The Attention Economy


Futures Rambling #103

I recently read that if your life is dominated by negative incentives, my source put it as living in a world of sticks and no carrots; that you’ll quickly lose interest and motivation. That’s about the best excuse I can find for not having written if I want to avoid unhelpful labels like shiftless bum. Therefore, the diagnosis of loss of motivation due to negative incentives suits me just fine. What negative incentives you ask? Have you watched the news lately? It’s a motivational black hole.

Even if you had zero interest in the asinine things Trump did in the past 24 hours, you would be hard pressed to avoid it with your phone pinging at each absurd debacle you allowed it to push and social media scrolling down your display screen like a waterfall. It’s like driving by an automobile accident, we want to look away but don’t. We can partly blame BJ Fogg for that. He taught “The Facebook Class’ at Stanford, that was a curriculum that explored how technology persuades people.

Fogg’s students went on to use the basics of behavioural psychology and other psychological principles to map out how to attract attention. They created an ‘addiction code’ that uses the electromagnetic reward system in the brain to manipulate the habit-forming tendencies we’re all prone to. Some call it brain hacking. It’s very effective, few can resist a sweet hit of dopamine, that’s the neurotransmitter in your brain that makes you happy when you smoke crack or look at Facebook.

Every day we enter into a bargain where we exchange our time, attention and personal data for news, entertainment and services. The conundrum is that it’s hard to tell what’s worthwhile from what’s rubbish. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that whole industries have emerged that take data and knowledge about you and sell it to the highest bidder. This is not new, in the 1990s three scholars: Jonathan Beller, Michael Goldhaber and Georg Frank coined this the ‘attention economy’.

In the attention economy most of us live in a perpetual state of deficit, not knowing where to look next and easily distracted reading stories about Stormy Daniels rather than paying attention to family, friends and work. To put this in perspective, authors Thomas H. Davenport and John C. Beck noted that the Sunday New York Times contains more factual information in one edition than in all the written material available to a reader in the 15th century.

Anything that is scarce can form an economy. Today what we have in abundance is information and knowledge, but human attention unfortunately occurs in limited supply. Davenport and Beck say human attention has been commodified to the point that it often fails to meet the demands of our businesses or society and that can have serious psychological and organisational consequences.

Running at attention deficit for too long can cause businesses to miss the boat because they fail to see the trends and new developments that are occurring with their competitors. It’s a form of organisational ADD where the businesses attention is hijacked leading organisations to focus in areas that don’t serve them. Consequently, managing a valuable currency like attention is critical for companies today, it’s a determinant of business success.

Navigating the muck to sort what’s worthwhile is something few of us excel at, particularly when psychological tricks are being played. But before we throw stones in glass houses, consider this, we do the same in our desperate attempt to attract the best talent, keep employees attracted, create points of difference to get attention, develop services, offers and wonderful experiences to attract clients. Everyone is waving and screaming and vying for time and attention. Some losers even write blogs no one reads – all for attention.

Some people are very worried about this, one is Tristan Harris. He graduated from Fogg’s class and then went to work for Google where he created a presentation “A Call to Minimize Distraction & Respect Users’ Attention.” That was a precursor to what he is doing now, running an advocacy group called Time Well Spent – they are lobbyist that go after the tech industry encouraging them to align with societal well-being.

Good for him. It made me think, who is doing this in our industry and what contribution are we making? In particular, do the open plan offices we design contribute to negative incentives that rob attention? There are many reasons we recommend open plan environments, most are sound including: flexibility, creating community, mentoring, social support, not to mention clear environmental drivers. Less space built equals lower carbon footprint.

We also tout open plan leads to greater collaboration and faster decision making, but new research done by Ethan S. Bernstein and Stephen Turban from the Harvard Business School found just the opposite. The study measured interaction in two multinational companies during completion of new office designs. They observed employees for eight weeks before and after the fit-out were complete using sociometric badges and Bluetooth sensors.

What they found was a 70% decrease in interaction and a 20 to 50% increase in emails. WOW, when you consider this with findings from past Harvard studies that concluded poorly planned open plan environments increase our cognitive load, it becomes downright frightening. Cognitive processes are the ones knowledge workers engage in daily: gathering information, analysing and making decisions. If interrupted it compromises the workers ability to focus and concentrate and that leads to stress and errors.

