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Futures Rambling #96

By Laurie Aznavoorian

One of my favourite questions to ask at the onset of a workplace strategy is – What keeps you up at night? The intention is to gain an appreciation of disruptive changes in an industry that could significantly impact the type of workplace design they should have. Not voyeurism. As I always say, if we were debating the brief for a new film processing plant for Kodak and no one had the brains to ask about digital photography we’d be real buffoons.

The point of completing a workplace strategy is a quest for meaning. By considering a broader range of issues and imperatives when articulating the problem we are solving, we can get beyond the easy picking, rainbows and unicorns items that float on the surface when a brief is being compiled to leverage the physical environment to do more. Consequently, it came as no surprise when the sticky topic of automation rose to the surface when I asking architects this question. It appears they’re scared sleepless by automation.

It’s said technology has created more jobs and industries than it’s destroyed, but recent research from the US suggests mechanized robots, both humanoid or drone types, along with Artificial Intelligence may eliminate 6% of jobs in America in the next five years and it won’t just be low-wage work on the chopping board. Industries that rely heavily on data are at particular risk including: radiology, law and accounting. Some estimate 95% of accountants may lose their job in the next ten years.

According to some creative fields will be safer and therefore one could surmise the fear architects have of being replaced by robots anytime soon is unfounded. When you think about it one could attire a robot in black and give it a groovy haircut, but can a robot bring the passion and common sense architecture requires? I doubt it, but on the other hand, we too work in an industry that is heavily reliant on data which is what radiology, law and accounting have in common.

The challenge we breathers have is a computer outfitted with the right algorithms thinks faster and more accurately than a person, and that is why start-ups like The San Francisco’s Enlitic are doing so well applying deep learning to the analysis of X-rays and CT scans. They’re giving doctors a real run for their money in tests against human radiologists. The Enlitic system was 50% more accurate in detecting malignant tumours and had a 0% false negative rate, humans generally miss 7% of cancers.

They’re trialling another new technology here in Australia which will detect wrist fractures and sadly the early trials are not looking good for humans who are once again being outperformed by computers. I’m not sure why they’re testing that here, perhaps it has something to do with Mr Trump bullying the company into leveraging the skills of unemployed factory workers in the Midwest to read scans? Could be okay as long as they don’t blur their vision by drinking too much Wild Turkey, but then does it matter? Who’ll be able to afford to get a wrist set without health care?

Fellow architects might take comfort in the findings of a 2013 study that found the half of the workforce at high risk of losing their job due to automation were less likely to be in creative fields. The study highlighted architecture as being at a lower risk because it’s non-routine and highly paid, ha ha ha ha, this is of course in comparison to cleaners or burger flippers, not other fields that require a university degree, internship and nasty exam to get a license.

That study was done in 2013, clearly they hadn’t heard of Magenta. This is a project launched by the Google’s Brain team and inspired by DeepDream. Magenta uses machine learning to explore content creation and creativity. Yep, creativity. They’re currently using it to compile music and art. What makes Magenta possible is deep learning or deep neural networks which mimic how the human brain works. Prior to that machine translations were based on algorithms that used statistical methods to guess possible outcomes.

Go ahead, be smug, argue there’s no way a computer could possibly be as creative as a human. Tell that to Android Lloyd Webber the computer that wrote the musical Beyond the Fence, while the reviews weren’t rave: “this show is as bland, inoffensive, and pleasant as a warm milky drink”, it played in London’s West End which is more than many composers can claim. Similarly, Nick Montfort, a professor of digital media at MIT who wrote the novel “World Clock” using a computer and algorithms that outlined characters, locations and actions produced a smash hit.

I guess this means we architects should be scared and pay close attention to the words of Sebastian Thrun, an AI professor at Stanford, who says “we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. No office job is safe.” Heck computers are already being used to create floor plans for housing projects and any robot worth its metal could probably draw a banquette detail faster than a junior and get the back angle and foam density correct to boot.

This is not great news for those of us trying to put shitty 2016 behind us and doing our darndest to diffuse negativity. By the way, experts say the first thing you need to do to diffuse negativity is to stop worrying and obsessing about things that have happened because it launches a cycle that is very difficult to extract yourself from – a slippery slope. They suggest acknowledging and accepting – that’s what I’m practicing when I repeat to myself ‘the new head of the EPA is a climate change denier – fantastic.’

Another method for forgetting is to be in a worse situation. We are so fortunate to live in a time where there are crackpot companies that do this! Of course it cost more than what the typical architectural practice is prepared to pay per person for an offsite, $950 US, but if you want you can go to Survival Systems and have a worse situation simulated. They’ll stick you under water in a mock plane crash with your co-workers. Imagining drowning with colleagues, that’s one way to forget about the nasty things that keep us up at night.

 

Sources:

Aldermanjan, Leslie; “The Year of Conquering Negative Thinking”; The New York Times; January 3, 2017

Barrie, Joshua; “Computers Are Writing Novels: Read A Few Samples Here”; Business Insider Australia; November 28, 2014

Griffiths, Sarah; “Musicals Written by Computer is Heading for the West End… and Based on the Machine’s Calculations, it Should be a Guaranteed Hit” MailOnline; February 5, 2016

Grothaus, Michael; “Bet You Didn’t See This Coming: 10 Jobs That Will Be Replaced By Robots” Fast Company; January 19, 2017

Hyde, Rory; “Architecture in the Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence” Architecture AU

Kelleyjan, Tyler J; “Need Better Morale in the Workplace? Simulate a Plane Crash”; The New York Times; January 7, 2017

Morgenstern, Michael; “The Impact on Jobs – Automation and Anxiety”; The Economist; June 25, 2016

Shani, Or; “Is Artificial Intelligence Going To Take Your Job?” Forbes; August 29, 2016

 

 

 

 

Futures Rambling #95

By Laurie Aznavoorian

 

In late October I spoke at a workplace conference in Sydney (I’ve written three posts that you can read at (http://www.bvn.com.au/2016/11/10/digital-revolution-part-one-background-context/) if you’re interested in knowing more about The Digital Revolution which was my missive for the day. As is often the case with these types of industry gatherings, an unofficial theme emerges, it establishes itself quickly like a light switch flicking to the on position in the collective conscious.

The Work 2.0 conference was no different in this regard, the hot topic that was repeated like a mantra from presentation to presentation was gig economy, gig economy, gig economy. In the event you reside on Mars, this term describes a group of people who have loose arrangements with companies that resemble employment, but aren’t really.

The easiest way to think about the gig economy is to consider the Uber driver who chauffeured you home from the office Christmas party, that guy doesn’t work for Uber. Similarly, the Deliveroo bikie who miraculously made a pizza appear when you got home does not work for your local Italian joint. Both are freelancers and part of an emerging economy defined by loose employment relations coined the gig economy.

