WRITTEN BY kerry oconnor
Designing a business will never be as sexy as creating a shiny new object.
Yet the business system is the foundation upon which those brilliant objects live in the marketplace. And ultimately, the reason they can thrive and change the way we interact with the world.
Let’s imagine that IKEA was creating a premium line of furniture conceived by guest designers. What questions might you want to ask about that
offering? Well, for starters: who would it serve? How big is the audience these products might appeal to? What kind of premium could IKEA charge for a designer sofa over a Klippan sofa? What extra costs will be incurred for more luxurious fabrics?
At its essence, a business model needs to define who it is serving
(customers), how the offering gets to that person (channel), what unique
value is delivered (value proposition), and how much that value is worth
I always begin by defining what unique value we can deliver to the market. As a human-centered design firm, IDEO sees the opportunity for innovation in who we are designing for. We focus on what users need — the unique value proposition our designs can offer — and then design the business model around that.
OK. Now that you have identified the elements that make up a business
model, or business system, it’s time to frame your problem. How? First
impose some boundaries that define the problem area. “Constraints are
liberating,” says Diego Rodriguez, a partner at IDEO and a mentor of mine. They help you move from blue sky to brass tacks thinking.
In the case of Bean Pole, a Korean clothing retailer, we started by defining
what the brand stood for — delivering high quality, on trend clothing with a
British feel. We used that as a foundation to generate ideas for service
experiences that would deliver on the implicit and explicit brand values.
Without looking at other parts of the business model, we crystalized what was immutable — in this case, the brand attributes — to then inform what was possible in the other parts of the business. Capturing such elements that cannot change are exactly the constraints you’re looking for.
The biggest mistake business design students make is to just copy business
models of existing companies, especially those that their innovations seek to supplant. There’s nothing wrong with building a better mouse-trap, but that product will stand out from the pack if it’s supported by a novel business system.
Take Zipcar, which was, in essence, a car rental service. But the company’s
innovative pricing and membership revenue model were wholly different and ultimately disrupted the auto rental industry. Rather than using an existing business model as a template, use it as a starting point. Then, look out to the world for fresh ways that other companies have designed the elements you seek to innovate.
Likewise, Warby Parker could have introduced eyeglasses the way other
designers have — in retail stores with a high markup. Instead, the company
took the best practices of e-commerce — offering customers great prices, free shipping, and returns — to drive purchase and change the paradigm for how eyewear is sold.
My students’ project is around innovating the public school lunch
program in San Francisco. One group’s proposal is for the school to charge
students for take-home meals, to be eaten at home with family for dinner.
That begged the question, how much might people pay for this meal? If it’s
seen as equivalent to dinner in a restaurant, they might pay a lot, but what if dinner out is drive-thru fast food? With a few quick phone calls to the families of the public school kids, my students were able to understand how much they could charge for a meal, and therefore if their big idea could work.
Bringing in outsiders to respond to your ideas is always a good idea. It
refocuses the work on true human needs, challenges the designer’s
assumptions about audience and capturing value, and allows teams to test
At IDEO, I led a team that was designing a mobile product for a Korean client. We heard from users that they wanted steep discounts, asking for 40 percent and 50 percent of the retail price through the smartphone app. We also knew from our client’s financial statements that there was no way they could sustain a business if they did so.
Rather than burying ourselves in a financial model to try to make the numbers work, we mocked up a few simple interactive prototypes to test with target consumers. Once the product was in hand, we discovered that people were surprisingly quite happy with 10–15 percent discounts. The moral: there’s a great gulf between what people say they want and how they actually behave. Knowing this early in our design process saved a lot of time and allowed us to co-design the user experience and discount thresholds over time.
A business system is a series of “if, then” statements — interdependencies.
One design choice influences the next. For example, when Warby Parker
decided to sell exclusively through an online channel, it shaped their
marketing strategy, requiring them to invest in campaigns that made
consumers aware of their offering.
At each stage of design, think through how your choices generate new
assumptions about the interconnected aspects of your business model. Step
back and consider how interconnected pieces work together in a system. As
designers, we aim to create elegant systems — a whole that fluidly connects
As I stand in front of my class at Stanford, I’m certain I’m looking at the future Elon Musks and Marissa Mayers. They are going to innovate in radically new ways. But their brainchildren will only make it to market if they are supported by equally incredible business systems. These product designers will build, breakdown and recreate each product scores of times until they have a form that looks natural and obvious. The business designer too will build, test, tweak and refine until she has an elegant and fluid system in place.
