Category Archives: Employee Engagement

The Business Of Napping

asleep at desk

The Japanese word ‘Tsundoku’ means to acquire reading material but to let it pile up in our house without reading it. I think we can all relate to that. Well, those of us who read. Um, and those of us with houses. OK, so probably a sadly decreasing number of people can relate to Tsundoku but we can probably at least grasp the concept. You’re reading this article so at least there’s hope.

The Japanese word ‘Karoshi’ loosely translates as working yourself to death. Maybe we in this country cannot relate directly to that, nor the cultural and institutional forces that drive or influence people to over-commit to their job to such an extreme extent. That said, there are plenty of technical specialists, professionals and self-employed folk who don’t see their job as a job. Perhaps if they see it as a calling or a craft or a ticket out, they might put in the level of energy, time and sacrifice that edges them eerily closer to a Kiwi Karoshi. (Kiwishi?) Maybe we don’t work ourselves to death because social constraints dictate that we can’t leave the office until the sun is down and the boss goes first. Maybe we skip breaks, forget to blink for hours on end and drive home into a tree, or self-medicate with the drink or drug de jour then drive into a tree. I think we have more trees than Japan.

I can’t fault firms with enough resources to hire in masseuses for their staff. Employers know they’re supposed to be ruthlessly stringent on health and safety risks, not just the physical ones. They know about bullying, and #metoo, and psychologically safe workplace environments. I’ve even been given a tour of workplaces where staff are given barista training to run the space-age coffee machines at their disposal, and other workplaces where they have a multi-storey playground slide at the centre of their building. I am knocking none of these things. Smarter people than me have made informed choices in conjunction with other smart people.

I have yet to run into a standard workplace where napping is cool though. Yes, fire stations and other first responder locations can have living quarters with beds. Yes, young doctors in public hospitals working seventy-two hour days grab twenty winks in a cot in the supply cupboard. (I’ve not seen ‘Shortland Street’ for ages, have never watched ‘Grey’s Anatomy’, and I gave up before ‘E.R.’ came to its presumably heart-wrenching conclusion but I’m pretty sure they were not just snoozing in those supply cupboards, right? If I was the hospital administrator in charge of those supply cupboards, the first thing I’d be supplying would have been locks for the supply cupboards). I’m not talking about those jobs and those sleeps. I’m talking about bakers, panelbeaters, lawyers and advertising copywriters.

I have seen significant companies that are profit-focused provide a meditation suite for their people. I’m not saying meditation and napping are the same thing but to the untrained observer, it’s semantics. You need a quite space, perhaps with dimmable lighting to be undisturbed for twenty or so minutes. I’ve never seen anyone in real life recreate George from Seinfeld’s sleeping space beneath his desk at the offices of the New York Yankees but I have seen people asleep under a conference room table – a conference room that the system said was booked out but I figured was in error as I could clearly see it was unoccupied. And, if you know me, you know that I’m a real kick-both-legs out-strongly-when-sitting-at-a-table kind of guy. I have also seen bakery assistants asleep on piles of flour sacks. They are super comfortable, and that sugary baking smell is amaaazingly relaxing.

So rather than fight nature, let’s work with it. Your circadian rhythm is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. We have two peaks and two troughs of alertness per day. One trough is mid-afternoon. Some cultures literally have siesta, then work into the cooler evening. An acceptable solution to a problem but not in anglo-colonial-protestant-work-ethic cultures (from the people that brought you the game of cricket.)

I’m not suggesting we compel people to nap. Places of work are not childcare facilities, unless you work in a childcare facility. We can choose to judge people on their skills, collaboration and results, not on how many hours they work nor where and when they work them. Getting back to Japan, they have Kapusero Hoteru (Capsule Hotels) that have rooms only the size of a bed known as pods. An American company has developed a $13000 chair that induces and allows napping with an effective duration of thirteen to twenty minutes. It has an orb that I choose to call the cone of silence. Smarter people than me are once again on the job… when they’re awake.


Your ‘Change-Evolution’ to get ‘Change-Fit’

2D 3D book cover 2019

The book ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year’ is available now on Amazon in Kindle format and in paperback.

If you constantly find yourself to be the smartest person in every room you’re in, then you need to get you into some different rooms. And that’s the theme of this book: developing yourself or your people by getting out of the ‘room’ you’re in, getting out of your comfort zone, getting better at getting better, working out your change muscles and building up your reservoir of resilience so you’ve got them before you need them.

  1. Why you should be proactive about change and risk,
  2. Why most people aren’t, and
  3. How you can – how you can make a start, build momentum, muscle through when it gets tough and bring others along for the ride.