Personally, I’ve been unable to concentrate for the past thirty years, but am I guiding your plane in for a landing or operating on your brain? As if that wasn’t enough, there’s more from Harvard. It appears that when we can’t concentrate we get snarky and that leads us to cease interacting with the very co-workers we’re meant to be collaborating with. We don earphones and distribute disapproving glances to those with the audacity to laugh or talk in the office.

Wait there’s more, open plan causes us to assume defensive behaviour that strain workplace relationships. An example of this can be observed just near my desk where the IDT help desk team have tried to use potted plants to keep me from asking them tech questions. It’s futile, shrubbery won’t stop me, I’ve got them on speed dial.

Alas, the study is not all gloom and doom, it suggests that rather than a one-size-fits- all approach that organisations create environments where workers have options to work that vary between places that support privacy and focus, interaction and collaboration. They also suggest cognitive resources can be replenished by allowing people to look out the window. This works even in the presence of distraction, how novel. Who would have thunk it! That my friends, is why people from Harvard earn the big bucks.



Beck, John C and Davenport, Thomas H; “The Attention Economy – Understanding the New Currency of Business”

DiSalvo, David; “The Reasons Why We Can’t Put Down Our Smartphone” Forbes; April 9, 2017

Sander, Libby; “Here’s the Final Nail in the Coffin of Open Plan Offices” The Conversation; April 11, 2018

Schwab, Katharine; “Everyone Should be Reading “The Attention Merchants” This Summer”; Fast Company CoDesign; July 16, 2018

Stilzoff, Simone; “The Formula for Phone Addiction Might Double as a Cure” Wired; February 1, 2018




The following synopsis of Worktech appeared in The Worktech Academy Newsletter


For a conference with intentions of knitting together the best of work, technology and workplace; Worktech Sydney 2018 began and ended quite appropriately on the topic of people. After all, it is human beings, who play the critical role of aggregate binding these elements together.

Beginning with strategies to inspire individuals by enhancing the hopes we all have of being fully engaged in our work and performing jobs that provide a sense of purpose and meaning, we moved to the opposite end of the spectrum. Touching on another innate human desire, our hunger to be part of a larger collective: contributing, sharing and striving to meet common goals.

As we have come to expect from Worktech, we were offered glimpses of exciting new technologies that augment the workplace experience for both individuals, and those who work together. New technologies employ expanded sensory touch points: biometrics use vision, haptic interfaces apply touch and through the introduction of food in the workplace our sense of smell is called upon. All illustrate a multi-sensory approach to enhanced engagement.

In a similar vein, new research considering the impact of hearing drew corollaries between noise in the workplace and knowledge transfer. This work offers a welcomed contrast to recent focus on quiet and distractions that have dominated workplace discussions and only reflect on the negative aspects of noise. Interestingly, the same research explored the representation of females in office interactions and found women underrepresented in areas of ideas generation. Clearly, we have a ways to go if we hope to engage everyone and achieve real diversity.

Changing scale, examples of cities like ShenZhen China illustrate the significant power of individuals working together in communities, joined by common vision and goals. In this case, people unite against a collective enemy that is speed to market. Similarly, the notion of the ‘civic supermind’ gave us a prevue of the strength of shared vision to leverage the power of people working together, using data and technology, to create stronger, safer and better cities.


The concept of community was equally prominent. Communities address both individual’s emotional needs and an economic imperative to join forces to solve complex problems. The notion of community here is defined not in terms of what we build, but how we create a sustainable fabric that binds a collection of people together.

Unsurprisingly, technology and data play a key role in supporting community, both in physical space and through digitally connected networks. Workplace communities now connect using fog computing, an enterprise approach to storage, communication and control. Partnerships like Beco + Alexa and Cisco + Spark are finally offering the type of seamless workplace experiences we were promised when the term Internet of Things first graced the workplace lexicon.

With ubiquitous connection theoretically solved, attention now turns to supporting groups in broader community contexts that exist beyond the walls of our office buildings. Global community networks, such as Top Coder, join together through technology and tap into the exquisite skills of accomplished developers around the world. They offer each other on line help and employ an open innovation approach to solving complex problems.