The Intuit 2020 report that predicts trends shaping the next decade estimates 40% of the U.S. workforce will be made up of freelancers (or giggers) by 2020. This report provocatively asks us to imagine a world where companies motivate and manage employees who never set a foot in the corporate office.

Wow, I can imagine it, but to my workplace designer pals this is their worst nightmare. But they need not worry – now that America is going to be great again employees will once again be chained to their desks paving the way for designers to remain gainful employed thinking up new ways to arrange desks.

I’d first heard about the gig economy in August while I was in Seattle, the big news around town was a local employer, a tiny outfit called Amazon, announced a new 30- hour a week program that employees could opt into. The program would have a few technical teams and would be made up entirely of part-time workers.

These 30-hour a week employees will be salaried and receive the same benefits as traditional 40-hour workers, but they’ll receive only 75 percent of the pay . To overcome one common pitfalls many experience with part time work, Amazon plans to create teams entirely of part-timers, including managers. Interestingly, my brother’s company has done the same, what is noteworthy about this is he’s not in tech, but a lawyer. Consequently, this must be hot, we all know how progressive lawyers are!

One reason many are choosing to work part time, contract or to gig is noneconomic; employees have gone blue in the face waiting for their employers to do something about work-life balance and have elected to take matters into their own hands. It is not a surprise that analysis by LinkedIn indicates younger professionals, in particularly millennial men, find gigging particularly attractive. It appears to be paying off too, evidence suggests they’re happier, healthier, more loyal and innovative.

And this is why gigging was the hot topic at the conference. One after another HR professional ascended the stage to wring their hands and deliver emotional, heart felt confessions relating to their companies’ ability to attract this new generation of freelance worker. Clearly they lie awake at night concerned their organisation doesn’t have the right stuff to attract those crazy, freewheeling giggers.

In a worried tones they described the tables turning, positioning freelance employees in the driver’s seat and this new order absolutely terrified them. Understandably so, in certain industries it does appear to be the case, technology in particular relies heavily on contract workers. Flexjobs recently ranked areas crucial to Amazon’s business and all of them fell within the top five industries for freelancers: computer and IT, Administrative, Accounting and Finance, Customer Service and Software Development.

Admittedly, hearing this beguiled me, for I’ve been a part of this gig economy for the past two years and have experienced the exact opposite. The word I’d use to describe the way I’ve been treated is worse than appalling. Clearly our industry hasn’t heard about the gig economy, or the importance of creating an environment that is attractive to freelancers, because in architecture and design we still believe it’s acceptable to treat people like they are expendable doormats.

This is manifested by refusing to return phone calls or emails, expecting unrealistic turnaround times and behaving as if the basics of civilized decorum such as saying please and thank you, I’m sorry or you’re welcome were ever a part of their lexicon. To top it off, there is an abhorrent absence of truth that is far more pernicious than the typical ‘emperor’s new clothes’ delusion so common in offices today. This is where hands go to hearts and platitudes on caring, support, fairness and safety come forth, when the opposite is true, but no one has the guts to call bullshit.

I welcome the prospect of tables turning in our industry to favour the gig worker and would love to see the many architectural and design contractors rise up and demand better of employers, not in the way of perks like beer and pool tables, but a very little, simple thing – honesty. I would love to see companies that treat people badly fail miserably. Alas, I acknowledge my dream is unlikely to be realised in this post-truth era where people in power decide what is true and what isn’t, and lying is not only acceptable but rewarded.

 

Sources:

Intuit, 2020 Report, October 2010

Turner, Karen; Amazon is Piloting Teams with a 30-hour Workweek; Forbes, August 26, 2016

Walker, Michael and Kaine Sarah; Deliveroo Strike Win Shows Gig Workers Can Subvert the Rules Too; The Conversation; August 19, 2016

Zimmerman, Kaytie; What Amazon’s New 30-Hour Work Week Means for Millennials; Forbes; September 11, 2016

Futures Rambling #94

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Last month I gave a presentation in Australia to a group of architects who invited me in to share my thoughts on the societal developments we should pay attention to that might impact our future. These are ideas to engage in, formulate opinions on and if we’re smart act on to best sustain ourselves and our industry moving forward. Identifying key drivers or influences that will impact the business of design is a daunting task, I began by exploring societal forces, popular movements, economics and technology that might translate to the practice of architecture.

Several rose to the surface that are highly relevant to our industry. Movements like the sharing economy – that spawned ABW and co-working environments, and the increased influence of digital on physical environments – whose impact must be explored further given its relative newness, have been well documented. Another that has been talked about less in the context of architecture and design, but should be due to the profound impact that it has, is the rampant rise of anti-intellectualism in society.

Anti-intellectualism isn’t necessarily a new phenomenon. The American ethnobotanist, mystic, psychonaut, lecturer and author – who many would know for smoking dope daily and being an advocate for the responsible use of naturally occurring psychedelic plants – Terence Mckenna, suggested ‘the great evil that haunts our enterprise is an inability to distinguish shit from Shinola.’ Granted, he was speaking in a different time and context, never the less, these words begin to touch on the challenge we face.

Mckenna was talking about relativism, which he defined as an absence of logic and mathematical understanding that results in all ideas being placed on equal footing, therefore making it impossible to distinguish a good idea from a bad one. In his mind the problem was growing worse all the time “Just pick up a copy of Magical Blend or Shaman’s Drum and you’ll discover an appeal to the level of intellect that makes what’s going on with television advertising look like a meeting of the Princeton Institute of Advanced Study.”

McKenna was attacking the rise of political correctness when he made his comment which is not anti-intellectualism per se; however, it’s not a big stretch to draw a parallel between this and the steady march we are currently on from dumb to dumber. In our society today being an intellect or academic is no longer valued, in fact in many ways it is pejorative. One need look no further than the political landscape to see evidence of this.

We live in a time when people’s main source of news and insights is Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, all are vehicles that dumb down messages and offer one sided approaches. The conundrum is that in creating a situation where one position is defined by opposition to another, rather than creatively articulating a point of connection, the results are generally not very good: racism, sexism, homophobia and religious hate all harken back to preferring one’s own perspective over another’s to the point of being unable to engage or cope with difference.

We have transported this type of divisiveness and an ‘us and them’ mindset into architectural practices which has caused both individuals and organisations to shy away from having debates about things that matter. Criticism is no longer valued, in fact these days when one engages in either criticism or debate they are likely to be labelled rogue, a cultural mismatch, or not a team player. The ‘crit’, the cornerstone to establishing good arguments that lead to better designs, has nearly been eliminated.