There is a real concern amongst leaders that their people are unfit for change. Being unfit for change leads to disengaged and burnt-out people who won’t develop themselves nor meet their goals. The lack of development and unmet goals further reinforces negativity and contributes to a downward spiral called ‘Change Extinction’. The more positive alternative choice (and it is a choice) is a pathway called ‘Change Evolution’.

You can start on your ‘Change Evolution’ path by reading this book, doing your own dangerous things, adapting your ‘Danger DNA’, and becoming ‘Change Fit’.

The Multi-Generational Workplace: Get Off My Lawn!

get off my lawn

For about a decade, I’ve been describing the colour of my hair as ‘salt and pepper’. It’s probably time I accepted that it’s now about ninety eight percent salt. (That might explain my blood pressure). Recently, I was in a conversation with a twenty-something who colloquially referred to Wednesday as ‘Weddy’ because apparently now days of the week require cool nicknames. (That might further explain my blood pressure). At my age, days of the week barely even require names at all. To me, there’s ‘today’, ‘tomorrow’ and ‘maybe if I’m lucky’. Just jokes folks. I’m not really a grumpy curmudgeon, as much as I’d like to be. Intergenerational communication would be so much simpler and easier if it was acceptable for me to shout, “Get off my lawn” at people in meetings in character as the last twelve movie roles played by Clint Eastwood.

I’ve never liked the term ‘workforce’. It implies either a militarily structured group with the archaic command-and-control model, or that people need to be forced to work. Entry to the workforce has traditionally come via afterschool part-time jobs like delivering newspapers. It won’t be long until actual paper newspapers are a thing of the past like VCRs, perms and the correct use of apostrophes. It’s not quite the same zooming along on your bike hurling iPads at lawns and mailboxes, especially if that iPad hits windows. (I was going to attempt some humour around iPads and Windows software, but it got all too confusing and hard work – a bit like Windows).

Leaving aside actual specific and technical work skills, these little pre-entry-level jobs introduced young people to concepts and attitudes that school may have struggled to do. (Like what prepositions not to end a sentence with). Comedian Mitch Hedberg commented that, as a child, his job required him to have the discipline and work ethic to deliver newspapers to three hundred homes or one dumpster. Among these concepts would be self-discipline, punctuality, perseverance, goal-setting and getting along with people.

Calling paper-delivery a job is perhaps a convenient and romantic rose-coloured recollection. It might be more accurate and helpful to frame such roles as the shallow end of the self-employed sub-contractor pool. Given that such ‘jobs’ were often volume-based and geographically defined, they might be considered precursors to franchises. Maybe apart from income and job skills, they stimulated and reinforced behaviours that might benefit a future entrepreneur or self-employed contractor in a future virtual team? Are young people really garnering the same from becoming an instagram influencer?

Being on-call and part of a casual pool was not what was envisioned when the powers-that-were set things up around the time of the industrial revolution. Back then, workers were mere cogs in the machine. Sometimes that was metaphorical with human labour being routinised and commoditised. Sometimes, with the deplorable lack of care afforded to human health and safety, people may have literally ended up with cogs in machines. With urbanisation and industrialisation, business lobbyists and Governments composed another production line – that of children in schools being processed into workers to join factories. The schools were, in effect, education factories and the students were the products. They’d get just enough education to enable them to be able to be productive but not so much that they’d get revolutionary. There were no stages between student and worker, and there were minimal options other than working or not working. The paperboy and matchsticks girl were legit options back then right up until they became caricatures in Dickensian musicals as foils to someone usually named ‘guvnor’.

A recent Government-funded report found an ‘attitude gap’ between employers and young potential employees. They noted the gap is self- perpetuating. Bad experiences equal more disengagement for both employers and young people. The ‘gap’ is more than just attitude, but a complex clash of norms and expectations, as well as ethnic and generational differences that occur throughout the employment journey. I want to focus in on one key insight from the report and link it back to my lament of the loss of paper delivery job types. Employment expectations and ambitions of young people are built through the experiences they have early on, so having positive connections with employers is important for building ambition and networks for young people. (It’s not what you know, it’s who you know).

As with most of these attitude gaps in society, be they employer vs employee, young vs old, your culture vs that other culture, a pretty effective means of addressing it is exposure. What can be done to get employers and potential employers in front of the youth who want a job and don’t want to be stranded as part of the gig economy delivering newspapers, selling matchsticks or instagramming harmful diet products? There’s work to be done and questions to be asked. Why, for example, when I’m writing about the challenges of the old accepting the new does spellcheck refuse to accept the word ‘instagramming’? It turns out, spellcheck will accept it but only with a capital I. No! Get off my lawn Instagram!!


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Unthinking Onsharing


Social media platforms are rightly being criticised in the wake of the Christchurch tragedy. The good elements of social media are great. The bad are horrific. Being social is an essential part of being human. Collective social effort is what kept us alive when we emerged from caves. Together we protected ourselves from predators and together we hunted and fed more effectively. Soulless corporations are not humans, even if they try to individualise themselves to a Jack or a Zuck or a Tom. (Whatever happened to Tom?)

