Avoiding Narcissism and Decline: A company’s journey through growth

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This article provides information that will help you assess if your company is on the verge of entering a decline phase.

All companies and organizations have a lifecycle, with some being around for centuries and new companies being developed every day with 50 percent predicted to fail within the first 4 years. A total of 9 out of 10 eventually fail within a ten-year period[i].  Nearly 42 percent of failed businesses reported the failure due to lack of a market need for their product or service.  According to Harvard Business School study[ii], 75 percent of venture-backed startups fail with the reasons for failure being reported as:

  • Lack of motivation, commitment and passion

  • Too much pride, resulting in an unwillingness to see or listen

  • Taking advice from the wrong people

  • Lacking good mentorship

  • Lack of general and domain-specific business knowledge: finance, operations and marketing

What are the identifiers for those that succeed? According to The Ecommerce Genome by Compass in their Startup Genome report, the following are the indicators of success:

  • Founders are driven by impact, resulting in passion and commitment

  • Commitment to stay the course and stick with a chosen path

  • Willingness to adjust, but not constantly adjusting

  • Patience and persistence due to the timing mismatch of expectations and reality

  • Willingness to observe, listen and learn

  • Develop the right mentoring relationships

  • Leadership with general and domain specific business knowledge

  • Implementing “Lean Startup” principles:  raising just enough money in a funding round to hit the next set of key milestones

  • Balance technical and business knowledge, with necessary technical expertise in product development

So, where does your company stand?

As the saying goes, if you’re not growing you’re dying. But that growth can be in various sections of your business; and, often times, growth requires work in the idea stage where you begin to look at better ways of doing business and solving problems.

Lifecycle of a company or organization

From an organizational perspective, "lifecycle" can refer to various factors such as the age of the organization itself, the maturation of a particular product or process, or the maturation of the broader industry. In organizational ecology, the idea of age dependence is used to examine how an organization's risk of mortality relates to the age of that organization. Generally speaking, organizations go through the following stages:

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START-UP: How do we get this going?
Your business is born and now exists legally. Products or services are in production and you have your first customers. Start-ups require establishing a customer base and market presence along with tracking and conserving cash flow. At this stage, the entrepreneur should put all his energy in the project.

During the start-up stage, the budget best be revised often. More cash might be needed than expected. Unpredictable circumstances often affect plans and business model. Figures should be adapted quickly. Start-up stages requires: Support & coaching of the CEO and board of directors, Complete Business & Marketing Plan and Assistance in negotiations for capital increase.

GROWTH: Becoming who you are.
In many ways, the growth state is a transitional period between the stages of start-up and maturity. In this stage, the organization begins to define their mission and service niche more carefully.

Growth stagers spend a considerable amount of energy creating, refining and focusing on the best ways to service the organization’s wants and needs.

Board of Directors begin to transition from being a support group for the founder to  accepting responsibility for the organization by becoming more formalized, tracking  and evaluate performance and recruit professional expertise.

MATURITY: Knowing who you are.
The organization knows its members and its members know them.  They engage in public education on topics related to their mission.  Organization has a stable and active membership.

The board plays a leadership role capable of understanding pressing issues and provide solutions.

TURN-AROUND: Self Awareness.
The turnaround stage involves restructuring and brings the organization back to the high side of the start-up or early growth stage with fewer programs with stronger budgets and with a relevant mission.

Turnaround boards are fearless, take-charge types, utterly confident of their abilities and not out to win popularity. They are able to mobilize resources, and restore the confidence of the community in the mission and operations of the program. In some cases, board members will choose to retreat from the organization due to differences of opinion or lack of time to play a vital role.

DECLINE: What you used to be.
Declining stages are inward focused and become locked into their own methods and seldom seek evaluative feedback. Organizations begin to justify their thought processes and decisions by their reputation and community position rather than bring new insight or approaches to the table, they continue to recycle traditional programs whether needed or not.

Project outward blame - rather than acknowledge and adapt to the circumstances, the organization ignores or makes excuses for it. Board members have lost interest, lost enthusiasm and may be the last to know it is in a state of decline. There are two ways out of the declining stage. Change nothing and the organization will erode into the terminal stage, or, through some intervention from new board members to move into the turnaround stage.