With this co-creation of product and business we are left with something so well integrated into our lives that we can’t imagine how we ever managed without it. Surely, these students will offer us our next great product – and business –soon.
Link to original article: https://medium.com/ideo-stories/6-ways-to-design-a-business-de6a12d122de
WRITTEN BY: kerry oconnor. Design thinker and doer @IDEO and@stanforddschool. anthropological businessdesigner. factory tour aficionado.
PUBLISHED IN: IDEO Stories. “It doesn’t occur to most people that everything is designed” — Bill Moggridge.
ARTICLE | NOVEMBER 7, 2013
Packaging is a multidisciplinary profession that must consider many stakeholders in making the critical calls that produce successful packaging.
However, many packaging professionals are frustrated with the “silo” corporate structure that separates operations from finance, marketing from engineering, and production from design.
Too often, this results in inefficient package development because each department is in a push-and-pull contest with every other department, and the fundamentals get lost in the mix. Forgotten are many simple common sense practices, such as: First, you have to be aware of what is possible!
Of course, anything is possible. It comes down to what you’re willing to pay for, or what is reasonable to hope for. Consult these strategies to help you manage reasonable expectations and more successful packaging operations.
1. Understand the problem. It’s curious that companies’ silos—which all intersect in the packaging function—are the exact opposite of the psychology of consumer choice. Consumers make holistic purchase decisions. They don’t independently evaluate discrete aspects. So while silos may be an effective “divide and conquer” method for production activities, they’re often ineffectual when it comes to generating holistic value propositions. Breakthrough value is to be found in the cohesion between attributes and disciplines. Ideally, product and package should be developed in concert with each other.
3. Assemble a cross-functional team. Essential team members include leaders from these departments: branding, marketing, sales, package design, innovation, engineering, procurement, and operations. Engage any outside design agencies or key suppliers early. Input from a packaging performance technician, quality assurance, or materials purchasing is also very advisable. Another key player could be a research analyst who can assist in determining package requirements during the creative process. And here’s a not-so-novel idea: Put these individuals in a single office location, or very near each other, physically.
4. Assign a leader. Designate a leader for the project; someone who wants the job and knows what it takes to get the job done and yet is open to suggestions. And let that person stick his or her nose into everything, and frequently. Give the development team a brand identity and unify them with a common purpose or goal. Consistent leadership should span the project from end-to-end to ensure continuity of vision and execution. “Hand-offs” can cause disruption and dilute the design intent. Create clear objectives and clear milestones. Boost morale with incentives such as awards, recognition, or speaking engagements.
5. Update team members frequently. Remove communication barriers so everyone can understand challenges that arise. Brand team meetings are essential. At the first kickoff meeting, hash everything out as thoroughly as possible. Get it all “on the table,” brainstorm, and involve all the stakeholders. Before even putting pen to paper or pointer to design file, ask these questions: Can you run it on the production line? Can you label it? Can you get all the information you need on it? Create and monitor frequent status reports that also share information about what is working and what isn’t—and whether you can still achieve the targeted ship date.
6. Readjust marketing briefs to reality. A truly cross-functional project team builds team synergies and develops good relationships. For instance, it’s important that marketing experts understand that aesthetic “improvements” don’t always add value in the consumers’ eyes. And engineers should be aware how graphic and structural design could make packages “speak” to end users. Avoid letting the packaging team fall into being pulled in two directions, between the marketing and sales/commercial teams or between operations and marketing. Everyone needs to work together to make sure strategies are aligned and timelines are successfully met.
7. Unify the marketing story. Ideally, the marketing story should be contained within the product concept itself and reflected unsullied in the packaging. Stakeholders need to drive the message of common goals foremost. Consider consumer expectations of efficiency and convenience, both in unpacking the secondary packaging and during use of the primary packaging. And don’t forget end-of-life considerations that the consumer might expect.
