Author and researcher Josh Kaufman writes in his book The Personal MBA
that over time, you become more like the people you spend time with, and less like the people in other groups.
For Kaufman, this observation is explained by two tendencies: convergence and divergence.
Convergence is the tendency for group members to become more alike over time.
It also explains how groups tend to police their members’ behavior.
As Kaufman puts it, a group’s norms can act like gravity: “if they are violated, others will exert an influence on the rebel to bring them back in line.”
For example, say you work at a company that has a workaholic culture. If it’s normal to start work at 6am and finish at 10pm, then it can be difficult to work shorter hours. Violating the norms is a signal to the other members that you don’t belong in the group.
Divergence is the tendency for groups to become less like other groups over time.
Group behavior often evolves to distinguish members of one group from other groups. This means that a group’s norms will change over time to ensure that the group can’t be confused with another group or imitator.
For example, divergence explains why fashions among the socialite class in New York City change so quickly and dramatically.
In such a social circle, dress is a way to signal your wealth or status. But when the latest fashions start appearing in a store like Target allowing others to imitate a given look, that social circle will change its fashions to compensate.
Kaufman suggests that you can use convergence and divergence to your advantage.
If you want to become less shy and more outgoing, spending more time with social people will start to influence your behavior. On the other hand, if you find yourself spending time with people whose behaviors aren’t serving you, break away.
“If your social circle isn’t supporting your goals, change your social circle.”