Depending on where you are in your company’s lifecycle journey, you are either in the midst of change or preparing for change. As we all know, change isn’t easy for people or organizations. There are several reasons for the discomfort of change and they are all individual to each company. However, most organizations overlook the practical parts of what to change and how to change.  Change does not occur by simply doing things differently.  Change occurs when people and organizations let go of the old habits and behaviors they were using.

Is your company spending too much time solving the wrong problems?

The S9s, more commonly known as “birth control glasses” or BCGs, were issued to U.S. troops for decades until 2012, when officials at the Department of Defense realized their iconically awful prescription eyewear actually functioned as a major roadblock for thousands of libidinous service members who would rather be blind than wear such atrocious spectacles. Careful end-user studies showed that service members were more likely to wear safety glasses that were more flattering. The new design resulted in few eye injuries.  [iii]

The S9s, more commonly known as “birth control glasses” or BCGs, were issued to U.S. troops for decades until 2012, when officials at the Department of Defense realized their iconically awful prescription eyewear actually functioned as a major roadblock for thousands of libidinous service members who would rather be blind than wear such atrocious spectacles. Careful end-user studies showed that service members were more likely to wear safety glasses that were more flattering. The new design resulted in few eye injuries. [iii]

How do you know when to change?
The only constant in business is change, because our consumers are changing, and we must adapt to their needs. Businesses grow by finding better ways to serve. If you are a company in the growth stage, you’re in the sweet spot of the lifecycle and your energy will be mostly spent creating, reefing and focusing on the best ways to service the organization’s wants and needs.  This requires having the means to be proactive and inclusive.

While Maturity might be a “feel-good” lifecycle stage, it is also the most dangerous position for a company that has: 1) grown to fast; or, 2) not created a strategy to move back into growth. This is a stage that sets the company up for future success or failure.  This is also the stage where most of the bad habits are created, hijackers are born, problems that don’t need solved are given too much attention and the company becomes narcissistic.

Signs of a narcissistic company:
A narcissistic company has lived out its vision and mission and that characteristic is now embedded in the company’s culture.  The leadership’s attitudes and values have now been transferred to the broader teams, groups, committees that are on the frontline to support the company’s livelihood. There is a sense of pride and accomplishment that has been shared within the community and the air of being vulnerable is no longer an issue. And…this is where the company starts to slip into decline, like a frog in boiling water, it is often too late to TURN-AROUND.

It is beneficial for organizations to practice responsible vulnerability in their culture. The practice of being vulnerable is often identified as being weak; however, in many cases, it is a positive indicator of finding strengths.

Benefits of practicing responsible vulnerability:

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Being vulnerable helps you identify both your qualities and flaws.
It increases self-worth and provides leaders the opportunity to assume their new roles as the business models change while being open to insecurities that can provide the proper supporting network to normalize your experiences.

Vulnerability provides leaders with confidence and trust in the process while being open to the needs of others and opening asking for what they want.

It supports innovation and motivation by allowing others to engage and inspire that is established through trust.[iv]

It provokes compassion. It is crucial to an organization to engage in the personality of the company by acknowledging someone else’s expression and demonstrating the willingness to simply listen. Vulnerability is a call for accountability. By embracing a sense of vulnerability, leaders are demonstrating they are willing to take responsibility for their actions.

The easiest starting point to understand vulnerable narcissism is the origin of the term “Narcissist”. The word “Narcissist” finds its origin in Greek Mythology. In short, the myth tells us of how Narcissus bent over a pool of water to have a drink but was suddenly awestruck by the beauty of his own reflection.  He fell so in love with his reflection and its pure perfection, that he did not drink water for fear of disrupting or damaging his perfect image. Some say he drowned in that pool, others say he died of thirst. Narcissus’ obsession with himself and his own beauty was his downfall. [v]

The easiest starting point to understand vulnerable narcissism is the origin of the term “Narcissist”. The word “Narcissist” finds its origin in Greek Mythology. In short, the myth tells us of how Narcissus bent over a pool of water to have a drink but was suddenly awestruck by the beauty of his own reflection.

He fell so in love with his reflection and its pure perfection, that he did not drink water for fear of disrupting or damaging his perfect image. Some say he drowned in that pool, others say he died of thirst. Narcissus’ obsession with himself and his own beauty was his downfall.[v]

Because a company that practices being vulnerable can best avoid the narcissistic trap.  Narcissistic organizations are often coming out of Growth or currently in the Maturity or early stages of Decline. They have achieved identified goals with some level of success and use that success to promote their “story” that identifies the brand.