The social connectivity mega social tech companies enable has industrialised and created a scale that humans are not used to or meant for. Some thinkers reckon we are best in a group of about one hundred. Some more dangerous thinkers would prefer that the hundred would be people we pick and choose or people we are like. I reckon homogeneity is a risk and diversity is a strength. Diverse perspectives and skills strengthen the group, even if it needs a bit more effort to manage. This is true of workteams as it was of our cave groups millennia ago. It’s true of of our social groups now. How are yours?

Please don’t stop critiquing the effort, motivations and performance of Jack and Zuck. It’s woefully inadequate and clearly tremendously damaging, despite the best efforts of their PR damage-control crews. But we are not blameless. Our eyes, clicks, shares and purchases drive their behaviour. When a beloved celebrity is killed in a car crash being chased by paparazzi, the driver and the photographers are very much to blame. But so too is anyone who ever bought a magazine or clicked a link with one of those photos. We may only be individuals but we contribute. Our contribution may be small but collectively and socially they add up. And they have consequences.

Our shares are probably well-intentioned. The photo at the top of this post is a widely shared leadership meme. The basic oft-repeated refrain is that wolfpacks are led by the weakest wolves because they look after them and great teams care about everyone etc. Insert your own glib cliche. It sounds great. Who wouldn’t want that to be true? Who wouldn’t instantly and unthinkingly just click ‘like’ or ‘share’ or ‘retweet’? Who would waste 90 seconds checking it first? It isn’t true. Wolves are wild animals and they are not tree-hugging hippies. It’s made up but it is so on-shared that many people just accept it. Even when confronted with the evidence, the response is often defensive, justifying it on the basis that it’s just a metaphor. The same goes for uncited motivational quotations. Or your friends who constantly fall for those chain posts about FaceBook privacy etc.

I’m guilty of this. I’m trying to be less so. We could all at least try. Then we can focus our criticism on Jack and Zuck with a clearer conscience, and sort out their taxes too.

It’s a small step from inaccurate motivational wolf memes that aren’t true to ‘fake news’ stories and gossip. We shared these in our tribes of 100 and when they turned out to be fake, only a small number of people had their feelings hurt a little bit. Now when we do it by the millions, the consequences can be devastating and severe.

I’m not saying don’t ‘like’ and ‘share’. I am suggesting we all pause and ask a few quick and simple questions. Stop. Think. Act.

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The ‘BackBrief’ As A Business Communication Tool


What is a ‘BackBrief’? I first encountered the concept running a delegation workshop for a prestigious lawfirm.

The point of delegation is to drive optimal productivity, right. The lowest cost resource that can do the work should be assigned to do that work. The high-cost resources such as the partners, specialists and so forth should be doing high value work. Those in supervisory roles need to be delegating effectively, using systems to ensure work is done to standard, to time, and on budget.

There’s a lot that I could write about delegation and perhaps will in future but, for now, I want to focus in on one person. That person is a senior solicitor in that firm. He knew at a logical level that he should be delegating but his personality was such that he struggled. “No one can do this as well as me”. “Even if someone could do this as well as me, it won’t be the way that I would do it”. “Look, it’s just quicker and easier if I do it myself”.

Obviously those are just excuses and you can probably counter those excuses yourself. It’s short-term thinking, ultimately unsustainable, and certainly not optimal productivity. He was however able to cite several instances where he’d assigned work that ended up being poorly done, or not done at all, due to a lack of understanding on the part of the people being assigned the work. You could argue that adult professionals should not go around nodding that they can do a task when they aren’t sure. You could assign blame to the delegator who is ultimately still accountable for the work and its quality and timeliness. Better is to implement a simple system that invests a small amount of time upfront that ensures there is accurate understanding or there isn’t. Another lawyer in the room was ex-military and she introduced us all to the concept of the ‘BackBrief’.

BackBrief is exactly what it sounds like. The person or people receiving the instructions give a synopsis of the instructions they just received. The person originally giving the instructions can then determine whether the message was received properly. If it’s a small task, then the ‘BackBrief’ might be a swift verbal remark. If it’s a task of substance, then it might warrant some time and a small presentation.

It’s a great idea I’ve been introducing in my workshops that a lot of professional non-military workplaces are picking up on.


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Friends and (not with) Benefits

dog friends

Here is an excerpt from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears’. Available on Amazon.

“Relationships come and go but friends are for life.” – Somebody that I used to know

The British Medical Journal in August 1999 published a study of 3000 people aged over 65 that they followed for 13 years. The study tracked their participation in activities such as swimming, walking, shopping, volunteer work, social group activities and so forth. It transpires that social engagement is the best medicine.