Clear benefits of ‘community beyond the walls’ are speed and transparency. Since the groups operate under a different dynamic to traditional organisations, they are able to build a collective intelligence and learn faster than traditional ‘in the walls’ organisations.

Another advantage of ‘communities beyond the walls’ is their ability to engage a highly skilled workforce who have the freedom to work together without the crippling obstacles of implicit bias against sexual preferences, ethnic background and gender that plague many organisations. It is not surprising, but never the less a disappointment, that it takes the blinding aspect of technology to open the doors to all people and achieve greater workplace inclusion.


We were warned of a tsunami of change on the horizon that could decimate the working class. Led by super technology, it brings a new generation of volatility and uncertainty that will demand a level of resilience, agility and inherent creativity in organisations. It will most definitely challenge the status quo.

Many organisations have already tapped into metrics and baseline data available, and know their office space is only used a portion of the time. The savviest are scrutinising their contracts and challenging landlords and developers for greater flexibility, paving the way for solutions that offer the ability to scale down or down and procure space differently.

One positive outcome of this tsunami is the impact it has on ‘normal workplaces’ of ‘normal organisations’. Many companies and individuals are oblivious to the benefits of contemporary workplace ideas adopted by upper crust organisations who have greater financial means and insights. Seeing these notions trickledown is a pleasing change.

For example, the workplace of the NSW government reflects the significant reform they have undertaken and illustrates a physical environment that mirrors the way the agencies now work together. A dialogue has opened related to the adoption of flexible working that challenges built offices. The strategy looks to the future anticipating how the shifting demographic of Sydney that redistributes the population across Central, Western and Eastern Sydney hubs, underpins the workplace strategy.

By overcoming fear the NSW government was able to consider the same unquestionable metrics many corporates use to demonstrate inefficient use of space, paving the way for change. Importantly, those changes are executed at a very different price point to many of the workplaces featured at the conference. It highlights the benefits of contemporary workplace have just as much, if not more, to do with mindset than the physical environment.


As is the case with all of the themes of the conference, Trust is explored at individual and community levels. We are familiar with the critical role trust plays in developing relationships between employers and co-workers. New technologies serve to remind us of the tenuous position we are in, straddling the blurry, thin line that separates privacy infringements and productivity enhancement.

Taking the notion of trust to a macro level, communities and networks must also augment trust to encourage the reciprocity required to leverage the benefits of a working collective.

Sadly it comes at a time where institutions and social trust have eroded, consider Brexit and Donald Trump. The s@#t show we are currently living in has created a state of individual and societal disillusionment. It’s imperative we rebuild social trust and legitimacy. The remedy offered was a call for greater openness; in theory, this will lead to the optimism required to get more people to participate.

We end where we began, with people. Whether it is in a workplace, a community or global network, our future lies in an ability to tap into brilliant individuals possessing the conviction necessary to combat today’s societal maladies: mental illness, loneliness, complexity overload, bullying. Our success lies not in work, workplaces or technology, but the people who occupy them.

Bias and the Complex Task of Changing Minds (second in a two part series)

Futures Rambling #101

In the book, The Enigma of Reason cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber help us understand the concept of bias using the analogy of a mouse who is bent on confirming its belief that there are no cats in the world. One can quickly see the inherent danger when the mouse becomes a kitty snack. On the world stage examples abound from the silly, e.g. Trump’s ‘birther debate’ to those with broader implications, such as denying climate change.

Sadly, to add to the list, we humans have another fault referred to as ‘myside bias’ clouding our reason. People are amazingly efficient at spotting weaknesses in another’s approach, but can be completely blind to their own. Sperber and Mercier suggests this occurs when the pace of change in the environment is too fast for natural selection to catch up. There are many examples, one is the dizzying speed that technology and digital interfaces have entering our environments, and the impact they have.

Steven Sloman, a professor at Brown, and Philip Fernbach, a professor at the University of Colorado, also cognitive scientists, put it another way. They say people are simply dumb and believe they know more than they actually do. Ignorance fuels bias. To make the point they suggest thinking about a toilet. It’s of course one thing to flush one and another to know how it actually operates.

