T80pxtreeo misquote Raymond Chandler, it was the sort of brainstorming ‘to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window’.

Nothing was out of bounds, people were deliciously mischievous, and the future was re-imagined.

A whole new structure.

And they were pretty sure about it.

A new elite troubleshooting team would be formed to work on the top tricky clients.
Recruited from high achievers across the business, they would be dedicated to the high spending customers, but ready to swoop in and sort out other client problems too. The team would be rewarded highly, with frequent surprise bonuses, and visible goals and successes would be shared and broadcast around the business.

It would be Top Fun to be selected to be part of this team, who would have their own little separate HQ.

Look, I was there to observe. And yes, it did sound a bit weird.

It was only a couple of days later, reading (in the interests of understanding a little more about human nature) about the design of gambling clubs, that the reason for the discomfort dawned on me.  It would appear that there really are only a few conditions that need to be in place to create quite deep seated addiction, quite quickly.

  • repetition coupled with random re-inforcement (a familiar business model, no?)
  • extrinsic goals (squeeze out any time for reflection on intrinsic goals such as meaning, or other forms of fulfillment)
  • isolate, cut off from social ties and bonds, create a ‘special’ world (reduce any opportunity to experience the different, possibly more grounded, perspectives of those ‘not in the club’)

It’s a worry, isn’t it?  Have we all been led into a success enchantment?

Is being a ‘high achiever’ just another form of addiction?

(Would love another coffee, thank you)


Penny Hunt's blog coffee conversationsDo you ever get the feeling that you are being watched, in a Truman Show sort of way?

The café lady and I had been chatting about raw food.

(I yield to no one in my ability to listen intently while scooping, methodically, every last powdery grain of icing sugar from a plate.)

The addiction to sugar on Penny Hunt's change chemistry blogAt that very moment an email pinged into the inbox – rather brusquely I thought – with a huge headline about sugar addiction.

(And no, it’s not a great look, reading all about how serious this is while some white sweetness floats from one’s chin.)

The article noted that the tongue map that is so familiar to us, with a small update for umami (a fifth taste), had remained more or less unquestioned for decades of the twentieth century. Had experiments conducted in 1901 by a German graduate student not been misinterpreted, then the ease with which the entire area of the tongue embraces the taste of sugar might have been more widely known. But since the 70s, the sheer level of this addiction to sugar, the intensity of the craving, has been oh so perfectly well understood – by food manufacturers.

Sugar junkies, all of us. Hopeless. Apparently the craving is of a biochemical nature that overrides all other ‘biological brake’ signals to …. stop.

So we think we know what we are doing, and that we are making decisions, but in reality an addiction has bypassed all available ‘control methods’.

And a train of thought pulled gently out of the station…

I had just finished a series of interviews in a medium sized company, and heard a word used quite automatically, and frequently. The word was ‘Change’.

I too love the word.

My consultancy is called ‘Change Chemistry’. The name came from a distinction between change that is reversible (physical change) and change that is real / permanent (chemical change). And my approach uses the idea of the change paradox– we cannot ‘decide to change’, we can only become super-aware of where we are so that change can emerge.

Check out a few current business articles and you will see how often the word ‘change’ is used – often alongside the word ‘disruption’.

Might the business world be addicted to the idea of ‘change’?

I think some companies and cultures are more entrenched than they realise: just too big to change in a season or two. Change is unrealistic. It would be far more worthwhile / profitable / sustainable and less painful for these companies to start little offshoots of difference and see where that goes and what it produces.

And in a glorious irony – or indeed homage to – the raw food conversation that was so rudely interrupted by the news of hopeless sugar addiction, I recall the raw foodies advice….

Don’t try to change your diet and cut things out. ADD the wholesome new thing, and let nature take its course.
So, business leadership teams – face your addiction to ‘change’, overcome your cravings. Encourage instead new wholesome off-shoots to spring up alongside your main business and effect the shifts you want to see: naturally.

The zones of the tongue on Penny Hunt's change chemistry blogThe myth of the tongue map;
that 1 tastes bitter, 2 tastes sour,
3 tastes salt, and 4 tastes sweet.


Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo image

Splashed through the delighting deluge and made it to the café. We were all in the Truman Show that day – completely at the mercy of whatever the Christof / Ed Harris producer character felt like throwing at us with his machinery and hidden cameras.

Safe now with an espresso.

I’m seeing everything through the lens of technology at the moment. It’s because of a strange coincidence yesterday.Penny Hunt's drawing of cafe culture and the wisdom of effective listening

In this very café a heart-stopping drama unfolded. The beautiful girl of a couple of weeks ago (her interview went brilliantly by the way) appeared to have lost a child. Shock. Fear. Cries to curdle a cricket bat. Primeval cries.

But the loss wasn’t a child.

The loss was her ‘phone.