Thomas Glass at Harvard’s School of Public Health studied 2761 people over 13 years and their socialising, concluding that it could increase longevity by 20%. As the Harvard Gazette put it, “Scientists are always coming up with ways for older people to live healthier and longer lives, such as doing exercises they can’t or don’t want to do. Now, researchers have found an easier way: people 65 years and older can extend their lives by doing things that are easy and enjoyable, like going to church or movies, shopping, gardening, and even playing bingo.”

“Such activities should not replace exercise,” Glass cautions, “but exclusive emphasis on exercise may be overly narrow. It is clear from our study that social engagement can have as much effect on prolonging life as fitness activities.” The smart move at whatever age is to double up and participate in exercise-based social activities. Notice now the massive increase in the popularity of group sessions at gyms and with personal trainers. It’s not just another way for gyms to charge multiple people at once instead of a single-customer personal training session. The evidence suggests you might get as much benefit from the interaction as from the exertion. The exercises might change by the time you’re 70 but the social benefits remain the same.

The Harvard Gazette went on to report that Glass admits he doesn’t know precisely why. However, he believes that keeping social and busy “evokes changes in the brain that protect against cognitive decline. This, in turn, influences physical processes regulated by the brain such as cellular immunity or mobilizing the body’s defences against disease.”

In other research, Glass and two colleagues tracked the effect of social disengagement on 2,812 people 65 years and older for 12 years. They found the odds of experiencing cognitive decline were approximately twice as great in those reporting no social ties than in those who had frequent contact with relatives and friends, attended religious services, or participated in regular social activities.

Another study revealed that rats who sustain brain injury and who socialize and have fun during recovery do much better than those who are socially isolated, even when both groups receive optimum physical care. This is why I’m not a scientist – I don’t know what rats do for fun.

We get influenced by the habits of our friends. We get a sense of belonging, purpose and self worth. It also works the other way though. For example, 56% of people trying to eat healthily will eat crap to avoid insulting a host, boss, client or family member. 51% will eat crap to fit in with the group. So, it pays to choose our friends wisely and ‘audit’ your ongoing value to each other.

If you have a best friend at work, you are seven times more likely to feel engaged in your job.

Friends have a powerful social influence. For one obvious example, be observant the next time you’re out for dinner with a group of friends and you get to that point of the evening when the waiter or waitress shows up and asks, “Would anyone like to see the dessert menu?” I’d gotten into the habit of saying something witty about just having a look, or at least something as witty as I was capable of after however much wine had entered my system before dessert. (ie most of it.) Now, I shut up and watch. You should too. The most common group dynamic when that question is asked is a fleeting flurry of eye contact amongst all members of the table. Each member of the group is determining their response to the question based on their perception of the likely reaction of everyone else. Again, the first person to react over-influences the subsequent responses of everyone else.

The restaurants know this. It is in their interest to sell more desserts and to keep you drinking the higher profit margin drinks, and if you stay for dessert, you’ll be there longer and you’ll get more drinks. Again, observe the waiter or waitress. They do not just ask the general group of people at the table a question. The question is directed at the person they think is most likely to answer, “Yes.” Just like lions hunting gazelles, the restaurants prey on the weakest member of the herd. And, in your group of friends, you all know who that is. If you don’t, it’s you.

Psychological priming is where a behaviour can be steered by exposure to a previous stimulus. Give two groups of research participants free cookies while filling in a fake quiz but expose one group to the smell of cleaning products and you’ll find the clean smell-primed group tidies up their crumbs and plates twice as often. The social influence of friends and menu choices is a form of priming. But priming doesn’t work if you know it is happening. So, armed with this knowledge, take a bit more control over what you consume and spend. Tell your friends. That’s what friends are for.

In a very recent piece of research, ‘Bad Boys: The Effect of Criminal Identity on Dishonesty,’ Alain Cohn, Michel Andre Marechal, and Thomas Noll reveal a potential negative application of priming effects that you and I might be able to flip and use with our friends to more positive ends.  In a maximum security prison they had prisoners privately toss coins and then say how many times the coin landed heads.  The more heads turned up, the more money the prisoners got paid.  The researchers couldn’t tell if any single prisoner was honest or dishonest but they did know that on average heads comes up half the time, so they can assess in aggregate how much lying there is.  Before the study, they had half the prisoners answer the question “What were you convicted for?” and the other half “How many hours per week do you watch television on average?”  The result: 66% heads in the treatment where they ask about convictions and “only” 60% heads in the TV treatment. Being reminded or primed about their dishonesty drove greater dishonesty in their behaviour.

How dishonest are prisoners versus everyday people?  When they play the same game with regular citizens, the coin supposedly comes up heads 56% of the time. Most people are also dishonest but less so than primed or unprimed prisoners.