Here are a few signs of a narcissistic company that can substantially hinder their growth and trap them in decline:

They educate the people that helped them get to where they are. The company has now adapted the practices of all those that have helped them build their vision and mission and they are no longer listening, but telling people what they want and how they want it. This process closes the door to innovation and locks an organization into a system that is closed off to innovative solutions.

They no longer have a need for outside advice. They now believe they are exceptional and no longer need input from other groups or individuals and often find fault or reasons why “that won’t work.” This process normally develops out of a need to fast track project, products and services. Ultimately, quality suffers.

Their company has defined its brand and will protect the image at a cost to its growth.  This is not a bad position for an organization; however, the downfall is often with the leaders that devalue the passion brought to the table by outside groups or individuals within the organization. The company is in a mature position and has defined itself without the need for change, criticism or evaluation of its brand.

They are the company that everyone wants to work for and everyone wants to leave.  If it looks good from the outside, but the inside is showing signs of misery, this is a sign of a narcissistic company.  The first impression quickly wears out the welcome.

If you’ve identified your company is near a decline stage; or, if you are wanting to strategically plan your organization’s lifecycle growth, look for an outside agency that specializes in organizational development for companies to create a plan that will ensure continued growth.

Companies can strategically move throughout a lifecycle stage from idea to growth into maturity and avoid decline by efficiently managing change. For over 15 years, Q7 Associates has worked with various sized businesses and organizations to assist them in successfully managing various lifecycle changes.  We work with companies to identify not only what needs changed, but how to manage change through a transition.


[i] Patel, Neil (2015, January 16).  90% of Startups Fail:  Here’s What You Need to Know About the 10%.  Retrieved from forbes.com.

[ii] Henry, Patrick (2017, February 18).  Why Some Startups Succeed (and Why Most Fail).  Retrieved from entrepreneur.com.

[iii] Sicard, Sarah (2017, August 30).  A Brief History of the Military’s Unsightly ‘Birth Control Glasses.’ Retrieved from taskandpurpose.com.

[iv] Roche, Sonja.  6 Powerful Benefits of Vulnerability and Shame – Yes, you read that right.  Retrieved November 16, 2018, from intentioninspired.com.

[v] Abby. (2018, May 29). Vulnerable Narcissism: The Less Obvious Narcissist [web log post.] Retrieved from thrivetalk.com.

Has your marketing plan expired?

Why your marketing initiatives may be costing you money

We are currently living in the Conceptual Age.  We’ve gone from hunter-gatherer to farmer-settler, through the Industrial Age and out of the Information Age into the Conceptual Age movement where we now sell ideas and innovative concepts. This movement was born out of living in a world of abundance and has generated cultural creatives.

Creativity has high value in a Conceptual Age and it is not always synonymous with effectiveness since an emotional side of a design may be more critical to a product's success than its practical elements. It is better to understand how your message will be perceived. How will your end-user interact with your message? Telling a story is the best way to get your end-user engaged in your product/message/design. You don't need to write a lengthy story, but develop the visual and contextual information so that it resonates emotionally with your end-user. Your story should be relevant through every touchpoint of your Consumer’s Journey. 

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A person looking for a drill bit isn't really looking for a drill bit; they're looking for a hole. 

Although we navigate through a different world today as Cultural Creatives in a Conceptual world, our brains have remained mostly primal in the need to conserve energy and simply survive.  As a result, the way we process information is different in today’s world and we are over inundated with information in a world of abundance.  In the end, most information pushed to us is ignored.  Our senses are taking in about 11 million bits of information every second.  Most of that comes through our eyes, but all the other senses are contributing as well - hearing, touch, smell, taste, and spatial sensations.  Our conscious brains, that part of thinking in which we are aware of thinking-can only process, at best, 40 bits of information per second.   All the rest is processing subconsciously. Thus, most of purchasers buying decisions are based on emotional connection.

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Most of us are unable to easily detect the error in the above content.  The reasons is because we live in a world of mass information and our brains, in order to conserve energy, are lazy.  The brain overlooks or will substitute information for what we expect.