If inability to deal with differences is one side of the coin, the flip side and a position equally damaging for us, is having everything the same. In Australia we have something referred to as the ‘tall poppy’ syndrome, it is a deep sense of equality that Deakin University anthropologist Rohan Bastin suggests confuses equality with sameness. It proves damaging when we attempt to assimilate all by flattening out and making everything equal, identity is lost and value is hard to recognise.

Architects and designers have taken this route for an understandable reasons. Individuals and organisations that strive to be different struggle because it’s impossible to be successful in tender situations where evaluators use procurement matrices created to rank apples against apples. Clients too are risk adverse, with few willing to stick out their neck to choose the firm with a different approach. This of course assumes the design practice has the skill to articulate what is different about approach, despite all the rhetoric, jargon and chest pumping that proliferates, it all sounds pretty much the same.

Some say creativity and innovation are today’s hot currency. If this is indeed true the rise of anti-intellectualism is an even greater concern for architects and designers. It is impossible to be innovative and anti-intellectual at the same time. By shunning intellect, reason is also cast out, without reason and logic there is no problem solving, and that takes us back to shit and Shinola, because you get the former when you take the dumb route.

Mckenna said we shouldn’t be afraid to denounce pernicious forms of foolishness, he was referring to Chaos Theorist, followers of the revelations of this or that New Age guru or someone channelling information from the Pleiades. In our industry this could be translated as we can’t be afraid to bring back intellect and restore our position as experts. The form of safe, everything is the same, don’t rock the boat design so prevalent today is equally pernicious, as is organisations too afraid to challenge a status quo not working.

So as not end on a sour note, perhaps we take comfort from designers in other industries who believe the future will require us to be smarter and demand we make use of research and strategic skills. Harry West from the global design and strategy firm Frog believes design research will be a fundamental skill for all types of designers and John Rousseau from Artefact a technology product design company in Seattle says design strategist, people who have the ability to understand and model complex systems, will be indispensable. I really hope they’re right.

Sources:

Adonis, James; We Love Being Dumb and Dumber; Sydney Morning Herald; January 8, 2015

Elder, John; Is Anti-intellectualism Killing the National Conversation? The Age; August 16, 2015

Niose, David; Anti-intellectualism Is Killing America – Social Dysfunction Can be Traced to the Abandonment of Reason; Psychology Today; June 23, 2015

Terence Mckenna denounces Relativism; Uploaded by MckennaCounterCulture May 2, 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YK3BahMxH4M

 

 

Future’s Rambling #94

By Laurie Aznavoorian

 

Two debates are occupying the American conscious these days. The first is whether America will follow the UK down a path of nationalism and vote in a president who believes the best way forward is to batten down hatches and close borders. The second is the ongoing debate about firearms in the wake of yet another mass shooting.

By default, speaking in an American accent has made me an ambassador of the US. I frequently find myself in the uncomfortable position of being asked by friends in Australia and Europe to explain the inexplicable when it comes to American’s fascination with many things. Their questions flummox me. I can’t explain Donald Trump, guns, the Kardashians or even topics close to my heart that I know a bit about, such as why Americans are so darn traditional when it comes to their workplaces.

For a country who maintains they’re ahead of all others, the US are very slow in the adoption of new attitudes, ideas and ways of working. This places America behind others when it comes to contemporary workplace design, the Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand come to mind. Workplaces comprised of: private offices, offices of different sizes, formal boardrooms and reception areas and policies that dictate employees be present in the office from 9 to 5 seem like the Dark Ages to many, but they’re alive and kicking in America.

It’s generally my practice to adopt a snarky, highbrow ‘I’m so much more enlightened’ attitude when it comes to these things, but in a modicum of humility I am going to use myself as an example of how easy it is to dismiss the unfamiliar. My experience began at gate 7B in the Seattle Tacoma International Airport where I was waiting and reading the Fast Company Coexist Newsletter. Suddenly I got distracted by a loud snoring sound emanating from a man lying nearby who was stretched across four seats.

Naturally, I gave him the stink eye, which he didn’t see because he was asleep. Seriously, does the guy have to sleep in the airport, can’t he sleep at home? After all, the flight we were boarding did not have a particularly early departure, nor was it international. As an aside, American’s are cry-babies when it comes to flying. They bring snacks, movies and neck support pillows, and when queried about the length of travel they roll their eyes and say “Aggghhh 3 hours!” Good lord, I’d hate to see them on QF1: Melbourne to Dubai, connecting to QF9 to London – 31 hours 25 minutes.

The conundrum I was faced with that morning was as I was feeling annoyed by a man sleeping in a public place, the article I was reading was about naps. It featured Sharon Liverant’s design for an accruement that converts a desktop screen to a pillow. Liverant is a young architect who works with an Israel-based design company, he came up with the idea when he was a student and couldn’t find anywhere to sleep in the studio. Surprise! When he graduated he learned most offices also have no nap room, nor are they willing to allocate the space for one.

Westerners chuckle at the idea of a nap at work, but the topic arose many times in interviews with employees from a large engineering firm that I was creating standards for a few years ago. We learned that in order to adapt the Australian workplace to Asia, it was necessary to acknowledge their cultural preference to take a midday nap. Consequently, a room to store mats was required, as was a place to hang rain drenched ponchos worn while scootering to work.

Sharon Liverant not only identified a problem, he also did his research. While a nap does not make up for inadequate or poor night-time sleep, the National Sleep Foundation in the US suggests a 20 or 30 minute snooze can improve mood, alertness and performance. In fact, some very influential people were famous daytime nappers: Winston Churchill, JFK, Einstein, Thomas Edison and GW Bush.

That’s an oxymoron! Perhaps it is more appropriate to use W as a representation of the stigmas associated with napping that discourages individuals from taking them, and organisations from providing places to do so. These include such misplaced notions as: napping indicates laziness, a lack of ambition, low standards and is only for the very young or very old. The sad reality is research indicates the opposite.

Naps restore alertness, enhance performance and a they reduce mistakes and accidents, a NASA study on pilots found a 40 minute snooze improved performance by 34% and alertness by 100% . On the other hand, Dr. Charles A. Czeisler from the Harvard Medical School advises that 24 hours without sleep, or a week of sleeping four or five hours a night, produces impairment equivalent to a blood alcohol level of .1%.

With these results in mind Dr. Czeisler suggests top executives have a critical responsibility to take sleeplessness seriously due to the impact it has on cognitive performance. If company leaders really care, then they must recognise the problems that contemporary work and travel schedules create which are only exacerbated by a social culture that glorifies sleeplessness. Who hasn’t been exposed to colleagues boasting about how busy they are, how many emails they have and how very little personal time their important job affords them? They’re so busy, they hardly have the time to tell you how busy they are.