Flipping this notion of priming, we need to find ways of subtly ‘reminding’ ourselves or our loved ones that we are the sort of person who behaves in ways that support us in boosting our healthy and productive lifestyles. This would vary from person to person and over time. One suggestion might be agreeing to exchange a daily text at an agreed time with a buddy. Nothing arduous, mentally taxing, syrupy or faux motivational – just some words about whatever it is you’re trying to support each other on. Remind them that they are whatever they need to be. Routinise it and prioritise it.

A University of Virginia study looked at participants sent out to estimate the steepness of a hill before setting out to climb it with a weighted backpack. Half the participants had a friend with them and half did not. Those with friends guessed lower steepness levels and the longer the friendships with their climbing companions, the greater the underestimation of steepness.  Having a friend with you not only lowers your stress levels as we’ve identified earlier, it makes the task ahead seem less foreboding. And we know how our perceptions and preconceptions can affect us physically.

Even if your buddy and you end up in a debate over things, that’s not inherently bad. In fact, it is really only your good friends with whom you can genuinely argue and care about the meaning of the result. Arguments with friends stimulate the plasticity of the brain. Surround yourself with people with helpful values, not necessarily the same as yours. Identify your ‘inner circle.’ Be likeable. Create time and opportunities to be together.

If you want to broaden or replace your social circuit, here are some tips:

  • Walk your dog (or child.) At least, they’ll be good conversation starters,
  • Work out,
  • Do lunch,
  • Accept the next 3 invitations you get regardless,
  • Volunteer,
  • Attend community events,
  • Take classes,
  • Fake a faith. (Faith is like sincerity, in that if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.)

Social isolation is a major risk factor. Having no friends or low-interaction friends is as bad as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, as dangerous as being an alcoholic and twice as harmful as obesity. In a six-year study of 736 middle-age Swedish men, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of heart attack and fatal coronary heart disease, but having friendships did. Only smoking was as important a risk factor as lack of social support.

The New York Times reported on some sub-research by a pair of social scientists named Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler using the information collected over the years by the Framingham Heart Study. Founded in 1948 by the National Heart Institute, the study follows more than 15,000 Framingham residents and their descendants, bringing them in to a doctor’s office every four years, on average, for a comprehensive physical. By analysing the Framingham data, Christakis and Fowler say, they have for the first time found some solid basis for a potentially powerful theory in epidemiology: that good behaviours, like quitting smoking or staying slender or being happy, pass from friend to friend almost as if they were contagious viruses. The Framingham participants, the data suggested, influence each another’s health just by socializing. And the same was true of bad behaviours — clusters of friends appeared to “infect” each other with obesity, unhappiness and smoking. Staying healthy isn’t just a matter of your genes and your diet, it seems. Good health is also a product, in part, of your sheer proximity to other healthy people.

You don’t need a lot of friends but you do need the right ones.

So next time you suggest to someone that you become ‘friends with benefits’, be sure to stress that you mean health benefits…

 “Anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s success.” – Oscar Wilde


That was an excerpt from my book ‘Live Work Love: #Add10QualityYears’. Available on Amazon.

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‘Workplace Exaptation’


Here’s an excerpt from my latest book ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year: Your ‘Change Evolution to get ‘Change Fit”. There are four stages in a person or team’s progress in evolving their change readiness: ‘Change Sloth’, ‘Change Strain’, ‘Change Workouts’, and ‘Change Fit’. Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle. Sign up for a monthly email summarising posts like these.


One example of a practice that may indicate you’ve entered the ‘Change Workouts’ stage is ‘Workplace Exaptation’. Exaptation is an evolutionary term for adaptations that evolved for one reason but later turned out to be useful for other things. Bird feathers originally were for warmth and attracting mates. It was only subsequently that they assisted in flight. There are plenty of Exaptation examples in business and workplaces too – what I call, ‘Workplace Exaptation’. Viagara, for example, was originally developed as a heart medication.

Another significant benefit of taking a more proactive stance on change, trying new things, or doing 2 dangerous things a year, is that you test many small ideas. Even if those ideas don’t initially work out or seem to amount to much, you still have those ideas. Keep them. Store them clearly and logically so they’re retraceable for future reference.

Both my kids worked their way through high school and much of university at the same local supermarket. That store had an idea. The idea even had a name – ‘Fresh Eyes’. Originally, and very successfully, the idea was that the weekly audit walk by managers required in their departments assessing things against a prescribed checklist should be rotated so that the audit walk was still conducted each week, in turn, but a different manager did it of a different department. It lessened the danger of over-familiarity and assumptions so they wouldn’t see the wood for the trees.