Has it happened to you recently? I mean – since the addiction really took hold?  I could see her point of view (lets talk about empathy another time).  My own experience, but days earlier, had been of a stricken sinking feeling on realizing that the ‘phone was on the kitchen table while I was at the ticket barrier. The wrong side,the commitment side. By the bottom of the escalator I had fast forwarded through the stages of grief – denial, anger, negotiation, intense sadness and then finally acceptance (Uncannily like the quick change of weather forms in the Truman show, come to think of it). Except the last stage still wasn’t real. Acceptance took longer. I felt naked and lost and cut off. Part of me, a very important part, was missing.

What is this all about?

In Philip Pullmans Dark Materials the characters’ daemons are physical representations of part of the soul. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dæmon_(His_Dark_Materials) There are now online quizzes where you can identify what animal form your daemon would take.

Clever Mr Pullman. So it turns out they’re not just animals but also fruits – apples and blackberrys.

This sense of loss is profound. Something really is happening to us, fast.

We now spend 1 in every 12 waking minutes online in the UK http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/brits-spend-one-in-12-waking-minutes-online-8863661.html.

The University of Maryland researched attachment to our devices as long ago as 2010 and heard from students asked to be without their phones for 24 hours phrases like ‘ most horrible experience in my life’, ‘lost part of myself’. 70% quit the study. http://theworldunplugged.wordpress.com

So while wonderful opportunities and connections and inventiveness are unfolding and made possible by our new daemons, we also develop the characteristics of addiction, and lose access to other parts of ourselves.

During my day of ‘phonelessness, I experienced the strange but dimly-remembered sensation of thoughts leading on to other thoughts, rather than being interrupted by the urgency of attractive new stuff on the ‘phone. I know I became more attentive to the people I saw that day, too. The listening, the conversation, the connecting, got richer and better.

In the café the drama was still full of energy, but gradually reaching that acceptance stage.  Our heroine was twitching but settling into her chair in a ‘that’s how it is’ way.

What are you going to do?” asked her companion
I guess we’ll just talk” she answered with the first laugh of the exchange.

So the listening and connecting began.




Penny Hunt and Change Chemistry logo imageA contrarian café today. The corners are light and bright. The window seats are dark. The espresso sparkles. The latte droops. Nothing is as it should be. Or is it?

A dark thought, then a laugh. A really dark thought. Addiction.

To the jolly, convivial, comforting familiar, enabling, ritual of coffee and its amazing power to shrug off the guilt and remorse that cling to other lovely consumables.

As substance abuse side effects go, insomnia is an interesting cookie to crumble.

Insomnia image - Penny Hunt's blog on the surprising benefits of loosing sleep

Let me convert you. Let me suggest that taking
an opposite view, just for fun, will yield something of value. Let me suggest that what seems bad may be good.

In the spirit of things not being as they seem: is a night’s sleep of an uninterrupted 8 hours absolutely the best and only sleep pattern for us? The World Service reported a while back on the loss (I heard the programme during the night of course) of a ‘two sleeps’ pattern that had been common until the late 17th century. Imagine. No panic. Permission not to agonise. Just wake up after 3 or 4 hours, have a potter about, write a bit of a diary, chat to the family and then back for another little sleep.


Or in today’s world, send those texts that were bothering you, find that address you were looking for, watch that bit of The Bridge you missed and then just shimmy back to bed. It’s all here for you:


So many possibilities when a familiar truth is reframed: just by embracing an opposite viewpoint, just by letting a dark thing be a light thing.

An undreamed of benefit of staying awake in the middle of the night- this between sleeps time- is the changed quality of experience. It is not just the pleasure of the radio, but its heightened weirdness as the brain chunters A 1950s radio - Penny Hunt and the pleasure of late night listeningalong on over-drive. Insomnia delivers a Through the Looking Glass vividness to sound in the middle of the night.

I’ll share an example of an unexpected gift. This nighttime joke changed the following day beautifully. It encouraged me do the precise opposite of what was expected, to swap goods and bads, to zig not zag, and be in a generally contrarian place the whole jolly day. It was wonderful, productive and a great creativity boost.

Radio 4 Extra was whispering that night: Lord Peter Wimsy, Wilkie Collins, Mark Gatiss all danced through the small hours.

And then – a familiar voice.

Eric Morecombe?

Was it a trailer? What was happening? An unfamiliar sketch was rumbling along. Eric was apparently pretending, as he impressed another character, to belong to a local church.

The lie got bigger. Perhaps he was actually … the Vicar?

Then a challenge:

“But I don’t recall seeing you there on Sundays”

And our lovely Eric made the heroically contrarian response-

“ Oh, I tend to go on Saturdays: fewer people”.

And if that isn’t a little light coming out of some darkness and worth a sleepless night or two, I don’t know what is.

Light from Dark -  Penny hunt's blog