Organisations worldwide have rules and policies designed to protect. In the office employees are not allowed to smoke or sexually harass one another, but few companies have rules related to working too hard, too long or with too little sleep. Perhaps we’ve reached a time when our awareness of health and wellbeing will combine with what research has shown. Is not taking a nap is the new smoking? Will those sleep pods suddenly take off? Will nap rooms be the norm?

Ha ha ha Yeah right! More likely businesses’ reactions will be similar to mine when I encountered the sleeping guy in the airport, a dismissive grunt – and I of all people should have known better given my past experience and fondness for naps! Rather than embrace naps organisation may more likely concoct narratives to leverage the research as evidence of the need to maintain private offices, or some other malarkey.

Sadly that would leave Sharon Liverant’s ingenious design with no hope for adoption. Despite the fact that it rotates and flips down to convert the desk into a place to rest, complete with a padded felt centre that blocks noise and a light weight net frame that acts as an ergonomic cushion, his invention might well go the way of so many other great ideas that were ahead of their time like virtual reality headsets, Google Glass and the Earing Magic Ken doll.

 

Sources:

The National Sleep Foundation

CoExist Newsletter, “This Device Transforms Your Desk into a Place to Take a Nap at Work”, Fast Company June 6, 2016

Fryer, Bronwyn, “Sleep Deficit the Performance Killer” HBR, October 2006 issue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Futures Rambling # 93

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Being in America at election time is amusing to say the least, this is particularly true in this cycle when tall tales, misrepresentation and mudslinging have taken on new and often stratospheric proportions. Politicians behaving poorly is no epiphany, many would consider one’s ability to deceive a requirement for the job. What is surprising is the extent of the lies, the startling lack of evidence to support claims and the fact that any portion of the population believes them.

People have been suckers for a very long time, the world is filled with ‘pollyannas’ who believe the world to be a good place and unquestioningly accept anything they’re told – regardless of how absurd it might be. This is most definitely the case in life and politics, but it’s the same in business. What appears to have changed is the confidence that blatant lies are peddled and the hesitancy we have to call bullshit.

In business lying is manifested in myriad ways: misrepresentation of earnings, blurry lines between where money comes from and goes to and a host of other white lies that in the grand scheme of things is quite benign such as: stories told to encourage employees to join or stay with a company, grandiose claims of benefits and misrepresentation of the organisation’s culture.

When talking to companies about their workplace it is not unusual to discover considerable gaps between the narratives organisations peddle to employees and the reality of their day to day existence. This is especially true when it comes to claims of fairness, high moral standards, consultative approaches to the work they do and promises of equality. It is not surprising to find behaviour inconsistent with claims.

Before we jump to the conclusion that people are bad, everyone’s a liar, the world’s a rotten place and no one’s story is believable it may help to take an honest look at dishonesty. To do this I’ve referenced Dan Ariely’s book The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty HarperCollins 2012. You may recognise Ariely as the author of the New York Times bestseller Predictable Irrational.

For those of us in the design industry Chapter 5 – Why Wearing Fakes Makes Us Cheat More was quite insightful, this is where it is explained that knockoffs are the equivalent to Oxycodyne or what is better known as hillbilly heroin. First it’s used for pain relief following routine outpatient surgery and the next thing you know you’re looking for a fix under a viaduct, that my friends is how slippery the slope is.

What happens with fakes is the ‘What-the-Hell’ effect begins to impact our actions as we pass our ‘honesty threshold’, which is the point when an individual begins to violate their own standards. It is easier to understand in the context of a diet. After inhaling a bag of tasty Tim’s Cascade Potato Chips one is more likely to abandon attempts to control behaviour and succumb to temptations to further misbehave. They say What-the-hell and wash the chips down with a beer.

Most designers I know are quite careful about specifying fakes, but they aren’t always as careful about how they represent their work or their firms. An individual who plays a minor role in a project suddenly becomes the design leader, or assumes sole responsibility for the design of a project that’s clearly the work of dozens of professionals. At a higher level a firm includes photos of a project in a submission that are not theirs or promises a specific employee to a client when they can’t physically work on the job.

You may say what-the-hell – that’s so little, it’s puppy poop, but Ariely suggests single acts of dishonesty should not be treated as a petty offenses. A first act of dishonesty is the most important one to prevent for it shapes the way a person views himself and their actions from that point on. He believes that if we do this society might become more honest and less corrupt over time. Good luck with that, he could have never known what was to occur in 2016 when he authored The Honest Truth About Dishonesty.

Social scientists refer to a concept called self-signaling. This is the premise that despite what we think, we don’t have a very clear notion of what we are. For example you interpret buying a ham sandwich for a beggar as a signal of benevolence, but the act in itself in neither an indication of your character or morality, nor does it define you. Similarly, sitting in a Le Corbusier lounge may make you think and act differently than you would sitting in a knock off.

Human beings have a very sophisticated means of deception, after repeating an exaggerated claim over and over they begin to believe it. This is something Ariely calls ‘cheating ourselves’ and is common behaviour in design firms. What becomes challenging for us all and therefore makes it hard to police is how frighteningly close self-deception is to extreme optimism or overconfidence, which are not always bad in our industry.

On the down side by deceiving ourselves we ignore failures and tend to blame others and outside circumstances for what are quite clearly our own shortcomings, obvious opportunities for growth are lost. In addition, an overly optimistic view may make one assume all is good and that can lead to not actively making the best decisions. Of course there are upsides to white lies, sometimes they are simply social niceties.

As interesting as Chapters 5 and 6 were, Chapter 7 was the most enlightening for an architect. In 2002 I read Richard Florida’s book The Creative Class and shouted hallelujah, finally those of us who create for a living would get their comeuppance. I didn’t think that meant we would rise to the top because we are the best liars, which is what Ariely implies in this chapter.

He begins by telling us to blame the left side of our brain for our incredible ability to confabulate stories. This is the side labelled ‘the interpreter’ that spins stories from experiences. As humans we’re prone to justifying our dishonesty using the stories we concoct about why our actions are acceptable. The decisions we make based on our gut are post rationalised and manipulated to further our cause. Sadly, the more creative we are, the more we create stories to justify self-interests.

This is such a disappointment for someone who believed creativity was a personal virtue to aspire to, one that enhances our ability to solve problems and open doors for progress. But what Ariely makes clear in Chapter 7 is that the same creativity that enables us to envision solutions to problems also causes us to bend rules and then create narratives to justify our dishonesty.

But wait – we are in the golden age of collaboration, surely increased input and monitoring from colleagues would be the ticket to keeping weak individuals with low morals on the straight and narrow. Unfortunately the research does not support this. Experiments on cheating in groups indicates people are more dishonest when others, even strangers, tend to benefit.

