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The word epidemic immediately conjures up unpleasant connotations. But the literal definition of an epidemic simply is an event that is contagious and spreads rapidly, and those two traits are not inherently negative–consider, for example, contagious laughter. Malcolm Gladwell believes people can learn from this physical and social phenomenon in order to create favorable outcomes in their work and lives.

“Positive social epidemics occur when the outcome or behavior is desired,” he says. “Once you start to recognize the pattern [of epidemics] everywhere in life, you can find ways to encourage the creation of positive epidemics. In a business context, that could mean creating effective cultures within an organization so that behaviors spread and affect the group.”

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