Marketers have always had the responsibility to ensure their message reaches the intended audience and they rely on creativity to attract the attention of their market segmentation. However, most of today’s marketing messages overlook the emotional appeal and the power of the subconscious mind to make decisions on what products and services to purchase.  As a result, more companies are adapting Experience-based Marketing and Design practices to better connect with their audiences and meet a higher ROI and ROC [Return on Creativity].

Experience-based design (XD) is the practice of designing products, processes, services, events, and environments with a focus placed on the quality of the user experience and culturally relevant solutions, with less emphasis placed on increasing and improving functionality of the design.  An emerging discipline, experience design attempts to draw from many sources including cognitive psychology and perceptual psychology, linguistics, cognitive science, architecture and environmental design, product design, information design, information architecture, brand management, interaction design, service design, storytelling, and design thinking.

An early example of Experience-based Marketing and Design comes from the Betty Crocker Company who introduced its ready-made-cake with a “just add water” concept to make life easier in the 1950’s.  Unfortunately, the product failed when it first hit the supermarket shelves. A study conducted by market researchers found that "The customer felt no sense of accomplishment, no involvement with the product. It made her feel useless, especially if somewhere her aproned mom was still whipping up cakes from scratch."[1] The solution to the problem was simple - have the cook add an egg to the mix and "thereby putting pride back into the activity". 

Does your company have a missing egg in your ingredients?

Does your company have a missing egg in your ingredients?

9 out of 10 consumers say they would spend more to get a superior customer experience.

Traditional marketing methods are becoming outdated as increased research in the fields of neuroscience reveal our emotional minds and habits.

Consider the following checklist to determine your needs for integrating Experience-based Marketing and Design [XD] practices into your business model

1) Are you including Psychographic marketing research to assist in determining your audience’s lifestyle values and characteristics? 

Psychographics is often associated with IAO variables (Interests, Activities and Opinions) and is used by marketing firms to design a product, campaign or program that appeals to a specific audience by identifying their common personality traits, values, opinions, attitudes, interest and lifestyle.   

While demographics focuses on historic generations and classification of groups such as Baby Boomer Generation or Generation X, psychographics identifies groups based on common beliefs, attitudes, values and behaviors. 

Purchases are often related to brands and products through lifestyle and interests and less connected by a generation classification.  Psychographic profiles can be a useful tool for the multifamily housing industry that is focused on creating a strong marketing plan that does not violate Fair Housing laws.  Instead of creating a marketing plan that is based off of the needs of individuals, you are able to create experiences based on what a community desires most; thus, making your product more memorable in the minds of your audience.

2) Are you practicing Neuronaming for any projects or products you are developing?

Consider this: Did you know that...“Students whose names start with A or B earn higher grades than those with C or D names. Baseball players whose names start with K strike out slightly more often than the rest of the player population (a strikeout is marked as a “K”). Is this effect real?”  Studies like these suggest we should take into consideration Implicit Egotism when creating names for appropriate markets. Implicit Egotism is a theory in psychology which asserts that most people associate positively with themselves and therefore tend to prefer things connected to themselves.

Attempt to pair these two images with the appropriate name. Which image best represents the name Maluma? And, which image best represents the name Takete? Most people will assign the sharper edge image with Takete and the softer, rounded shaped image with Maluma.

Attempt to pair these two images with the appropriate name. Which image best represents the name Maluma? And, which image best represents the name Takete? Most people will assign the sharper edge image with Takete and the softer, rounded shaped image with Maluma.

3) Do your brand designs reflect the characteristics of your audience interests by the use of color psychology?  And, does your logo design visually translate the story about your brand? Furthermore, are you capitalizing on the power of Storytelling in your brand’s marketing?

Does your name have a story? The founders of the website Significantobjects.com, a site devoted to quantifying the bottom-line power of story at a product level, say, “Stories are such a powerful driver…that their effect on any given [product’s] subjective value can be measured objectively.” The website is home to an experiment that goes like this: the founders buy thrift store, garage sale, and flea market products, always cheap, no more than a couple dollars at most. Then, they hire a writer to compose a fictional story about the product, imbuing it with heritage, history, and ostensibly, value. The once-valueless products, accompanied by their new stories, are then sold auction-style on eBay. The difference between the original purchase price and story price is recorded as the objective value of that story.