When it comes to collaboration there is also the psychological phenomenon of Groupthink at play. This is when a group of people wants so much to please one another that they become irrational or dysfunctional in their decision making. Critical evaluation and alternative viewpoints are supressed and the group often isolates themselves from outside influences to minimise conflict.

Groupthink creates an illusion of invulnerability and belief that your shit doesn’t stink – it’s not a good thing, particularly if the whole group has drunk the company Kool Aid and are lying! Think back to 2008 and the Financial Crisis to be reminded of how damaging groupthink can be.

So what can we do? Dan Ariely maintains there are rational forces we think drive our dishonest behaviour – but don’t, and there are irrational forces that we think don’t drive our dishonest behaviour – but do. Dishonesty is an irrational tendency that is pervasive, we don’t really understand how it works, nor do we see it in ourselves. But by better understanding what causes it we can begin to control it. Really – I’m not lying.

Sources:

Ariely, Dan; The Honest Truth About Dishonesty; HarperCollins Publishers 2012

 

 

 

 

Futures Rambling #92

By Laurie Aznavoorian

 

A friend of mine has been going through a rather challenging stretch at work and recently confessed current incidents were not only having the typical impact on him that many of us experience daily due to our jobs: loss of sleep and anxiety, but that he now attributes specific physical manifestations such as: heart palpitations, itchy skin rashes and fever blisters on the lips and face to the stress he’s experiencing at work.

Over the past decade there’s been a shift in mindset regarding employee health and wellbeing, as a result the fact that someone was presenting physical signs of stress over their job was no striking discovery. What surprised me was who it was happening to, this person is strong, centered and supported and he works in a field that is hardly stressful. He’s an interior designer.

Despite what some of you might believe, neither interior design nor architecture appear on The Most Stressful Jobs list created by CareerCast, an American online source for jobs and career advice. Reviewing the list one would be hard pressed to draw similarities between selecting scatter cushions and the top four vocations that appear on the list: being actively enlisted in the military, a firefighter, airline pilot or policemen.

On the other hand a designers might share a number of the 11 stress factors used to create the list which includes: requirement to travel, deadlines, working under public scrutiny and physical demands. But when it comes to other stress factors like: environmental conditions, hazards, risks to life and interaction with the public at large – you can hardly compare.

Similarly being a designer doesn’t match the criteria for CareerCast’s list for least stressful jobs either, the top four are: Information security analyst, Diagnostic medical sonographer, tenured university professor and Hair stylist. Designers don’t make the least stressful list because they sure as heck cannot meet that criteria: the ability to offer job security, a good hiring outlook and salary, no physical demands or deadlines.

Anyone with a brain knows work stress is not wholly related to the job one does, but the conditions in which you do the work. Also, stress is very personalized, what floats one’s boat sinks another. Taking this into account any role can be stressful for a variety of reasons: the organisation you work with may be understaffed, poorly managed or the company is undergoing rapid change.

Digging deeper, the most common causes of workplace stress come from a lack of control, or not having the latitude to make decisions and that can happen in any job. Another key factor in workplace stress is unpredictability, not knowing what is happening with the company, a deadline or having clear expectations limits an individual’s ability to plan ahead and that makes it impossible to blend work and life.

Now that the sources of stress are clear, what you and my stressed out pal must take note of the following important point. Scientific studies indicate employees’ subjected to high demands at work with little control e.g. unpredictability, are at increased risk of heart attack, hypertension and cardiovascular disease – it’s nothing to ignore. In America some industries understand this well, a police officer who has a coronary event on or off the job is assumed to have a work related injury. Doesn’t matter if you’re shooting a black teenager or pulling in a bass sitting in a rowboat, you’ll be compensated accordingly.

To add additional fuel to the fire consider the analysis of data from more than 200 studies completed by Stanford and Harvard found worrying over losing your job makes you 50% more likely to experience poor health and having an over-demanding job makes you 35% more likely to have a physician-diagnosed illness, but that’s not all. The big ‘ah ha’ from this research is JERK BOSSES ARE THE NEW SMOKING.

This will be a trending topic at cocktail parties and workplace conferences in the future. Forget yesterday’s pithy bylines and all of the brew haha over sitting is the new smoking, cease the endless diatribe over the benefits of a sit stand desks because the Ivy Leaguers have found the negative health effects from a rotten boss are as bad as what is seen in people exposed to high amounts of second-hand smoke!

This is backed by research from the American Psychological Association who reported 75% of US workers identify their boss as the most stressful part of their job, 60% would take a new boss over a pay raise. While 27% of people quit their job as a result of a bad boss a staggering 59% stay and suffer. That is very sad. Given these statistics it’s amazing more organisations don’t seriously consider the impact leadership has on workers and act accordingly.

We know few organisations do and that has led to the development of a caste of people who suggest you won’t be stressed about things you don’t care about, the approach they take to workplace stress is to cultivate what they call a F**k it attitude. Proponents of F**k it are not suggesting you shouldn’t care, but recommend being care less. By telling yourself that something doesn’t matter so much you’ll relax, feel better and shift to lower and less stressful gears.

They do warn of the possibility of the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction, to a point where a person stalls and finds life meaningless which is equally damaging. The clue they say is to take hold of certain things and give up on others. It’s an old adage, pick your battles. Do something about the things you can do something about and when it comes to others just say F**k it.

Many people are buying into this approach, in America the ‘maker movement’ is revitalizing US cities. Makers are entrepreneurs who are fed up with generic, mass produced merchandise, they are bringing back local industry, building local economies and strengthening the workforce. What better way could there be to share ideas, innovate and send a message to the corporate world. One could argue this is a manifestation of the F**k it attitude

The US presidential election is another example. There is one candidate who it is said represents the status quo establishment, the second is on the Christian far right and described as ‘Lucifer in the flesh’ by fellow Republicans. The third talks passionately about the injustices done to working people by unequal income distribution and the final candidate is just a cashed up bogan who hasn’t’ said anything intelligent in months. One might conclude the latter two are running on F**k it establishment platform.