As a rule, strong feelings about issues do not emerge from deep understanding. This is particularly worrisome when people who think alike collect together and form dangerous communities of stupidity. One excellent example would be the Trump’s cabinet and their highly inexperienced advisors. Really, who knew selling handbags and shoes was transferable to running a nation, but has it kept Ivanka from the West Wing?

Humans are so flawed, even our own physiology sets us up for failure. We experience a rush of dopamine when our beliefs are reinforced by others. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that control the brain’s reward and pleasure center; consequently, thinking you’re right and sticking to your guns, even when you’re wrong, produces a rush of dopamine. We actually get high. It’s sick and warped in the same cruel way a dopamine rush from checking email is.

A final addition to the list of flaws is implicit bias. They are learned bias associated with various qualities or social categories such as race or gender. These are currently playing a critical role in America right now, think about the Black Lives Matter debate. Implicit bias are hard to correct because they’re based on rehearsed, or learned, neural connections in the brain. Unfortunately, our brains are very good at leaning, they are not very good at unlearning.

If we can’t rely on data, because no one believes in it anymore and logic and reason are prone to bias, might we perhaps we turn to intraception? This is the term psychologist use to describe those who process the world primarily through their feelings or emotions.

Lisa Feldman Barret, professor of psychology at Northeastern University in Boston, discusses this approach in her book How Emotions are Made. The long held belief that emotions are hard-wired in neurons in the brain is one she challenges, the status quo thinking is these neurons are automatically triggered when something happens to produce a specific emotional response.

Instead, she suggests emotions are more complex. For example a smile cannot provide clues to appreciate the nuances of a given emotion because there is more than one type of sadness, happiness or awe and emotions vary from culture to culture. She’s coined ‘the theory of constructed emotion’ which posits the brain relies on the past to construct the present. It predicts what to expect, and what actions to take, from sensory input based on experiences rather than hard wiring.

Thinking about this from your brains point of view it makes sense, it’s in your skull with no access to what causes the sensations it receives; it only has the effects. Given the plethora of human flaws outlined above what’s great about this is that Barret believes it is entirely possible to invest energy into cultivating new experiences that in time, if practiced, will become automated emotional responses.

Architects and designers can learn from this. If we know people’s immediate emotional response to change is ‘no way, no how, not doing that’ and we also know banging our heads against the wall trying to change beliefs hurts, we should stop talking and start creating experiences. It’s not complex, in fact the benefits of exposure to new things was introduced by the famous Dr. Suess in the legendary tome Green Eggs and Ham.

If all else fails there is always professional help to be sought. Extreme lost causes can be sent away for neuroscience-based coaching and cognitive behavioural therapy. Yes it’s a real thing. There are even programs to overcome implicit bias called Raciest Anonymous, naturally this concept was conceived of and is held in California (there’s an example of implicit bias in action). Finally, if the people you deal with are just plain stupid, perhaps suggest they immigrate to America. I hear there are still spots in the Trump administration up for grabs.



The Digital Revolution – Digital and the Design Process, Building Belief

Futures Rambling # 99

By Laurie Aznavoorian

This second of three posts written for the Worktech Academy

There are many reasons it is a challenge to describe the impact of digital on physical workplace design, one is that digital is manifested more through the experiences we have in spaces than in their outward physical appearance. Another is workplace has been very slow in coming to the digital party. Other types of environments, such as retail and entertainment, were early adopters and have now advanced to a point where a seamless digital experience is all but expected.

Contributing to the sluggish uptake in workplace is our propensity to want to measure and relate what we do in the environment back to return on investment before we will commit to major works. Clearly this is easier when repeating a design that is tried and tested, not so much when we hope to implement new ideas. This highlights the critical role of belief in promoting innovative workplace design, because when it comes to challenging the status quo, clients must believe in ideas before they are willing to take a leap of faith. Of course at some point they will have no choice but to go out on a limb. It is our job to build the belief that will help them overcome fear.

Belief trumps truth every time. As designers we should never underestimate its power, for evidence of this one need not look any further than the vast amounts of workplace data that unequivocally proves the typical desk is frequently unoccupied, yet users swear hand on heart that they’re in their seat for a majority of the day. Even though the data says the opposite they believe what they believe – and that is why it’s important for us to acknowledge that beliefs do not need to be ‘true beliefs’ for people to wholeheartedly buy into them. As we’ve seen with the US election and the Brexit vote, facts are often optional in the decision making process.

