“Birds flying high you know how I feel
Sun in the sky you know how I feel
Breeze driftin’ on by you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn
It’s a new day
It’s a new life for me yeah
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me
And I’m feeling good…”
Anyone listening to Nina Simone crooning “Feeling Good” will be thinking “that’s how I want to feel…”. What are the chances of feeling like that when you walk into the office?! I’m not sure even Dorothy and her red shoes would transport us there.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, organisations have tried for nearly 100 years to work out how to make people feel better when they are working. We understand some of the issues – motivational factors, management of resources, team work and, latterly, health and safety. These concepts have always been part of military planning but only since the First industrial Revolution have they become part of the industrial and commercial landscape.
In the early part of the First Industrial Revolution people were seen as resources in much the same way as equipment and machinery was viewed and used. Workers needs were a low priority set against how much they could produce for the least amount of investment made in them. However, there was growing interest in how to make people more productive and out of this grew organisational and industrial psychology, which examines how people interact with their working environment. Attention was focussed on the environment in which they operated and how it could be manipulated to make workers more productive. This was not just the physical environment but also the kinds of relationships people had with the organisation and with each other, and the kind of relationship the organisation had with communities and other stakeholders.
How human beings interact with the system of work is called ‘ergonomics’. How people move around, sit, use equipment and machinery has been studied and analysed. The results have been better designed work stations, safer machinery, temperature controls and better designed Human Machine Interfaces making workers safer and more productive.
The drive for ever more gains in productivity and efficiency created new initiatives such as the LEAN and Six Sigma approaches, which seek to eliminate waste and non-essential processes and thereby create additional value for the organisation. The benefits have been removal of barriers to production, reduced frustration and improved communication between workers. However, it has also increased workloads and demands on skills, interpersonal relationships and mental processing, combined with the demands of learning how to use new technologies, such as:
- Autonomous vehicles – e.g., drones
- Artificial intelligence – e.g., automated business processes, data analysis, chat bots
- Additive manufacturing – e.g., 3 D printing
- Virtual/augmented reality – e.g., flight simulators
- Robots – e.g., prosthetics, airplane autopilot function
It has resulted in new versions of old work-related problems emerging. Threats of contamination, greater unemployment amongst lower skilled and remote communities, mental and physical stresses on operatives and increased data security vulnerabilities are some of them.
A previous article I wrote asked this question:
“Engineering clever devices that keep us safe is straightforward, but how do you create a system which motivates people to keep themselves and other people safe? How do we create a system where people want to and are able to reduce harm in a volatile, uncertain and chaotic environment?”
The answer, I wrote, lies in our humanity, and that is where eudaimonic design and cognitive ergonomics comes in. Yes, I know, don’t mention these on your first date either.
“What is Cognitive Ergonomics?
Cognitive ergonomics is the field of study that focuses on how well the use of a product matches the cognitive capabilities of users. It draws on knowledge of human perception, mental processing, and memory. Rather than being a design discipline, it is a source of knowledge for designers to use as guidelines for ensuring good usability.
Cognitive ergonomics mainly focuses on work activities which:
- have an emphasized cognitive component (e.g., calculation, decision-making)
- are in safety-critical environments
- are in a complex, changeable environment (i.e., where tasks cannot be predetermined)
The first domains investigated by cognitive ergonomics were nuclear power plants, air traffic control systems, and medical anesthetics. Those situations feature complex environments (e.g., where there are many controls and switches—or many factors—coming into play) and where exceptional focus is needed so as to make decisions in potentially life-threatening situations. In the years following, many studies were conducted in “softer” domains such as banking, office work and leisure activities. The principles proved transferable between such environments.”
Designing technology that is nice and easy to use is not enough to get humans to use it productively. I have a washing machine that sings me a little tune when it is finished – my son finds this hilariously entertaining but I haven’t noticed any improvement in his motivation to empty it. He has to be motivated to use the technology. And before you ask, I tried the usual maternal inducements – pleasant request, telling him using ‘that voice’ and emotional blackmail – didn’t work. The siren that is computer gaming is more alluring.
Motivation has two faces, intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation. The source of intrinsic motivation is the ‘inherent satisfaction’ the individual derives from the experience itself (eating chocolate). Extrinsic motivation occurs when the source is outside the person – the attainment of a goal for example, so the activity is the means to this end (going for a run so you can have guilt-free chocolate).
The concepts of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation are the basis for an approach called Self Determination Theory. This suggests that people can enjoy the process of solving challenges but need the right ingredients to be able to enjoy the process.
If you provide an employee with these ingredients you will have someone who is motivated to solve problems, anticipates disaster and thrives in challenging environments.
The three ingredients that contribute to self-determination are:
- Autonomy – the experience of choice, personal agency, self-determination; having the ability to decide for yourself.
- Competence – having the ability to be effective.
- Relatedness – social connectedness with others, healthy attachment, intimacy.
This leads us to eudaimonic design. I realise that this sounds like a new creepy Netflix series, but bear with me.
The word ‘eudaimonic’ means happiness, well being, fulfilment – the kind of thing Nina Simone was singing about. It is much more than just short term satisfaction or avoiding pain. At work, eudaimonic design creates interfaces that satisfy the individual’s needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness:
- Autonomy: Autonomy is supported by an interface or task that provides the user with as much choice as is safe and practical in setting immediate and long-term goals and in how he or she performs the task.
- Competence: Competence is supported by an interface that is intuitive and by task demands that match the skill of the user and provide opportunities for skill improvement.
- Relatedness: Relatedness is supported by sociotechnical environments that facilitate supportive interaction with other persons and with the technology, that avoid experiences of alienation or isolation of the user from others or from the task, and that engender feelings and attitudes that the technology serves the person, not vice versa.
(Szalma, 2014, p1463).
The answer to the question “How do we create a system where people want to and are able to reduce harm in a volatile, uncertain and chaotic environment?” was:
“to let the human to use the one attribute they have that no machine, computer, robot or artificial intelligence has – their humanity”.
The ingredients of autonomy, competence and relatedness are uniquely human. Choice – intuition – feeling connected, not alienated – you can’t 3 D print that.
In a world that is becoming more volatile and uncertain and at a seemingly ever faster rate, organisations are having to adapt rapidly to changing conditions and that includes adapting how they employ, manage and lead people and teams. The very concept of ‘management’ and ‘leadership’ is changing in front of our eyes. In a world where nothing is certain, where the younger you are the more competent and knowledgeable you are likely to be in emerging technologies, requires leaders and managers to change their thinking.
Szalma, J. (2014). On the Application of Motivation Theory to Human Factors/Ergonomics: Motivational Design Principles for Human–Technology Interaction. Human Factors: The Journal of Human Factors and Ergonomics Society, December 2014, Vol.56(8), pp.1453-1471.