8. Know what you don’t know. Engage the design house and suppliers at the same time, and early. Understand your options clearly, and all the potential pitfalls. Carefully consider the pros and cons of custom and stock options, because custom packages are not as cost-prohibitive as the name suggests. Avoid vacillating on critical decisions that hold up the process. Remove late changes from the equation, because switching vendors or manufacturing locations at the last minute can be very costly in both money and time.
If you don’t know, ask! Or request to see production operations for yourself and speak with their experts.
9. Bring in design thinking. Embrace the new culture of sharing and open innovation. Build greater self-awareness in each team member so they can better understand the frames and motivations of themselves and others. This enables teams to operate from a collective strength versus a narrow position standpoint. The caution here is that “technology” or “process” is the solution, when in fact it’s simply part of a consideration set. The tension between design and production should be viewed as positive; each improves the other’s
10. But…avoid design by committee. At some point, everyone knows that too many cooks spoil the broth. Committees often produce a consensus that is not a unique brand proposition. “Watered-down” design is often the result. Recognize the conflicts inherent in the team and bring them out into the open. Have a structure to the process, and one gatekeeper who will make the critical calls, and the final decision. More innovation happens within a structure than without. Explore new ideas thoroughly, but hit progress deadlines religiously.
11. Be proactive instead of reactive. Avoiding poor decisions is the name of the game. It’s paying attention to the nitty-gritty details that often separates success from failure. Decide how the packaging department should be defined and commit to it. Is your packaging function more aligned with product development? Does it serve mostly a protective and quality control function? Is it mainly a vehicle for branding and marketing? And be mindful that change is inevitable and that there are consequences of change. It’s a continuous fight. Expect the organization’s definition of optimal packaging to evolve due to recurring product innovation, evolving packaging science, and emerging corporate strategies.
12. Empower packaging professionals. Empower packaging managers to make enterprise-wide solutions. If you give packaging personnel quality control functions and accountability, they are more likely to touch—and want to touch—all the points of the operation and effect the greatest positive change. Encourage employees in all departments to expand their knowledge bases to broader disciplines. Create avenues for internal alignment, but review and re-review possibilities, resources, timing, and costs periodically. Promote a solution-based approach, and use modeling to get approval on a proposed final package while still “in theory.”
13. Be prepared to deal with stakeholders who are not knowledgeable. First determine their level of “education.” Too often, there are unreasonable expectations of trouble-free packaging production. If necessary, appoint a neutral arbiter to give sound advice. Engage an expert prepress staff so that they can prepare for—and quickly communicate—any potential “surprises.” Plan ahead and allow time for production checks. Run frequent press checks just for color to save the expense of die-cutting or gluing during press checks.
14. Present the business case. Perform thorough cost comparisons that include entire supply chains and processes. Summarize proposals for management to demonstrate “wins” in cost savings that are not obvious. Train engineers to back up cost savings analyses and assess and quantify risks for management. And always be prepared to explain the organizational argument for creating more efficient packaging operations. A comprehensive strategy requires comprehensive engagement from—and communication between—all departments and senior management.
Link to original article: http://www.packworld.com/package-design/strategy/rethinking-operations-back-end-forward?utm_source=Package_Development&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=PW%20PD-2014-09-04%20Klockner%20-%20Actual&spMailingID=9373924&spUserID=MjcxNDk4MTU0MjIS1&spJobID=380303362&spReportId=MzgwMzAzMzYyS0
The 10 Most Important Skills You’ll Need To Work In 2020 Save Post
I don’t know why I find this so surprising, but 2020 is only 6 years away. That may not seem like a long time, but our society is constantly and rapidly transforming due to societal change, technological progress and increasing global connectivity. So, in just six years a lot of things that we regard as quite usual may be borderline extinct in just 6 years.
One particularly worrying aspect of this is which skills will be required in the working world by 2020? Fortunately, Top 10 Online Colleges have compiled a list of 10 skills that may be crucial in the next decade. So, maybe it’s a good idea to start developing these skills:
- Sense making
- Social intelligence
- Novel and adaptive thinking
- Cross-cultural competency
- Computational thinking
- New media literacy
- Design mindset
- Cognitive load management
- Virtual collaboration
While there are no hard-and-fast rules in front-panel package design, here are some guidelines to help you define your brand on today’s cluttered retail shelves.