The idea worked (and works) great so they could quite reasonably have left it at that and patted themselves on the back. But they didn’t. They asked themselves – if this is such a great idea, where else might it be applied. ‘Workplace Exaptation’ in action.

They took that original idea of responsibility rotation and ‘Fresh Eyes’ and used it with job interviews. My son was employed in the seafood section. He was originally interviewed by someone from HR, not because they were from HR but because it was their turn. Next, it was someone from Produce, a less-experienced supervisor. They had fresh eyes and a different perspective on my son, plus it gave the interviewer some experience. Win-win! Lastly, he was interviewed by the manager of the seafood department. It’s a robust process structuring-in diverse perspectives, yet retaining consistency with a prescribed checklist. Successful ‘Workplace Exaptation’ in action.

If you’re curious as to the extent to which your personality’s natural predisposition towards risk is contributing to being a handbrake or an accelerator on your progress, you can take my online assessment and find out. It’s at .


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This was an excerpt from my latest book ‘2 Dangerous Things A Year: Your ‘Change Evolution to get ‘Change Fit”.  Available on Amazon in paperback or Kindlechange evolution complete slide

What’s A Work-like Environment Like?

human hamster wheel

I was pondering analogies to help me start writing this article. (If you don’t know what an analogy is, it’s like a simile or a metaphor. An analogy is comparable to metaphor and simile in that it shows how two different things are similar, but it’s a bit more complex. Rather than a figure of speech, an analogy is more of a logical argument).

Analogy is a great joke-writing mechanism. If comedy pixies sprinkle their inspiration dust on comedy writers and jokes just occur to them, then that’s great but inspiration is fickle. If you’re hosting the concrete awards then you need twenty original concrete jokes in a hurry and that can be hard, um ,challenging. So, writers develop systems to prompt the elusive creative juices. Edward DeBono, in his book ‘Serious Creativity’ wrote about how many of these same creative processes can also be applied to innovation and problem solving in a workplace context.

One common comedy creation approach is to brainstorm around a topic and list those things which are both similar to, or different from, that topic. Recently, when the news was all about a property developer’s proposed plan for a flash new waterfront stadium for Auckland, I applied that technique to create a joke. Jokes can be simply entertaining, or at least attempts to be entertaining, or they can also make a point. The point I wanted to make was that ambitious plans by private folk for public projects are notorious for big promises up front followed by cost escalations. You could write a thousand-word editorial about it or you can make the same point impactfully in an accessible joke, such as “The proposed Auckland waterfront stadium is estimated to cost 1.8 billion dollars. Although, that is just a ballpark figure”.

My theme for this article is the workplace environment, so let’s analogise the workplace environment with the environment per se. If life is like a race and finding the best employees is like looking for a needle in a haystack, then maybe the workplace environment is like the actual environment?

The environment is everything that is around us. It can be living or non-living things. It includes physical, chemical and other natural forces. Living things live in their environment. They constantly interact with it and adapt themselves to conditions in their environment. Sounds like work to me.

Fun fact: In 2011, Matthew Davis, a psychologist and business professor at the University of Leeds, reviewed more than a hundred studies on workplace environments. His findings conclude that the noise and interruptions by colleagues in open offices had a negative effect on employees’ productivity, creativity and satisfaction. I work with a couple of big firms that have taken up brand new premises recently. They had every opportunity and the budget to pour over all the research on how workplace environment affects productivity and retention. They chose modern technology and it’s all very shiny. One choice interests me. They did their maths and found that on average only eighty percent of their people were in the building at any one point in time. Why, therefore, should they provide enough workspace for all one hundred percent? They provided space for just over eighty percent. Oh, and it’s all open plan. This goes beyond hotdesking and into ‘Lord Of The Flies’ territory as people battle for primo real estate as they arrive. Not to be confused with ‘Lord Of The Fries’ which would be a welcome addition to any workplace environment.

‘Lord Of The Fries’ claim to aim for ethical fast food, including sustainability. Noble intent. Some workplaces are going for that too. Recycling grey water, solar panels and providing homes for bees on their roofs, these firms not only want to have noble intent, it is very important that everyone knows they have noble intent. I think this is wise. Sure, talented potential employees comparing firms competing for their talent will think prospects, remuneration and skill development but, all those things being equal, this aspect of workplace environment could be a difference maker. Carbon neutral could be employee positive.

Earlier I wrote that creativity can be stimulated. The environment can do this, or it can suppress it. In researching a presentation on creativity, I found a survey of executives ranking the locations where ideas were first come up with. In last place was ‘the office’. In first place was ‘travelling’. In second place was ‘the bath’. I found a chap who was a former bigwig in an international advertising agency based in London. They had a big map into which they would push pins to mark the geographical location where every account-winning idea was first concocted. Again, in last place was ‘the office’. In first place was ‘the pub across the street’. All of this certainly has implications for workplace environment. If nothing else, it’ll give the twenty percent who couldn’t find a desk somewhere to go with some justification.