 

Sources:

Bradburry, Travis; 4 Signs Your Boss Is Worse Than Cigarettes; Forbes.com; March 8, 2016

Parkin, John; How F**k it Helps With Stress & Anxiety; www.eff-it-helps.com ; March 8, 2016

Patel, Sujan; Why More Entrepreneurs Need to Make Health and Wellness a Priority; Brooks Rainwater; March 8, 2016

Strauss, Karsten; Where Most Job Stress Actually Comes From; Forbes.com; February 10, 2016

The Nosh Report – Digesting the Statistics of Workplace Stress http://www.cdc.gov/niosh

www.fastcoexists.com; How The Maker Movement Is Revitalizing Industry In American Cities From Pittsburgh to Chattanooga to San Francisco, people are making things again; March 8, 2016

 

Futures Rambling # 91

By Laurie Aznavoorian

I met my love by the gas works wall. Dreamed a dream by the old canal. Kissed a girl by the factory wall. Dirty old town Dirty old town

This lyric from the Pogues’ song ‘Dirty Old Town’ is the unofficial anthem of Dublin and can be heard bellowing out of the many pubs in the Temple Bar area. It was written by Ewan MacColl and is in fact about Salford, Greater Manchester England, not Dublin. Never the less after spending several weeks in Dublin I understand why it’s been adopted, Dublin is a dirty old town.

In the four block walk from my vanilla short stay apartment to the office it is necessary to traverse a veritable minefield of dog poo that’s been left on the sidewalk for the rain to wash away. And in the tiny playground nestled between my apartment block and the headquarters of Facebook, dog owners allow their pets to defecate in the very same very sand pit that the tech company’s employee’s children play in.

Revolting as it sounds, dog poo is the least of my grievances regarding that area of Dublin, what is more annoying is the loud metallic cha ching sound that echoes through the buildings every time a car drives over a grate in the street just near the Bord Gais Theater that’s not properly secured. It’s a block away and the apartment’s double glazed windows are tightly closed, still it’s impossible to ignore cha ching, cha ching, cha ching that goes on all day and night.

It’s a wonder the people at Facebook get anything done at all! Perhaps that is why they spend so much time out front smoking and work all night, oh wait they don’t work all night, they just leave their lights on all night. Clearly when you’re only paying 12.5% corporate tax, the lowest rate in the developed world, you can afford to let your electricity bill run high.

If employees at Facebook are anything like most of us, they don’t need cha ching, cha ching to distract them when there are myriad distractions right at their fingertips: work and personal e-mails, text messages, social media, phone calls, coworkers wanting to catch up for a wee gossip, micromanaging supervisors, people talking on mobile phones, copy machines, printers, the elevator…

No surprise research has shown distractions have a damaging effect on productivity and work safety, not to mention one’s mood. Distractions lead to poor performance which adds to one’s stress levels, this sends workers on a downward spiral. Michigan State University recently published findings of a study they did in the Journal of Experimental Psychology that found interruptions as short as three seconds double the chance of an employee making a mistake. It’s okay when your mistake is putting a pickle on a burger, not so good when you’re in air traffic control.

Unfortunately, a challenge we have with distractions in the contemporary workplace is that they’re sometimes a necessary manifestation of encouraging collaboration and mentoring. When a senior employee passes on knowledge it benefits the organization, but does little for that person’s personal productivity. Experts also suggest that workplace distraction can also be a good thing because they keep us from getting burnt out.

Distractions are on the rise, there are two theories why. The first is that our society is designed to distract with all of its high-tech gizmos, the second has to do with our souls being troubled, we therefore can’t stand to be alone for a second and need the distraction of cat videos to heal ourselves.

The philosopher Matthew Crawford has written a new book titled “The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” in it he recommends we re-engage with reality and the physical world by participating in extreme or highly focused activities such as motorcycle racing and playing ice hockey. He’s dedicated the final chapter of the book to interacting with a firm of organ makers to retain the ‘attentional commons’.

If donning skates and playing a game of ice hockey is not your bag you might want to consider neuroenhancers. These have been called our eras defining drug. You will get them from one of your pals with ADHD – have them share their Adderall or Ritalin with you, assuming you’re normal it will improve cognitive function. University students love this because they can party like its 1999 and still be a great student.

Before you assume this is a practice of lesser institutions check out the BoredAtPenn site, or go to BoredAtHarvard for stunning testimonials “I don’t want to be a pusher or start people on something bad, but Adderall is AMAZING.” The University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center reported that in the previous year 4.1 % of American undergrads had taken these off-label drugs. Other research suggests the rates are even higher.

Some people like Anjan Chatterjee a neurologist at the University of Pennsylvania is very concerned about where this is all going. He has coined the term “cosmetic neurology” to describe the practice of taking drugs developed for medical conditions to strengthen ordinary cognition, sadly he believes the horse has already bolted and that this will become as acceptable as cosmetic surgery

If the recent poll in the scientific journal Nature that explored whether taking drugs like Ritalin to sharpen focus, concentration and memory was acceptable is any indication, we’re in trouble. One out of five believed it was just fine even if there were side effects, 69% believed it was an acceptable risk! So we had better watch out for organizations who might use this to get a leg up. Doping is not limited to bicycle riders anymore.

 

Sources:

Aamna, Mohdan, “Tech giants, stay in Ireland and pay even less in corporate tax” – Quartz, October 14, 2015

Brennan, Andrew; Minimising the impact of disruptions in the workplace; Andrew Brennan Blog, February 18, 2013

Crawford, Matthew; The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, June 16, 2015

Rothman Joshua; A New Theory of Distraction; The New Yorker, June 16, 2015

Smith, Jacquelyn; How To Avoid Distractions In The Workplace; Forbes; June 20, 2013

Talbot, Margaret; Brain Gain – The Underground World of “Neuroenhancing” Drugs; The New Yorker, April 27, 2009

 

 

Futures Rambling # 90

By Laurie Aznavoorian

We often begin projects by asking our client what they think we should put in their workplace. This makes little sense and is particularly counter intuitive when dealing with client’s who claim, as many do, that they want to create a workplace that’s sparkly, new and innovative or that they want to be ‘disruptive’. Why? Because the majority of companies looking for a workplace design hardly know what their problems are, let alone what tactics and resources there are to solve them.

I would have to agree that this sounds like the attitude of a snobby, narcissistic, know it all design wanker, but since we’re living in the golden age of narcissism (nothing reinforces that more than the likelihood of Donald Trump capturing the Republican nomination for President) it’s quite acceptable to toot your own horn. What’s the harm in acknowledging that if we really want to help clients be innovative or disruptive, that they’re the last people we should be listening to regarding what we should do?

There is no harm, other than getting fired. And since we all know where our bread is buttered we bite our tongue, remain politely mute and keep to old adage that the client is always right. It’s a well-intentioned approach that ensures your mortgage gets paid, but does little for the promotion of innovation and nothing to promote the all-important buzz word of the day ‘disruptive innovation’. Listening to clients is exactly what breeds the ‘sea of sameness’ that defines most workplaces.

I would have been loath to make such smarty pants statement before I read about Disruption Theory in the Harvard Business Review. Clayton M. Christensen introduced the idea in 1995 and now it’s a powerful approach to thinking about an organisation’s growth adopted by both small, entrepreneurial companies and large, well-established ones. Unfortunately, now HBR tells us we are using the term they coined too loosely, in fact they suggest those who have not read a serious book or article on the subject should just keep their trap shut.