1. Determine the brand “position.” Know your company and your brand and your core values. Ask the hard questions again and again, and don’t underestimate the savvy of today’s consumers. Is there a unique value proposition? What is the primary product benefit, lifestyle advantage, or convenience gain? For a new brand or brand extension, remember that getting noticed is often the most important goal.
2. Explore the competitive environment. Use differentiation in a category for one goal—giving consumers a reason to pick up the package. Go to the retail environments where the package will live, and ask these questions from the perspective of the brand:
• Who am I? Do I represent something tangible? Do I inspire trust?
• What makes me special? Where do I fit in among competitors?
• Why would they buy me? What’s the most important benefit or advantage?
• How can I connect with consumers emotionally? What cues can I use?
3. Settle on a hierarchy. Information organization is a critical element of front-panel design. Broadly, the importance of the information hierarchy goes: 1) brand; 2) product; 3) variety; and 4) benefit(s). Analyze all the messages you want to convey and put them in order of importance. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be in that order, top to bottom, on the package, but it’s a good reference point to start with. Having a very organized, consistent information hierarchy across multiple product varieties helps your customer find the variety they desire and allows for a satisfying experience. Saving the shopper time in picking out a product should always be a priority.
4. Make one element the hero. Is the personality of the brand strong enough to stand on its own? Determine what is the most important single idea to communicate about your product. If you’re going to “own” something, what is that something? Align secondary brand messages under the primary umbrella message. If your brand is the hero, consider “locking in” a tagline with the logo. But make sure you’re committed to that tagline for the long haul. Otherwise, look for inspiration outside the category, which can often lead to breakout design. Use shapes, colors, illustrations, and photographs to reinforce the hero of your brand story. Above all else, make it easy for repeat buyers to find you the next time.
5. Keep it simple. Less is often more—communication-wise. Be succinct, both verbally and visually. Three main visual cues are all that the typical eye will tolerate. Successful package design is often an exercise in constraint. Remove overloaded messages on the front panel. Limit marketing claims and benefit statements. Any more than two or three, and the points will be counterproductive. Too many benefits will dilute the core brand message, and it will actually cause the consumer lose interest in the store aisle. Remember, most packages have secondary panels for more information. That’s where shoppers look when they want to learn more. Use the secondary panels, but don’t skimp on design for those either. If secondary panels are unavailable, consider a hangtag to tell a deeper brand story.
6. Manage stakeholder expectations. Expect some stakeholders to want to put all the information or marketing claims they have on the front panel. Remind them that a package is not an advertisement. Be prepared for the counter-arguments by having a repeatable design development process. Back the process up with checkpoints and transparency and show progress with visual aids. Explain how the process is both expansion and contraction, and have everyone sign off on the process before starting. Quickly develop three to five options so you can establish a common language to talk about the objectives. Be prepared with questions and suggestions should a stakeholder come to you with a printer or converter already in mind before design begins.
7. Communicate value visually. Of course, having a transparent window that shows the product inside is almost never a bad idea. Consumers want visual confirmation of the choices they make. Aside from that, you can say things non-verbally with shapes, design, graphics, and colors. Use the elements that will best communicate attributes and equities, sensations and feelings, emotional associations, and textures. Create an association with a sense of place. Suggest use occasions with graphics that have the elements of that use occasion. Involve a lifestyle. Today’s consumers judge products in relation to how the values of that brand fit into their values and lifestyle. Create a singular “reason to believe” that is capable of closing the sale in isolation.
8. Be mindful of category-specific rules. Each retail category has its own conventions. Some should be followed religiously. Some are important because bucking the convention can set a newcomer brand apart. For food products, however, the product itself should almost always be the hero. Spend the money on production and printing to create a photorealistic representation of the ideal serving suggestion. Conversely, for pharmaceutical products, the brand and product’s physical characteristics can be secondary—sometimes even unnecessary. The parent brand logo may not need to be on the front panel. Instead, emphasize the name of the product and what it does. Across all categories, though, it’s advisable to err on the side of less clutter on the front panel.
9. Don’t forget findability and shopability. Learn how consumers shop the particular category you’re in. Make sure they won’t be confused by the format or the information hierarchy. Remember, cognitively and psychologically, colors communicate ahead of everything else. Next come shapes. Words matter, but mostly as a support role. Words and typography are for reinforcement, not high-level brand communication.