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Sleep On It


  • Poor sleep can increase stroke risk 400%,
  • Ineffective sleep makes you immediately less productive,
  • Poor sleep heightens risk of dementia & makes you a pain to be around.

Mark Wolverton wrote in Psychology Today of a seminal 2002 study that revealed a strong relationship between an individual’s reported sleep and mortality. “People who slept less than seven hours a night—or more than nine—were at increased risk for all-cause mortality,” says University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist Martica Hall. Other studies revealed a similar curvilinear relationship between sleep duration and conditions such as cardiovascular disease and obesity.

Your body’s ‘Circadian Clock’ broadly follows the expected natural patterns of night and day with your brain and cells attentive to external cues such as temperature, sounds and light. Modern life and your behaviour messes with those natural cues to varying degrees at varying times. Plus we consume things like caffeine and alcohol. If you poured coffee, Red Bull or Jack Daniels into your TiVo, it would probably struggle to record ‘The Walking Dead’ at the right time for you. Your body reacts much the same way.

Research from the University of Surrey published earlier this year helps explain how insufficient sleep alters gene expression – offering important clues to the ways in which sleep and health are linked at the molecular level. The study’s authors found that after a single week of insufficient sleep (fewer than six hours nightly) blood samples from participants revealed altered activity in over 700 genes, including those related to heart disease, diabetes, metabolism, and inflammatory, immune, and stress responses.

Sleep is an essential restorative function, in more ways than one. But for a start, here’s just one way reported in Forbes by Melanie Heiken. When you sleep, your brain undergoes a cleaning process that removes waste linked to Alzheimer’s and Dementia, according to a study by the University of Rochester Medical Centre. They used imaging to look deep into the brains of mice and observed that the brain functions differently while asleep, mopping up accumulated proteins at a much faster rate. Led by Maiken Nedergaard, the researchers discovered that a waste-draining system they call the ‘Glymphatic System’ is ten times more active during sleep than while awake. This nocturnal cleaning system removes proteins called amyloid-beta, which accumulate into the plaques that may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.

Researchers at the Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and the University of Surrey in the UK measured white blood cell counts in young men who sleep eight hours and men whose sleep was restricted, and found a spike in white blood cells, particularly those called granulocytes, released in response to immune system threat. So it would seem that severe sleep loss jolts the immune system just as stress does and, if that accumulates, it affects your health. It could quadruple your risk of a stroke. Though researchers don’t know the exact mechanism, it seems that chronic lack of sleep causes inflammation, elevates blood pressure and heart rate, and affects glucose levels, leading to a much higher stroke risk in the sleep-deprived.

Sleep increases the ability of the four main healthy lifestyle habits (a healthy diet, exercise, moderate alcohol consumption and not smoking) to protect the body against cardiovascular disease.

                                                Without Good Sleep With Good Sleep

Cardio-Vascular Disease                Down 57%     Down 65%

Fatal Cardio-Vascular Disease      Down 67%     Down 83%

A study by the Harvard Medical School found that disrupted sleep patterns and irregular routines caused glucose self regulation in subjects to “go haywire.” Even a lie-in contributes to that. U.K. researchers Yvonne Harrison and James Horne reviewed multiple studies on the impact of sleep deprivation on decision making and problem solving. They concluded that it can lead to impaired communication, a lack of flexibility and willingness to try alternatives, a reduced ability to innovate, and an inability to deal with rapidly changing situations. Poor sleep leads to poorer decision-making and, often, one of those poorer decisions is to not do anything about the poor sleep. Most people are blissfully unaware of how impaired they are with even minor levels of sleep disruption, nevermind those who think they can rock on after pulling an all-nighter.

Those heroic doctors and residents in hospitals working those famously long hours of theirs –  a study in the Archives of Surgery found that residents were critically impaired by tiredness during more than a quarter of waking hours and that, when sleep deprived, they were 22% more likely to commit medical errors. A 2009 JAMA study revealed an increased rate of complications when surgical procedures were performed by Doctors who had less than a six-hour window for sleep between their last procedure the day before and the first procedure the next day.

Poor sleep affects us mentally and physically in all spheres of our life. Once again, it’s utterly interconnected and can spiral if we’re not careful. We don’t need to be puritan about it, just sensible. Easier said than done it seems for many.

When asked about the best tool to sort out poor sleep, sleep researcher Brad Cardinal responded, “Regular physical activity is better than any meds.”

Sheldon Cohen’s researchers at Carnegie Mellon University tested sleep and immunity. They exposed healthy adults to cold viruses, isolating and monitoring for five days afterwards. People who had been recently under stress showed increased resistance to Cortisol. They also found participants had more Cytokines, which trigger inflammation.

