Social proximity – The real reason behind where you choose to live and work

Social proximity – The real reason behind where you choose to live and work

Many people misunderstand how and why creative & ambitious communities form around certain areas and not others. Why really do people set up shop in areas like Shoreditch or Brixton? What is it really about Hackney that attracts artists, or Paddington that attracts consultants?

Well, my friends, let me introduce you to something I call ‘Social Proximity’ – or ‘The Proximity Principle’, if you’re a nerdy academic

If you were to ask a hipster why exactly they decided to place their startup in Shoreditch (obviously, in addition to the obligatory questions around his perfectly groomed 3-inch beard or her elaborate 50’s poker-dot dress), you will likely hear answers of “Why would you not?” or “It’s the only place in London where you would start up a business like this!”

Anecdotal justifications of a person’s physical base always have one thing in common: that where they are located is ‘the only place’ to locate for their type of activity. Trouble is, if that were really the case, these areas or ‘hot spots’ would never have formed in the first place. Justifications always appear ‘rational’ or ‘measured’, but the reality is that the vast majority of people choose locations for their activities emotionally.

This is where Social Proximity comes in.

Emotional decision-making is hard to admit publicly. Particularly in the West, we believe that having a ‘feeling’ on things like where to work is considered uncouth. People sometimes quaff at the reason you ‘bought that car’ was simply because you think it’s pretty, but we do not scoff at the public rationalisation of choosing who to marry simply because ‘you want to’ (or that enigmatic emotion, ‘love’ – if you’re a romantic). But, the truth is, far more of our decisions are made emotionally than we care to admit publicly. As such, we ‘rationalise’ to protect ourselves against embarrassment & social norms.

Being rational isn’t totally ignored however. It is true that often a deciding on a base location is considered around how accessible it is to the required type of business community. There’s no point, for example, creating an advertising agency in a location where those who need advertising can’t be reached. It is these kinds of rational arguments that typically govern the rates and rental prices of business areas. When rationalised demand goes up in one area, so do the prices.

However, being socially-evolved creatures, we behave and decide in pretty much the same ways we behaved and made decisions centuries ago. For those people who put their life and soul into the impact they wish to create, the social time & distance between being ‘productive’ and being ‘social’ is the overarching emotional factor when choosing where you live or work.

To put this simply, people base their professional or personal life in close proximity to the majority of their social life. All this mumbo-jumbo about ‘being close to my customer’ is, for better or worse, rationalising an emotional decision to justify both the price of the location they want to be in, and to sway the conversation away from the embarrassment against social norms.

Even more so, for those whose professional and social life blur into one, the principle of ‘Social Proximity’ dictates that you will decide to live or work in the same area you decide to (for example) go to the pub. Frankly, Hipsters often socialise with Hipsters, and ‘corporates’ often socialise with ‘corporates’. You will then maintain as much ‘Social Proximity’ to the group you identify yourself with as possible.

So, good readers, when living or working somewhere new, never be afraid to tell others you made that decision simply because it feels right. The reality is, you’re simply obeying a fundamental principle of social psychology that in turn enables you to be the best version of you possible – unlocking your creativity and your ambition in ways not possible previously.

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