Findability can be either about having a brand-first strategy or about creating a “blocking” element in the store aisle that draws shoppers in. Shopability is about having a consistent system of colors, shapes, materials, or front-panel hierarchy that guide both new and repeat shoppers in finding the specific product and variety he or she desires. If there are multiple lines under a parent brand, consider good/better/best strategies that indicate each value proposition clearly and succinctly. For instance, the relative strengths of different products in a line can be indicated by “strengths,” or relative saturations, of color.
10. Plan for future brand extensions. A brand that is flexible enough to extend to other categories also has a core brand identity that it owns. After that, a successful brand platform is one that can grow by adding product varieties or lines, or extending outside its original category. Test the versatility of a front panel’s design by applying it to new products and to new categories. Look at a wide swath of imaginary products and extensions, not just the flagship variety. Make sure they all work together, united as a brand but easily understood as separate offerings.
Even plan for future redesigns of your core product line. Don’t inhibit the future growth of your brand by creating a platform that is not both extendable and flexible.
– See more at: http://www.packworld.com/package-design/graphic/ten-guidelines-effective-front-panel-design?&spMailingID=6667563&spUserID=MTkxNzUxMTcxOTUS1&spJobID=81221223&spReportId=ODEyMjEyMjMS1#sthash.76fMOFjk.dpuf
As designers, we spend a lot of time thinking about the future. We look for trends that give us clues about the Next Big Thing. We make predictions about how society, technology, and businesses will evolve. And we try to build products to withstand years of use.
What we don’t often do, however, is think of the future as a tool for persuasive design. But it is–and it can actually be quite powerful. When people get a peek at what’s in store for their health, their pocketbooks, and the environment, they tend to make better decisions–such as saving more money for retirement or going for a jog instead of watching television.
By making users’ futures–25, 35, or even 50 years from now–more salient in the products and services we design, we can nudge them toward future-oriented choices. A good place to start is by helping users feel more connected to their future selves.
Computer-rendered “aged” photographs project what someone might look like several years in the future. Although they’re typically used in missing persons advertisements, these “older self” photos can really help influence people’s decisions.
In a series of experiments conducted by a team from NYU, Microsoft Research, and Stanford, researchers showed people either a present-day or digitally aged photo of themselves and asked them how much of their income they would allocate to retirement savings. People who saw their aged photos said they would allocate more money to savings–6.17% compared to 4.41%. The aged photos helped people more vividly imagine their futures, which made those futures seem more tangible. They also increased people’s sense of self-continuity–the psychological connectedness they felt with their future selves.
Most of the time, we tend to think of our future selves more as an “other” rather than as a “self.” Researchers at Princeton explored this tendency a few years ago in an experiment: They asked participants how much of a disgusting liquid they would be willing to drink for the sake of science (a delicious mixture of water, soy sauce, and ketchup).
When they asked participants how much they’d be willing to drink then and there, participants committed themselves to drinking less than a quarter-cup. Asked how much another participant in the experiment should have to drink, participants committed strangers to drinking nearly a half cup. And when people were asked how much they would commit to drinking themselves in a few months, they were much more likely to give answers closer to a half cup. Here’s what’s key: They treated strangers and their future selves quite similarly–in contrast to the way they treated their present selves.
Merrill Edge recently created a web app that shows people what their faces might look like at retirement age, tapping into the power of using aged photos to improve future-oriented decision making. (Customers use the app before creating a savings plan.) It shows you a projection of your face at various ages, all the way up to age 107, along with reference points alongside each photo–such as the estimated price of a loaf of bread 30 years down the line. The app preserves enough of your face and features to be fairly convincing.
Personally, once I got over the initial shock of seeing what I might look like at age 67, I found myself feeling empathetic toward the older woman in the photo. “This is an old lady who should be taken care of,” I thought. The irony, of course, is that I’m the old lady. (I also forwarded my aged photo to my husband to let him know what he was in for.)
What’s keeping us from thinking about our future selves more regularly, especially when we’re making decisions with long-term consequences?
Behavioral economics and cognitive psychology suggest that cognitive biases impact the way we do (or don’t) take the future into account when making decisions. Equipped with an understanding of those biases, we can begin to craft design strategies that help combat them.
First, we tend to discount future outcomes.