In their book ‘NutureShock’, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman detail how sleep impacts our attitude. Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala. Positive or neutral stimuli get processed by the hippocampus. Lack of sleep affects the hippocampus more than it does the amygdala. Therefore, sleep-deprived people struggle to recall pleasant memories but remember downcast ones well. In a word-memorising study, sleep-deprived participants could remember 81% of negative words such as ‘cancer’, yet only 31% of positive or neutral ones like ‘basket’ or ‘sunshine.’

So what does it all mean? That when you get stressed out and stop sleeping, or stop sleeping well, you get sick. So, poor sleep can lead to dementia, stroke, depression and lowered immunity to illness generally – all of which feeds on itself in a negative spiral. How much sleep should you get and how can you improve your odds of getting that?

Soft ear plugs, eye shades, routine, listen to white noise, no caffeine or alcohol.

For most people, the best sleep duration is seven hours. Those averaging eight hours have 12% worse morbidity than those sleeping seven. From a longevity point of view, it would be better to sleep five hours than eight. “People who slept less than seven hours a night – or more than nine – were at increased risk for all-cause mortality,” says University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist Martica Hall.

A sleep-supportive evening meal would not be too late and would consist of complex carbs, magnesium and protein. Examples are chicken with broccoli with a low-fat cheese sauce or a cheese and vegetable pasta. Chuck in some spinach or kale for the magnesium. Other options include dark leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, mackerel, tuna, beans, brown rice, avocado, plain yoghurt, bananas, figs, or dark chocolate. Don’t eat less than two hours before sleeping and keep night-time meals light on the spices.

Decent vegetable sources of protein are:

  • Asparagus,
  • Avocado,
  • Beans,
  • Broccoli,
  • Cauliflower,
  • Chickpeas,
  • Lentils,
  • Peas,
  • Quinoa,
  • Spinach,
  • Almonds,
  • Cashews,
  • Peanuts,
  • Peas,
  • Pistachios,

If Marie Antoinette was alive today and made aware of the grumblings of the peasants, she might exclaim, “Let them eat quinoa.”

Various studies propose a range of tips:

  • Be consistent,
  • Have a routine,
  • Empty your mind,
  • Before bed, avoid alcohol, caffeine, nicotine or a big meal,
  • Exercise earlier in the day,
  • Block out stimuli,
  • Seek snoring solutions,
  • Don’t be obese,
  • Check your mattress and pillow.

Make your bedroom a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of your house, irrespective of the season. Darken your rooms the hour before your bedtime. Light affects our melatonin levels and that’s a big player in sleep. The light from TVs and smartphones will mess with that. Smartphone screen illumination can suppress melatonin production by 20%. It is bad enough that you’ll fret about some email you checked when you didn’t have to at 11pm but that light smacking your eyeballs will make it worse. It may be that the electronic paper screens of eReaders do not have the same negative effect.

One app that adjusts the light emanating from your device is ‘f.lux.’ It knows what time it is where you are and what the natural light levels should be. It knows that your eyes should be receiving signals from that environmental light to synch up with your biology for, amongst other things, our sleep cycle. With that knowledge, it filters and adjusts the light type and levels to suit. Computer screens, tablets and mobile phones emit full spectrum light around the clock, just like the sun. Exposure to blue light at the wrong time of day can keep you awake later and interfere with the quality of your sleep. f.lux tries to help this by removing blue and green light to help you wind down in the evenings. At the time of writing, they’ve had 8 million downloads.

I have another iPhone app called ‘Sleep Cycle’ which monitors my body movements as I sleep and works out where in the sleep cycle of my circadian rhythms I am at. I might set the alarm for 6am but it can unilaterally wake me at 5:47 if that is the optimum time closest to 6am for my brain’s cycles. No doubt there are other products. I can’t swear for the science behind it but when I’m having trouble sleeping, usually during periods of extensive travel where all the exercise, eating and stress patterns go out the door, I find it helpful.

It may actually exist for real now but I saw a single-frame cartoon of an iPhone alarm clock app with the snooze button costing you $1.99. It’s funny, but with a real seed of truth about it.

“Sleep is a waste of time.” – Thomas Edison (Inventor of the lightbulb, possibly the single item most responsible for messing up our Circadian Rhythms.)


This was an excerpt from the book ‘Live work love’

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Your Personal One-Page ‘User Manual’

user manual

Rather than stumble around for ages hoping our boss and team (or family and friends) figure out how to handle us and get the best from us, probably annoying everyone along the way, why not work it out ourselves quickly, write it down on a single page and give it to them?

1 My style







2 What I value







3 What I don’t have patience for







4 How to best communicate with me







5 How to help me







6 What people misunderstand about me









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