Another pitfall to be avoided is short changing the critical role design plays in building belief. This begins with the development of a robust workplace strategy linking the organisation’s sustainability to the physical solutions we create. The relationship is the foundation for a rich narrative both designer and organisation can use to build broader buy in across an organisation. Finally, once a design is created it must put EX, employee experience, first surpassing pragmatic form and function to create a space that focuses on people’s experience. This is the blueprint for building belief.

Wonderfully conceived and designed spaces supported by convincing stories are an excellent start, but it still may not be enough. Fortunately we can now call on digital tools to help our clients overcome their natural aversion to taking risks. In the last post we talked about chip maker Qualcomm, one of the many working with Virtual Reality and instantaneous Artificial Intelligence. These new chips present audio and video, track eye, head and gestures and also track audio, all of this paves the way for virtual experiences that are more realistic than anything we’ve seen to date. Once relegated to the realm of video games, they’re now frequently used to enhance the design process.

Tech enthusiasts have been talking about Virtual Reality headsets since 2012, in March of 2016 the long awaited ship date of the high end consumer virtual reality headset Oculus Rift arrived and that is significant because to date there were none on the market that offered the quality an architect would require to use it as an effective design communication tools, not to mention their ability to afford it. At $1,500 USD for the headset and computer that it operates on, Rift is affordable and sophisticated and is rapidly making its way into design practices.

A second digital tool the Holograms has also moved beyond the lark stage to play a role in supporting designers. Today in Lowes, a home improvement retailer in the United States, which is neither high end nor exclusive, offers their customers the opportunity to cruse the store and use Pinterest to drop pins on products they’re interested in. Then donning a pair of Microsoft’ HoloLens goggles they can view a high definition hologram of their kitchen remodel. It would be hard to find a more powerful tool in the today’s market to help workplace designers build belief.

These technologies are quickly evolving from being follies and fads to tools of the mainstream and with their rapid development we’re quickly moving to a place where we’ll have real time dynamic immersive 3-D experiences. Products like Magic Leap, currently in development, but on the horizon, employ ‘augmented reality’ by creating realistic holograms superimposed on the field of vision. It is predicted such headsets will eventually scan our brains and transmit our thoughts, the technology will communicate a full sensory experience with emotions through thought.

When that day comes it will be much easier for us to build belief, in turn we will have greater license to explore the boundaries of innovative workplace design.


The role of awarness in workplace

Futures Rambling # 97  By Laurie Aznavoorian

Over a year ago the quick actions of three American off duty marines stopped a terrorist attack on a French train. Experts say the reason they were able to react while others sat stunned and nonreactive is due to something called ‘situational awareness.’ When you or I hear the sound of gunfire we’re confused, it takes time for our brain to process what the sound is and we lose time, but a marine is programmed to immediately and appropriately react.

While it may seem a stretch, adapting to new work environments requires a similar type of awareness for individuals and organisations to successfully conceive and accept new ways of working. Over the past decade workplace experts have understood the impact of mindset and the incorporation and integration of new technology in creating successful workspaces, this workplace ecology or comprehensive approach, is all the more critical as new types of work environments seek to redefine what it means to work.

The notion of workplace has evolved from being a desk we sit in to incorporate the floor that desk is on and the entire buildings and precinct it belongs to. We continue to expand the concepts of what workplace is by exploring the digital environment along with the physical, we are also beginning to really challenge the status quo approach to procuring space through the emergence of co-working spaces. The global rise of Co-working spaces could arguably be one of the most significant changes to workplace that we have seen in the last half century.

Co-working spaces are shared work environments generally located in prime CBD buildings. The main difference between a Co-working centre and the traditional hired or temporary office space provided by companies like Regus, is the acknowledgement that work today is less about completing a series of tasks and more about connecting, collaborating and from a personal standpoint, feeling part of a community that inspires and delights.

