A book published at the beginning of the year about our hidden motives, The Elephant in the Brain by Kevin Simler and Robin Hanson, collects lots of examples of our deep self-rewarding purposes (embedded, pretty unchangeable – sorry) that we deceive ourselves into believing are not there.

We claim to others and to ourselves more ‘acceptable motives’.  This self-deception may begin to explain behavioural inconsistencies that can nag at the happy functioning of teams and groups.

A new club opens. Beautiful furnishings, hip ambience, desirable in every way.
But at reception, the beautiful people fumble, don’t hear, don’t know what is going on, and fail to ‘welcome’ the smart new members.  Everything can be put right logically, the rest of the experience can be top notch, but as sure as a sure thing, those members will no longer feel loyal to the club.

The overt and claimed purpose of joining will be the luxurious convenience, the company, the sense of occasion imparted to any convened meeting or party.  What Mr Hanson and Mr Simler suggest to us about the true purpose of this sort of activity, which would never be acknowledged, is this: the members are going to the club to feel that they are receiving the love and care they deserve – and to be seen to be receiving that love and care.

No reference will be made to this true need.

Yet if that need isn’t met – sayonara.

In many apparently contractual and rational exchanges, the logical and quantifiable evaluation is not only less important than, but positively dependent on, the experience.  Less what was delivered, more how was it delivered.

In BBC Radio 4 series ‘Thought Cages’, Rory Sutherland explores many of the unquestioned ‘right and logical way to do things’ that can constrain us and can be….wrong.

Just as the club might have done better to swap the investment in designer furniture with staff beautifully accomplished in the art of welcome, teams and groups may want to pay more attention to the social and cultural ways of acknowledging status and value of team members.

The pay-off is a loyalty and willingness to participate that an email just doesn’t quite create.


The season is changing, chocolate’s in the air.

We’ll all soon have that twinge of an urge to simplify, brighten up, change our surroundings a little.

Because we can. Can’t we?

In every office in which I’ve worked recently, I’ve been struck by how ‘zoned’ the space has become.  Privacy is the new status, and there are some fabulously imaginative ways of ensuring that subtle and covert signals are clearly understood.

(And overt signals have by no means disappeared.  I know a building where hundreds of young talented people work in which – still – carpet, wallpaper and a mysteriously wealthy fragrance greet those leaving the lift at the ‘Board Floor’)

Having just had a lovely little travelling time in a European city that has consistently appeared top of the happiness tables. (Copenhagen, Denmark. Britain was 23rd on this list in 2016) I’ve been struck by how profoundly and speedily, surroundings alter mood, morale, and possibly even world view.

A quick Google study will uncover many studies about architectural and urban design that promotes calm, or relaxes, or soothes.  But something much simpler is open to us all.
The effect of mixing, naturally, different ages, priorities, and expertise.

The interior effect in that extreme building (and it is intended, isn’t it?) to a visitor entering that floor is to feel inadequate, inferior, and clearly without power.  The interior effect of a Copenhagen street by contrast is very different.  An interior shift can be felt; a shift towards a positive yet relaxed feeling that anything is possible.  Because homes and business are mixed up. Because evidence of children’s lives are visible everywhere. Because the Civic Buildings (how thrilling to situate ‘Borgen’) are low –key and relatively open.

So simple. Mix us up more, and we feel better.