Life is full of decisions where one option leads to a positive outcome in the present and another option leads to an even bigger positive outcome in the future. (This is called an intertemporal choice.) Most people choose the here-and-now outcome, even if it’s orders of magnitude smaller than the future outcome. We do this because we dramatically discount outcomes that occur in the future. The farther in the future an outcome occurs, the more we discount its impact. This is known as quasi-hyperbolic time discounting.
Second, we’re pretty bad at predicting our future selves.
We’re not great at predicting what we’ll want, what we’ll feel, or how we’ll react to life-changing events down the line. These are known as affective forecasting errors. They’re attributed to biases like the projection bias (we project our current emotional states on our future selves) and the impact bias (we overestimate our emotional responses to future events, such as the death of a loved one and don’t account for how we actually cope and adapt over time).
Third, we tend to focus on single events rather than additive consequences.
Even when we have good intentions about the future, we easily fall victim to narrow bracketing. That means we focus on the individual outcomes of smaller decisions instead of taking a more holistic or longer-term view to understand their additive effects.
So how can we tap into the power of the future and help users combat common cognitive biases?
1. Help people keep their future selves in mind at the moment they’re making decisions.
What if, every time you were about to make a major credit-card purchase online, you had to write a quick note to your future self, perhaps using a tool like Future Me?
The food and fitness tracking app MyFitnessPal makes strides in this direction by giving users a weight projection at the end of each day, based on that day’s caloric intake. (“If every day were like today, you’d weigh XYZ in 5 weeks.”) From a purely behavioral perspective, showing the weight projection before users make food choices might be more effective–but it’s important to strike a balance between calling attention to the future and disrupting the user experience (particularly when you’re dealing with daily experiences). Testing with real people can help you determine the sweet spot.
2. Define future impacts in terms of personally resonant metrics.
Put future outcomes into clear terms that will resonate with users–like dollars saved, pounds of carbon dioxide reduced. We took the dollars-and-cents approach with Artefact’s SWYP printer concept; the interface makes clear how much each printed page will cost as users are deciding how many pages, and with what quality, to print.
3. Help people vividly imagine what the ebb and flow of their future lives will be like.
Thinking through the reality of day-to-day life can help people make more realistic predictions about their future emotional states. Without guidance to consider various minutiae, people will tend to focus on major life events (a birth of a child, a death of a spouse) and overestimate their impact.
Imagine if you had people describe a day in their life, 20 years from now, before making a decision with long-term consequences. This could be as simple as incorporating a basic either/or question into an existing experience: “Will you prefer your toast buttered or unbuttered when you’re 60? Would you rather do the crossword puzzle on Sunday mornings after you retire, or go for a bike ride?”
4. Make abstract future outcomes tangible in the present.
To give people a sense of what the future might look like, try to make distant outcomes feel more visceral. Whole Foods recently removed all of the produce that relies on bee pollination from its University Heights Market store in Rhode Island to help shoppers better grasp the magnitude of a future without bees. Out of the typical spread of 453 produce items, only 216 were left in the “post honey bee” store. As you can tell by the photo below, the effect of removing the 237 items that depend on pollination was quite striking–staples like apples, cucumbers, broccoli, and carrots were completely gone.
5. Pair each future preview with a call to action.
Once the impact of the potential future sinks in, people need to know what to do next to achieve (or avoid) that outcome. There’s a fine line between showing people a realistic view of a possible negative future and freaking them out. While graphic warnings on cigarette packages give smokers an idea of what’s in store–cancerous lungs and rotting teeth–they can be so upsetting that they lead people to revert to unhealthy coping behaviors. Like smoking. Which sort of defeats the purpose.
We want to help people get a better idea of what the future might be like, but we also have to help them understand that they have the power to change the course of events. Making sure people have a sense of self-efficacy–that they can achieve their goals and make change happen–is critical when it comes to changing behaviors. As designers, we must ensure that every time we give users a glimpse into their future lives, we also give them a clear path to creating a positive outcome.
People who are happy but have little-to-no sense of meaning in their lives have the same gene expression patterns as people who are enduring chronic adversity.
For at least the last decade, the happiness craze has been building. In the last three months alone, over 1,000 books on happiness were released on Amazon, including Happy Money, Happy-People-Pills For All, and, for those just starting out, Happiness for Beginners.