The typical Co-working venue provides a worker with a place to set a computer, coffee cup and their backside, and also offers the service of savvy centre managers to facilitate professional introductions when a specific synergy or skill set might be beneficial, for instance pairing an accountant with a web-designer. Centre managers in Co-Working environments organise seminars and learning opportunities to educate their constituents, creating a state of constant stimulation for those who work in them.

The advantages to small or start-up organisations are obvious. Following the popular shared economy trend seen in companies like Zip-cars, Co-working cultivates an immediate network to deliver and receive services. For workers whose alternative is to work from home, Co-working satisfies the human need to be a part of a professionally and personal community. Anyone who’s attempted bouncing ideas off the family pet can appreciate this concept.

The big ‘ah-ha’ that’s emerged from Co-working is that it’s proved to be just as attractive to small operations as to large established companies who see Co-working as a means to dial up innovation by expanding the circle of professionals people can liaise with to inspire and provoke. For organisations who have merged, or acquired new business to expand and complement a skill set, but find they are suddenly dealing with cultural opposites, e.g. big banks or accounting companies with newly acquired digital teams, Co-working is a very attractive solution.

Given the benefits of Co-working and flexibility it offers from a real estate perspective one might question why every organisation hasn’t gone down this path. For that matter we might question why there are still companies who insist on having offices, high partitions, who insist on presenteeism and forbid use the internet at work. To understand why new concepts with such promise don’t always succeed we need to explore the important impact of people in the workplace equation; in particular note how awareness of one’s self, of the personal surroundings and of the situation can impact acceptance.

To take advantage of new ways of working: such as Activity Based Working or Co-working environments we must encourage people to build greater self-awareness by asking individuals to must make an honest assessment of what they’re good at and areas where they’re not as proficient. This type of awareness is rarely seen in today’s corporate environment where workers are busy masking flaws, blaming others or their physical environment for internal challenges they have, are unaware of or don’t care to address.

Cultivating greater self-awareness by accurately and honestly assessing professional performance and contribution and letting go of the façade many don of believing they’re really good at what they do, when in reality they’re following a template that delivers mediocre status quo results, is a first step. Those with the guts and audacity to critically self-reflect may gain an understanding of how to control or correct the environment to better leverage their skills and the skills of others around them.

Self-awareness is impacted by culture; therefore, it’s important to appreciate some may have a greater challenge in developing self-awareness than others. For instance, in the United States there is great weight placed on personal freedom and decision making, the typical American vehemently defends their right to choose, while their Asian counter parts have a cultural expectation of alignment. In Australia the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ discourages individuals from calling attention to their needs and expectations.

It will not be enough for an individual to make the effort to understand their unique workstyles and productivity triggers, if there is nothing they can change in the environment to remedy the issues they discover. Challenging the status quo and exploring new notions of how environment might support uncovered issues will require greater accountability and environmental awareness. By thinking differently individuals can take responsibility and contribute to an expanded set of workplace options to address how a problem might be solved. This is where real innovation will begin – the kind that has given birth to ideas like Co-working that critically analyse whether the way we currently do things is the only or best way they should be done.

Unfortunately, workplace design is one of the few areas where an individual, or company, frequently revert to their own experiences over the council or advice of a professional. This can be very limiting because there’s a tendency is to envision the future based on the existing and a propensity to approach new workplace design with preconceived notions based on what is known and familiar.

One obvious flaw is many offices are outdated, leaving occupants few experiences and examples to draw from, they don’t know what they don’t know. Additional problems arise from ignoring what is new: the changing needs and expectations of an emergent workforce, the impact of new technologies and changing economic pressures. All are critical considerations.

Combining greater self-awareness with expanded environmental awareness will produce a larger number of choices for people to customise their work experience for greater effectiveness. Encouraging people, who are a key ingredient in the workplace ecology equation, empowers the individual to take responsibility for examining their own internal issues and creatively engage with the environment for support, effectively shifting responsibility.

Finally, it isn’t enough to for us to suggest workers become more self-aware and expand their environmental awareness, to take advantage of the rewards a physical environment can offer they must have the ability to perform like the military personnel on the train, they must intuitively think and act quickly and have the permission from their organisations to do so.

AI in Architecture

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.



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





The Gig Economy

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 ( 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.



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.


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



Napping at Work

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.



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.


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