Two January's ago I had the great privilege of delivering a TEDx talk in Sioux Falls. In that talk I extolled the virtues of Sioux Falls, or more precisely, the virtues of those that became my social network during a crucial transitional moment in my life. One important connection was just one connection removed from the CEO and Co-Founder of Face It TOGETHER, Kevin Kirby. Ten years later I work with Kevin and others on designing and executing solutions for the disease of addiction.
Whenever I tell this story, I often say: "It's no accident that I now sit seven feet from Kevin."
Until the most recent OTA Sioux Falls event, my framing of that statement was purely spiritual or meta-physical. In other words, it was meant to be. While that may be true and is certainly a belief I strongly hold, 10 years ago, the entire string of connections that led me to whatever success in life I have today seemed like an enormous folly. The meta-physical blanket simply provides a way of adding structure to something that can seem very random -- humans have been doing this for Millenia.
The more I think about the series of connections that helped me in my journey these last ten years, the more I wonder whether it is possible to take that seemingly random but impactful experience and get more intentional and even predictable with connections that are made.
One of the greatest frustrations in medicine is the mystery of certain illnesses. Addiction is shrouded in mystery ... from the nature of the disease to the efficacy of treatments. The mystery keeps people sick, and for some, kills them. What if we could shred some of the mystery around what it takes to get well and stay well? What if when we are rebuilding our social network we could be plugged into connections that are more likely to yield a positive outcome versus simply relying on hope and luck?
We've come to know a lot about the workings of social networks (not the digital kind, but real, human, analogue kind). I'm becoming more and more convinced that while the network I was plugged into was unintentional and seemingly random when it happened, it's effect and probability for success can be retroactively measured and modeled. By knowing just a few data points about a person and a few data points about a social network -- series of individual and group character profiles, if you will -- we could steer individuals into better networks, either on the periphery or right into the epicenter of good.
I think we can take the mystery out of the phrase all of us first hear in addiction treatment: "You must change the people, places, and things in your life in order to get well." I'm not sure we need to be so dramatic and so drastic with people and their lives at a such a critical moment in time.