One of the consistent claims of books like these is that happiness is associated with all sorts of good life outcomes, including — most promisingly — good health. Many studies have noted the connection between a happy mind and a healthy body — the happier you are, the better health outcomes we seem to have. In a meta-analysis (overview) of 150 studies on this topic, researchers put it like this: “Inductions of well-being lead to healthy functioning, and inductions of ill-being lead to compromised health.”
But a new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) challenges the rosy picture. Happiness may not be as good for the body as researchers thought. It might even be bad.
Of course, it’s important to first define happiness. A few months ago, I wrote a piece called “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy” about a psychology study that dug into what happiness really means to people. It specifically explored the difference between a meaningful life and a happy life.
It seems strange that there would be a difference at all. But the researchers, who looked at a large sample of people over a month-long period, found that happiness is associated with selfish “taking” behavior and that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with selfless “giving” behavior.
“Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desire are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided,” the authors of the study wrote. “If anything, pure happiness is linked to not helping others in need.” While being happy is about feeling good, meaning is derived from contributing to others or to society in a bigger way. As Roy Baumeister, one of the researchers, told me, “Partly what we do as human beings is to take care of others and contribute to others. This makes life meaningful but it does not necessarily make us happy.”
The new PNAS study also sheds light on the difference between meaning and happiness, but on the biological level. Barbara Fredrickson, a psychological researcher who specializes in positive emotions at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, and Steve Cole, a genetics and psychiatric researcher at UCLA, examined the self-reported levels of happiness and meaning in 80 research subjects.
Happiness was defined, as in the earlier study, byfeeling good. The researchers measured happiness by asking subjects questions like “How often did you feel happy?” “How often did you feel interested in life?” and “How often did you feel satisfied?” The more strongly people endorsed these measures of “hedonic well-being,” or pleasure, the higher they scored on happiness.
Meaning was defined as an orientation to something bigger than the self. They measured meaning by asking questions like “How often did you feel that your life has a sense of direction or meaning to it?”, “How often did you feel that you had something to contribute to society?”, and “How often did you feel that you belonged to a community/social group?” The more people endorsed these measures of “eudaimonic well-being” — or, simply put, virtue — the more meaning they felt in life.
After noting the sense of meaning and happiness that each subject had, Fredrickson and Cole, with their research colleagues, looked at the ways certain genes expressed themselves in each of the participants. Like neuroscientists who use fMRI scanning to determine how regions in the brain respond to different stimuli, Cole and Fredrickson are interested in how the body, at the genetic level, responds to feelings of happiness and meaning.
Cole’s past work has linked various kinds of chronic adversity to a particular gene expression pattern. When people feel lonely, are grieving the loss of a loved one, or are struggling to make ends meet, their bodies go into threat mode. This triggers the activation of a stress-related gene pattern that has two features: an increase in the activity of proinflammatory genes and a decrease in the activity of genes involved in anti-viral responses.
“You have a forward-looking immune system,” Fredrickson told me, “If you have a long track record of adversity, it prepares you for bacterial infections. For our ancestors, loneliness and adversity were associated with bacterial infections from wounds with predators and fights with conspecifics.” On the other hand, if you are doing well and having a lot of healthy social connections, your immune system shifts forward to prepare you for viruses, which you’re more likely to contract if you’re interacting with a lot of people.
What does this have to do with happiness?
Cole and Fredrickson found that people who are happy but have little to no sense of meaning in their lives — proverbially, simply here for the party — have the same gene expression patterns as people who are responding to and enduring chronic adversity. That is, the bodies of these happy people are preparing them for bacterial threats by activating the pro-inflammatory response. Chronic inflammation is, of course, associated with major illnesses like heart disease and various cancers.
“Empty positive emotions” — like the kind people experience during manic episodes or artificially induced euphoria from alcohol and drugs — ”are about as good for you for as adversity,” says Fredrickson.
It’s important to understand that for many people, a sense of meaning and happiness in life overlap; many people score jointly high (or jointly low) on the happiness and meaning measures in the study. But for many others, there is a dissonance — they feel that they are low on happiness and high on meaning or that their lives are very high in happiness, but low in meaning. This last group, which has the gene expression pattern associated with adversity, formed a whopping 75 percent of study participants. Only one quarter of the study participants had what the researchers call “eudaimonic predominance” — that is, their sense of meaning outpaced their feelings of happiness.
