Contagious Thinking

One of the questions I’m asking myself at the moment is how ideas become contagious. I went to the MindTech event on Thursday last, and it’s clear that the NHS is relying hugely on technology, and that people are starting to look at video as a possible new way of communicating. It seems that desktop communications, websites and texts are starting to look old fashioned, and that video is a way to future proof innovations that may be a number of years before they get tested, evaluated and judged to be worthwhile by the NHS in terms of quality and efficiency outcomes. Big White Wall are even considering the use of video – a platform that previously was predicated on the notion of user anonymity. The user anonymity aspect of Big White Wall always struck me as colluding in stigma, and I’m pleased that they see that not all users need or want that aspect of their service. But are people ready to use video online in mental health?

I certainly believe that is where the future is heading. It’s clear to me that there are therapeutic benefits of film and that they can be experienced by mental health service users who are willing to embrace it. But it is my experience so far in seeking to propagate the idea of Mental Snapp to service users that there is resistance to the idea that what Mind call ‘mental health selfies’ can be useful to the wider public. I think this resistance is a generational thing, its also due to the fact that service users tend to be more likely to be digitally excluded, and therefore sceptical. There is an element to which therefore they can lag behind the rest of the population in terms of adopting technology, and it is unpredictable what is really going to take off among the service user population as they look at how to apply technology to make it benefit their mental health. Of course, there isn’t a one size fits all solution, and some people will find video useful in maintaining their mental health, as vlogging spreads among that population.

That’s why I’m curious about the way that ideas spread, in our efforts to tell people about the ideas behind Mental Snapp. I believe that an idea that grabs the moment seems to occur to a number of people at the same time, and is ‘in the ether’ in a way that means that it strikes like forked lightening in a few locations at once. Look at the number of times there is a theme in Hollywood films, or publishing, or TV. Ideas have wings. But how do they spread? There are common elements to contagious ideas, for example they are seeded to people with influence, they have novelty, they are intuitive and easy to grasp. These are the elements that cause people to share them. At Mental Snapp, we want to be talked about, and are free with our idea in that we believe that a patient led revolution is what is going to cause it to be successful. We have from the start encouraged people to get involved. Malcolm Gladwell in ‘The Tipping Point’, a classic book on the spread of ideas, speaks of communities of up to 150 people as a good way to seed ideas. That is the kind of size of initial community we are looking to generate. We’ve already had contact through our website with over 2000 people since June. But we’re looking to build those visitors into an active community. It won’t be for all those 2000+ people, but it will be that there are some among those who Gladwell calls ‘maverns’ who instinctively gravitate towards new ideas and contribute to them becoming currency.

The second group of commonalities between contagious ideas are linked – relevance, and utility. You may be in a party where it is hard to hear for example, but your ears prick up when you hear your name. Likewise, when something is useful to you, humans are hard wired evolutionarily to pas s that information on. These strands of contagion draw upon our natural self interest, and the way that we have evolved societally. The third strand of contagion that could be put in this group is social cascading, or the effect of recommendations or crowd popularity. On my first day in my new office recently, I asked for a recommendation of where to eat. I was given the name of a Vietnamese cafe nearby, and told to expect a queue. Indeed, there was one. I wondered briefly about finding somewhere less popular, but my curiosity was piqued. I joined. The queue moved quickly and I made a friend of my queuing partner. It was indeed excellent food, but my perception of its quality was undoubtedly influenced by the commitment I’d made to queue and the effort that I’d made to secure it. The recommendation worked.

The final group of commonalities are to some extent contradictory. They are the scarcity of information, which causes rumours, buzz and excitement. Think of the release of a new Apple product. By the time it comes out, the queues outside the shop are inevitable. The way that they build excitement is due to the way that information beforehand is like gold dust. Anyone who is an early adopter feels sprinkled by that magic. By contrast to this teasing attitude to followers, there is also the overt, the call to action, which works well on the internet, or also from the pulpit. If people are given a response to make, they are likely to make it, or to retweet something that says ‘please retweet’, to give money to a cause that asks for it, to perform an action in a response to the discomfort that they might feel being given the information and required to sit on their hands.

So it is for your sake, not our own, that we ask you to get involved in Mental Snapp. We’d like this great idea to spread, and we’d like you to be involved. There are three things you can do – email us to contribute time – we need volunteers to help us run workshops and events – take our survey on, or contribute your expertise in consulting on the idea. At the very least, please RT this blog. That would be awesome.

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