Well la de da, talk about narcissism! Sadly I fall squarely into this category of fakers who they recommend stick to their knitting because I haven’t read a book and only just started reading articles on the topic but have been asking clients for many years to tell me what disruptive changes in their industry might impact their workplace. I believed I was quite clever, but after reading the articles I’ve concluded asking a client about disruptive innovations in their industry is tantamount to asking them what they think we should do.

Here’s why, the theory of disruption was initially a correlation between who did and who did not do well in business. Research indicated incumbents outperformed entrants in a status quo context, but not in a disruptive context. This outcome perplexed the brains at HBR, after much pondering they concluded incumbents didn’t do well when it came to disruption because they listen to their clients!! And clients focused on internal processes and on what’s called sustaining innovations rather than disruptive innovation.

To appreciate the difference: snivelling competitors working on the periphery are just pains in the behind, but those on a disruptive trajectory can really hurt. The way to tell the difference is in a disruptive context a smaller company with fewer resources challenges a larger more established one, the big boy is so busy defending turf that they pay little attention to what they wrongly perceive as a nonentity. Then when ‘the nobody’ gains a foothold they’re shocked.

Disruptive Innovators come in two styles: those that create a market where one never existed and those they call the Low-end footholds, companies who take advance of incumbents ignoring customers and propose a lower price slightly different offer and then evolve to compete directly. The next thing the incumbent knows they’ve been Ubered; the entrant has an equally comprehensive product and can demand similar prices.

The key in this definition is that in order to be disruptive the entrant must come from below. Following that logic Uber isn’t actually a disrupter because the organisation didn’t take advantage of a low end opportunity, nor did it create a market where none existed. Uber provides rides, often for less and with better service, but what they have done is not technically a disruptive innovation.

On the other hand, when Netflix emerged in 1997 Blockbuster paid no attention, customers rented new releases on impulse and were happy to drive to a store and wander the aisles for hours searching for a video. Netflix initially appealed to a small customer group who were happy with a limited selection and to wait for the DVD to come in the mail. Blockbuster didn’t care, because each company steered clear of the other filing a different need for a different customer.

Then the consarnit moment came. New technologies allowed Netflix to shift to streaming video over the internet and suddenly they began to offer a wider variety of films with an all you can watch, on demand, low price, high quality, convenient approach and they offered it to consumers who embraced the internet and liked it. As a result there are not many Blockbusters around these days

Back to HBR’s claim that we use the term ‘disruptive innovation’ too loosely, why should we tax our brain over a moniker– who cares? Not surprisingly, they do and suggest that in not knowing the nuances of disruption theory or applying its tenets correctly an organisation could pursue the wrong strategic choices and the researchers, writers and consultants who use the term to describe any situation where an industry is shaken could cause harm.

This all hasn’t convinced me to abandon asking companies what disruptions might be on the horizon, but has confirmed my initial tenet – that we need to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time and that might not be our clients.

 

Sources:

Anthony, Scott; “How Understanding Disruption Helps Strategists; Harvard Business Review” Harvard Business Review; January – February 1995

Christensen, Clayton M Raynor, Michael E, McDonald; “What is Disruptive Innovation?” Harvard Business Review; December 2015

Doster, Adam; “Upstart Distributor A24 Is Making Indie Films Exciting Again”; Fast Company; January 11, 2016

Lindzon, Jared; “These Will Be the Top 5 Business Challenges of 2016”; Fast Company; posted January 11, 2016

McCaffrey, Tony; Pearson, Jim; Find Innovation Where You Least Expect It; Harvard Business Review, December 2015

 

Futures Rambing #89

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Now that agile work is being embrace around the globe, even appearing in conservative office space typologies; the link between establishing appropriate behaviour and creating a successful work environment is all the more pronounced. Unfortunately when it comes to behaviour many workplaces are falling short because some people simply refuse to get with the program.

Bad behaviours in open office environments are on the rise and it’s high time we did something about it for the sake of the evolution of contemporary workplace. When considering why it’s so hard to convince some employees of the benefits of new ways of working, it’s not a far stretch to suggest it is a manifestation of deeply engrained habits that have built up over a life time of working, perhaps more of a stretch is to suggest adverse behaviours in the workplace are due to a sneaky neurotransmitter called dopamine.

Dopamine plays several important roles in both our brain and body, the one we are most interested in here is its function as a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells. When an event happens that is rewarding or pleasurable dopamine floods the brain and it will flood the brain again at the mere expectation of that same event, if it doesn’t happen dopamine switches off and we are disappointed. It’s a vicious cycle.

Unfortunately, a variety of addictive drugs and other bad things increase dopamine neuronal activity. Appreciating the link between dopamine and cupcakes or snorting coke is easy once you appreciate what this neurotransmitter does, but linking it to people who consistently misbehave at work? Now before you start laughing, know neuroscientists suggest dopamine plays as a role in creating feedback signals for predicting reward.

Crazy as it sounds, some people find pleasure and reward by sitting in the same desk every day; and given that neuroscientists believe dopamine is to blame for the endless information seeking loop that has led many people to be addicted to their phones, it’s perhaps not such a great stretch to understand why we’re so attached to our desks! Heck a recent Forbes article went as far as to attribute dopamine to American’s addiction to guns, they said hearing the sounds of shots fired in the night released dopamine – hmmm.

Far-fetched examples aside, we can all agree the brain’s motivational system is complex, so why wouldn’t dopamine play a role in how we relate and behave in a new workplaces? Therefore, I suggest it’s high time to engage in similar tactics that are used in society to keep people in their place. Now is the time to introduce shame into the workplace.

Jennifer Jacquet would agree, she’s an assistant professor of environmental studies at New York University and has authored a book titled, Is Shame Necessary? New Uses for an Old Tool (Pantheon, 2015). She suggests small groups of concerned citizens could use shame to change the behavior of big corporations and governments. Why not? Just look what a little friendly shaming about chartering helicopters did to Bronwyn Bishop.

In America the use of shame is working wonders. California uses it to combat ‘grassholes’, those are people who continue to water their lawns despite a four year drought and well publicized water bans. Governor Jerry Brown and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti are encouraging residents to ‘grass’ out their neighbours who violate the ban on a website, it might surprise you to learn Kim Kardashian has been outed as a grasshole.

Those crazy Californians aren’t the only ones using shame to force people to get in line, judges around the USA are handing out shame based sentences. A Cleveland judge gave a woman a choice of going to jail or spending two days standing on a street corner with a sign that read “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid a school bus.”

