The Spanish Flu and Selfish Genes

In his Akimbo podcast, Seth Godin teaches us how to adopt a posture of possibility, change the culture, and choose to make a difference. Here are my takeaways from the episode.

In this podcast, Seth discusses how the behaviors of viruses and ideas are similar to each other. Understanding the behaviors of viruses and genetics can help us better understand how an idea spreads.

R0 is a mathematical term that indicates how contagious an infectious disease is. R0 tells us the average number of people who will catch a disease from one contagious person. If R0 is less than 1, each existing infection causes less than one new infection. In this case, the disease will decline and eventually die out.

If R0 equals 1, each existing infection causes one new infection. The disease will stay alive and stable, but there won’t be an outbreak or an epidemic. If R0 is more than 1, each existing infection causes more than one new infection. The disease will spread quickly and may turn into an outbreak or epidemic.

Several factors make an idea or a virus contagious. Number one is how many times we must be exposed to it before we get it. Number two is how long do the germs or the idea stick around? Number three is who is it infecting?

When we are surrounded by people who have been infected by an idea, sooner or later, we will get infected as well no matter how much we are protecting ourselves. Internet, with its super-fast connectivity, has played an important role in facilitating the spread of ideas. After a while, people develop immunity with an idea like they do with a virus.

Over time, what the media is doing is constantly serving up a fresh supply of ideas. These ideas that we were not resistant to yet, so there is a possibility of it spreading. We also need to be aware that many of these ideas were created by people who are doing it on purpose. The media reverse-engineer and structure these ideas so that once we see it, we will not be able to avoid it and may even help to spread it.

While we have ideas that want to spread themselves, culture is another important concept that can make or break an idea. In the world of genetics, culture is the environment that determines whether an idea can thrive and spread. An incompatible or unfavorable environment will likely kill off the organisms with certain genes. Incompatible or unfavorable culture also will kill off projects with certain ideas.

As we spread ideas, we are also changing the culture because the culture is a mixture of shared ideas. At the same time, culture is also evolving and can change an existing idea or spurring new ideas.

Thanks to the dissolution of the TV industrial complex and the accessibility of the Internet, spreading an idea is easier than ever. Before we can spread something, we must first start something. If we are going to infect our culture with good ideas, we must realize we are responsible and that we have the choice to put into the culture. We have the responsibility of putting infectious ideas with a high R0 that spreads within our culture and leave behind in their wake a version of better and the embracing of possibility.

Before something can spread, someone went first. Someone started spreading an idea, not knowing how it is going to work out. We all can start something and to spread that something. We should ask ourselves the serious questions. What will we share? What will we speak about? What will we engage in? Because that is the choice of our time.