I don't remember much from my MBA program and I'm not sure that's necessarily a bad thing. But I do remember one of my classmate's questions like it was yesterday.
He asked, "We hear a lot about vicious cycles at work, what is the opposite of vicious cycle?"
The teacher had no response, nor did any of my classmates at the time. But the question totally intrigued me. In fact, the answer didn't come up until the next day during a conversation over lunch when another student volunteered, "A virtuous cycle is the opposite of a vicious cycle."
This conversation came to mind this week a lot because, let's face it, there are a lot of vicious cycles in the headlines recently. Obesity spreading among friends and NASA's alleged culture of drinking, just to name two of the most prominent. But if you dig a little deeper, you'll also find that there are also virtuous cycles out there, "cycles" that everyone can participate in.
Moms all over the country must be smiling this week because every mom who talked to her kids about the importance of picking the right friends got a big high-five from the New England Journal of Medicine. According to a study released last week, if your friends gain weight, your chances of also gaining weight increases by 57 percent. Not that there is anything wrong with being overweight, but the study of 12,067 people did reinforce that all sorts of surprising habits can be shared among friends and family members.
But that wasn't the only cycle in the news this week. In addition to obesity spreading among friends, there was also a report that on at least two occasions astronauts showed up for spaceflights drunk. And they were still allowed to fly.
Or in the words of Jay Leno, maybe we should start calling it the "National Alcoholics in Space Administration." Once again, co-workers and friends have more power than most of us probably ever realized.
Which leads to the positive spin on this — the virtuous cycle. McDonald's deserves credit for increasing environmental consciousness when it started to focus on more recyclable packaging. Even though the company initially resisted a more green approach, when it did make a commitment, it had a huge impact on other companies. This was followed by GE's commitment to sustainability. And then a flood of other companies.
It can be argued that most of the green focus ultimately is in the corporation's best interest, because it reduces costs. But I'm still cheering because these are changes for the good that weren't required by law — the companies did it themselves.
Ultimately I believe that each of us can help to create virtuous cycles at work. Unlike so many things at work today, a virtual cycle is within the reach of every one of us.
"An idealist is a person who helps other people to be prosperous." -- Henry Ford
"Contagious Success" by Susan Lucia Annunzio (Portfolio, 2004)
"Rejecting conventional wisdom is not easy. It takes courage to try something new. It takes courage to sacrifice short-term results to attain more significant long-term goals. It takes courage to eliminate the interference that forces workgroup leaders to protect their groups. It takes courage to trust that people in your company have the secrets to success and to allow them to share those secrets throughout your organization. And, most importantly, it takes courage to listen, to ask questions, to allow failure and keep learning.
Bob Rosner is a best-selling author, an internationally syndicated columnist, popular speaker and a recent addition to the community of bloggers. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This work is the opinion of the columnist and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.