Interesting given the 8th Amendment to the US Constitution bans cruel and unusual punishment, they argue shame based sentences are no worse than time in jail time and claim prison fails to cause the same kind of vivid denunciation that public shamings do. Judge Peter Miller in Putnam County Florida also believes that seeing sentences carried out publicly lets his constituents know he’s doing his job.

So if shame works for shoplifters, rotten drivers and grassholes why couldn’t it work for offenders in agile workplaces? Why not use screen savers to out employees who monopolize work settings by reserving spaces with pieces of fruit, jackets and computer bags?

Why not use permanent markers to brand the foreheads of gasbags who insist on talking loudly with an LM like they did with Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter”? Forget interoffice campaigns for charity bike rides, let’s use internal social media to shame those who give coworkers the stink eye when they use spaces they think are theirs, but are meant to be shared by all.

We’re ready for this, if it works for Pope Francis it should be good enough for those of us trying to create wonderful workplaces. Hats off to the pope for his encyclical call for action on climate change, ditto on his comments regarding refugees. If he can think differently so can we.

Sources:

Bell, Vaughn; “The Unsexy Truth about Dopamine”; The Guardian; May 22, 2014

Choney, Suzanne and Popkin, Helen; “Yet Another Study Confirms Your Tech Addiction” Today.com; February 4, 2012

Devitt, James; “Is Shame Too Mean or a Tool for Change?” Futurity Website, posted June 16, 2015.

Korn, Christoph; “Brain Gain, Dopamine, Emotions and Behaviour Change”; Scientific American, January 10, 2015

Morrison, Pat; “Is Public Shaming Fair Punishment?” LA Times, May 24, 2014.

Weinschenk, Susan; “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google”; Psychology Today.com; posted September 11, 2012

“Day in the Life of Hollywood’s Grassholes” The Sunday Times,

Futures Rambling #88

By Laurie Aznavoorian

Having written Futures Rambling for many years, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in the art of procrastination; although to be fair it’s not a recently developed trait. Early signs of having the tendency to put off till tomorrow what you could do today surfaced during the completion of my degree in architecture. But contrary to the misplaced belief of friends, who actually had the audacity to imply architecture students were natural procrastinators, most of us worked hard to perfect our techniques.

Prior to last week, I believed procrastination was a harmless, benign activity that hurt no one. Yes, it led to the occasional feelings of unease, but this one could argue, is part of the creative process. Now something very spooky has occurred that’s upset the balance of life. I’m uncharacteristically sick and my illness coincides with reading an article titled “Procrastination is Literally Killing You.” Imagine my alarm, particularly after I’d comfortably bought into a conspiracy theory started by other sick coworkers that attributed our plague to being poisoned by the annual company sponsored flu injection.

After reading the article on procrastination who in their right mind would not ask, am I sick because I have procrastinated in writing a blog post through the entire month of May? Coincidence, I think not. The article goes on to explain habitual delay can infect us both physically and professionally and the tendency to procrastinate is linked to headaches, digestive troubles, colds and flu! An alarming connection, backed by a study of 800 people in Canada and the US, goes as far as to associate procrastination with hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

The psychologists conducting that study suggests it’s not the occasional goofing off that most of us indulge in that does the real harm, but a condition called ‘trait procrastination’, which is a type of chronic procrastination that afflicts up to 20% of the population. Fortunately, it’s not the procrastination that kills you, but the trait of procrastinating that leads procrastinators to avoid taking care of themselves. They avoid doctors, eat poorly and rarely exercises which makes them vulnerable to illness.

Making matters worse for trait procrastinators is they not only respond to a problem by avoiding it, they exacerbate the issue by beating themselves up over their avoidance and being self-critical increases their stress loads. Holy smokes – when you combine this news with the now often repeated mantra ‘sitting is the new smoking’ is not painting a rosy picture for people who like to sit on the couch and push off what they’re supposed to be doing.

Thank goodness, in all of the gloom and doom, one bit of positive news surfaced and that is if the world continues to lumber along at the pace it’s headed, and it looks like it will, we’ll be in a position of having fewer things to procrastinate about. Every day the average person is burdened with approximately 35,000 decisions a day: ham and cheese or pastrami, Game of Thrones or House of Cards, third glass of Pinot or a headache.

Fortunately what the Internet giveth, it can now taketh away. The rise of the internet has made us even more aware of the many choices we have, but now technology promises to relieve us from the well-documented phenomenon of decision fatigue by taking over some choices for us. It is called Anticipatory Design and like Crime Prevention through Design it relies on ingenuity and creativity to solve the nasty problem of having to think. This is the next big break though in design and technology. We will see products, services and experiences made and executed on our behalf and it will all happen while we sit on the couch and procrastinate.

Oh No! It’s Big Brother! I say who cares the choices technology plans to alleviate are not one’s to care about, most of us would be happy to relinquish them for the reduced levels of stress promised. Besides the horse has bolted, if you travel by mass transit in Sydney you can program your Opal card to automatically top itself up, but in Melbourne an empty Myki results in a painful search for an appropriate convenience store to top it up because why would you be able to complete such a task on a tram, train or one of the many tram stations scattered about the city. Similarly Amazon and Netflix offer top picks based on past user preferences and that saves valuable television watching time.

Returning to the comparison to the favorite workplace yarn regarding sitting is the new smoking, that little ditty made employees much more aware of the dangers of prolonged sedentary time at work and their health and they also learned running around the block after work did little erase the physical damage of sitting in a desk all day. This awareness has led to change and as a result more workers are standing and moving.

Canadian researchers analyzing the benefits of standing and treadmill desks found that physiological health and psychological performance improved. The studies also indicated a lift in employee’s moods and greater health benefits including: heart rate up by 8 to 12 beats per minute, increase in HDL “good” cholesterol, weight loss and changes in body mass index. Attitudes have evolved and today no one is poking fun of the sit stand and treadmill desks anymore.

So I say bring it on, I am all in favor of having technology take ownership of the decisions I procrastinate about: doing my expense report, timesheet, laundry, renewing my passport and writing Futures Rambling. I for one look forward to the improvement this will bring to my health and free head space it will afford to ponder other more pressing issues in life such as whether I’m sick because I didn’t write a post in May or whether it was the fault of the flu injection. Maybe it was all of those people sneezing on the last Melbourne to Sydney flight I took?

Sources:

Shapiro, Aaron; “The Next Big Thing in Design? Less Choice.”

fastcodesign; Procrastination is Literally Killing You; posted April 7, 2015

fastcodesign; Everthing Science Knows Right Now About Standing Desks; posted April 22, 2015

Noguchi, Yuki; “How a Bigger Lunch Table at Work Can Boost Productivity.” NPR Morning Edition, May 20, 2015