As Philip K Dick is enjoying a bit of a moment (‘Electric Dreams’ TV dramatisations, and a new Ridley Scott sequel to Blade Runner), it feels a like a good time to credit one of his ideas that never quite made it into a screen adaptation. And this idea helps skewer, brilliantly, an odd business habit that seems to be on the rise.

PKD’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’ opens with a husband and wife’s conversation about the Penfield Mood Organ. The reader never gets to know how it works, just what it does.

A user consults the accompanying manual, and then dials in the numerical code for
the mood that he or she wishes to experience. It is their habitual choice of moods that the couple discuss. (My own favourite from the book is mood number 888, which is described as ‘the desire to watch TV no matter what’s on’)

While this bizarre machine is a normal – if pricey – part of the future world, the discussion still involves the very human sensitivity that perhaps moods (emotions) are not interchangeable, not options to be selected on a whim.

The wife, Iran, explains that she doesn’t approve of dialing 481 (‘awareness of
manifold possibilities’ – used frequently by her husband, Deckard) because it is an
unearned emotion. And in one graceful exchange, a pernicious and strange business behaviour of our contemporary working lives is illuminated: the ‘let’s get motivated’ away-day!

You know of what I speak.

It goes like this. There will have been a series of probably indefensible and unpopular changes/ cuts/ leadership failures and errors. In the time-honoured manner demanded by management cliché, a newly appointed team leader will quickly insist on arranging a jolly away day to change the mood. Everyone is, officially, to feel motivated and positive.

An away day designed to reflect, analyse, debate, generate, and create is an estimable thing. I design them, and run them, and love them. And truly, it is possible to ‘change the game’ with a little thoughtfulness, good will, intelligence, and time.

But an away day designed to change the mood? (Dialling in 481?)

No. A ‘sense of possibilities’ has to be earned. Time and honesty are involved.

Don’t approach an away day like a Penfield Mood Organ. Think of your away day as a possible ‘game changer’, never as a ‘mood changer’.


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