This is too bad given the more beneficial gene expression pattern associated with meaningfulness. People whose levels of happiness and meaning line up, and people who have a strong sense of meaning but are not necessarily happy, showed a deactivation of the adversity stress response. Their bodies were not preparing them for the bacterial infections that we get when we are alone or in trouble, but for the viral infections we get when surrounded by a lot of other people.
Fredrickson’s past research, described in her two books, Positivity and Love 2.0, has mapped the benefits of positive emotions in individuals. She has found that positive emotions broaden a person’s perspective and buffers people against adversity. So it was surprising to her that hedonistic well-being, which is associated with positive emotions and pleasure, did so badly in this study compared with eudaimonic well-being.
“It’s not the amount of hedonic happiness that’s a problem,” Fredrickson tells me, “It’s that it’s not matched by eudaimonic well-being. It’s great when both are in step. But if you have more hedonic well-being than would be expected, that’s when this [gene] pattern that’s akin to adversity emerged.”
The terms hedonism and eudaimonism bring to mind the great philosophical debate, which has shaped Western civilization for over 2,000 years, about the nature of the good life. Does happiness lie in feeling good, as hedonists think, or in doing and being good, as Aristotle and his intellectual descendants, the virtue ethicists, think? From the evidence of this study, it seems that feeling good is not enough. People need meaning to thrive. In the words of Carl Jung, “The least of things with a meaning is worth more in life than the greatest of things without it.” Jung’s wisdom certainly seems to apply to our bodies, if not also to our hearts and our minds.
Link to the original article: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/08/meaning-is-healthier-than-happiness/278250/
Curators code: http://www.curatorscode.org
This content was created by the DTAction Lab team.
The Context of the Innovator
In his book “The Ten Faces of Innovation,” Tom Kelley, general manager of IDEO (*), describes the following roles:
1. The Anthropologist
Anthropologists are constantly observing the world around them with a fresh eyes, and are capable of “seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one has thought.” They are good at seeking inspiration from unusual sources, and reframing problems in new ways.
2. The Experimenter
Experimenters love to prototype and are creative gurus when it comes to using what is available to physically represent their ideas. Every stage of the ideation process can be prototyped so experimenters will usually be the first to suggest a prototype of a marketing or sales plan through acting out a storyboard or creating a short video.
3. The Cross-Pollinator
Cross-Pollinators draw associations between seemingly unrelated ideas, bringing in a stream of new content from other disciplines. Using a breadth of knowledge in many fields with a significant understanding in at least one field, cross-pollinators spark innovative hybrids.
4. The Hurdler
Hurdlers push through obstacles by viewing problems as opportunities. They take their passion for design and tie it with the passion to create things to help people so that when obstacles arise they are seen as opportunities rather than roadblocks. “The essence of a Hurdler is perseverance.”
5. The Collaborator
Collaborators value the team over the individual, and act as facilitators that keep a constant flow of excitement and energy through a project team, while also providing the glue to bring together people from diverse backgrounds in order to make the perfect dream teams. With a huge heart, collaborators can always be counted on “to jump in when and where they are needed most.”
6. The Director
Directors see the big picture and provide inspiration and empowerment to bring the best out of everyone in the organization. They keep the momentum constantly flowing by leading when it is needed and delegating when the time is right.
7. The Experience Architect
Experience Architects realize that there is no one method for every occasion; they are constantly designing experiences for every unique product or service. They keep their eyes open for “trigger points,” which are the aspects of a product’s design that need to be emphasized for the best possible experience.
8. The Set Designer
“Set Designers care about the intersection between space and human behavior.” They adapt the physical space to balance private and collaborative work opportunities and to promote a culture of creativity. A Set Designer might be the team member prepared with markers and pens to create working spaces on the go.
9. The Caregiver
Caregivers, with big ears and big hearts, are always champions of empathizing with others. They are constantly listening to customers and take into consideration how ideas will affect their general audience.
10. The Storyteller
Storytellers understand that “stories persuade in a way that facts, reports and market trends seldom do, because stories make an emotional connection.” Storytellers “capture our imagination with compelling narratives of initiative, hard work, and innovation.” They not only transmit the values and goals of the organization or team, but they also make heroes out of real people.