspired some thinking on this subject. She also sources this PBS short for anyone interested in mirror neurons.
Applying Mirror Principles In Three Everyday Life Scenarios.
1. Creativity. When you look back at history, there are dozens of moments when cultural and artistic expression seemed to leap in unexpected directions, including the Downtown 500 and Harlem Renaissance. Or if you prefer, consider the collective impact of artists like Gauguin, Van Gogh, Picasso, and Matisse or maybe the postwar Beat Generation.
Marketing, advertising, and even public relations might take some lessons from these movements, which might have been inspired in part by mirror neurons — groups of individuals propelling each other forward much like creatives did during the Golden Age of advertising. It pays to expose yourself to creative pursuits, creative people, and creative explorations.
2. Consumer Advocates. Of course, advertising need not be conflated or confused with art. The best of it, which is only a sliver of it, tends to be tempered by the people it hopes to reach.
After all, many advertisements fail when the work becomes an extension or expression of how smugly clever the copywriter, art director, or creative director is in executing the work. Ergo, advertising that merely celebrates itself doesn't reflect something that consumers can identify with on any level. Mirror neurons can be put to work here too.
In fact, in considering mirror neurons, it might even explain why (with the exception of those creating their own bubbles) social media has an impact. Instead of immersing themselves in the ivory towers of ego that are sometimes erected by communication professionals, social media offers up an opportunity for people to become immersed within the daily lives of everyday people, who do things like buy the products that marketers peddle.
3. Leadership. Appreciating neuroscience isn't necessarily confined to the creative process. It works well within the greater scope of leadership too. If you want to produce a team of visionary people, you have to expose those teams to creative and innovative environments. And, if you want to improve your own leadership skill sets, it might be worthwhile to connect with visionary and empathic leaders as opposed to those who focus only on transactions.
Consider last year's most admired companies, according to Forbes. Apple, Google, Berkshire Hathaway, Johnson & Johnson, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola all share some common denominators in their leadership and, even more importantly, their approach to nurturing leadership within their companies. The culture they create is as important to their success as the products they produce or the marketing that introduces it.
There Are Some Limitations To Mirror Neuron Concepts.
Naturally, placing yourself within environments where you can subconsciously mimic or be influenced by others is not the answer to everything. Mirror neurons have limitations, especially in how we interpret the information we process.
Case in point: two children growing up in the same household may develop extremely diverse and distinct personalities that defy any argument that they merely mirror parental behaviors. For example, one child might learn to become assertive and another reclusive despite being raised by assertive (or conversely, reclusive) parents.
Likewise, merely hanging out with creative people or successful leaders isn't a surefire way to become one yourself as much as it can enhance any innate talents or leadership qualities that already exist. (My point being that simply hanging out with a modern day Gauguin doesn't necessarily make you as prolific or artistic as Gauguin.) Still, it doesn't hurt either.
At minimum, it could help you from stumbling about this year or help your career by avoiding things you've convinced yourself you can't do. You know, much like high school, when some kids shuffled themselves toward the back of the room, predisposed in their thinking that they couldn't learn anything anyway.