The takeaway results for the first 100 products bought, storied, and then resold on eBay are poignant and telling. On average, the original product price was $1.29. But the average resale price after a story was added grew to a staggering $36.12. All in all, the experiment shows that even at a micro level, story can increase product value by a whopping 2,706 percent.

Would you purchase this 1996 Honda Accord for $150,000.00?

Would you purchase this 1996 Honda Accord for $150,000.00?

This 1996 Honda Accord reached a bid of $150, 000.00 through an online Ebay auction.  The seller created an experience-based commercial that had “story” which increased the value of the car’s worth.

Watch the video

5) Are you using a Consumer Journey framework in order to appropriately translate your messages to identified end-users and create advocates out of your marketing initiatives?

Making large purchases or major life changes can often trigger the brain’s pain receptors. How are you emotionally connecting with your audience at the point of purchase?

Making large purchases or major life changes can often trigger the brain’s pain receptors. How are you emotionally connecting with your audience at the point of purchase?

Understanding the Consumer Journey process and emotional connections

The Consumer Journey framework consists of seven stages that have been designed to help us understand the end-user’s journey as it relates to marketing and design initiatives.  This framework provides insight to end-user experiences and assists in developing creative concepts to be used in the brand development.  Each step of the framework should generate a specific message with the goal to move the audience from one step to the next.  Most businesses miss opportunities for connection by placing their entire message in the first step.  The brain does not want to process this type of information at this stage, it needs to be seduced into wanting to learn more about services and products.  The end goal is to create advocates from your target audience.

6) Have you incorporated Sensory Branding to enhance end-user experiences to make your brand more memorable in the minds of our audience?

According to the Buying Brain, our senses are taking in about 11 million bits of information every second. Most of that comes through our eyes, but all the other senses are contributing as well - hearing, touch, smell, taste, and spatial sensations. Our conscious brains,-that part of thinking in which we are aware of thinking-can only process, at best, 40 bits of information per second.

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Did you know you can minimize vandalism with the use of music:  Consider the fact that classical music has been found to deter vandalism, loitering, and even violent crime in parks, 7-Eleven parking lots, and subways. Figures released in 2006 showed that when classical music was piped over loudspeakers in high crime locations, robberies dropped by 33 percent, assaults on staff by 25 percent, and decreased vandalism of trains and stations.

Scent is the only one of the 5 senses that taps directly into the part of the brain responsible for emotion and memory; however, our sense of smell is hardwired to our emotions - 75% of our emotions are generated by what we smell.  In fact, you are 100 times more likely to remember something that you smell than something that you see, hear or touch. Have your incorporated scent and sound design into your marketing and design plan?

7) There is little time to capture your audience’s attention while online.  F-mapping layout for websites and understanding the activating the oxytocin in the brain through social media can increase your audience’s engagement. Are you employing these techniques to actively connect to your audience?

Millennials touch their smartphones 45 times a day and 5 out of 6 connect with companies on social media. Additionally, 51% will share information with companies in exchange for an incentive. Social media activity can also activate oxytocin in the brain which is commonly called “The Love Drug” giving users a boost in positivity.  For website use, people tend to spend less than 25 seconds on a homepage and traditionally use an F-mapping scan to evaluate, find and explore information.

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8) Is your interior design team practicing Experience-based design for your interiors and curb appeal to eliminate frustrations throughout every touchpoint of your brand?

The use of the color red can increase heartrate and anxiety and is not recommended for areas where you want guests to be calm and relaxed.  Blue is a color that can lower blood pressure and create a calming effect for guests.

Round tables are best used instead of desks when wanting to engage with your audience; additionally, glass top tables can easily become fingerprinted and create constant maintenance issues for staff. A solid round table with a solid flat surface is best for collaborations and engaging guests.  

Incorporating green spaces and can create more engaging and enjoyable spaces.  Plants and landscape themed or nature-based art can be beneficial in promoting health and wellness through biophilic design.  Biophilia is the human tendency to interact or seek connection with nature.  And, having a collection of artwork with images from all around the world can reflect the diversity within an organization.

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Remember, you’re not always selling a product or service. More often, you are selling a solution.  If you are a Leasing Agent for Multifamily housing or a Realtor you’ll be more memorable with your audience if you meet their emotional needs.  Consider people moving are more likely going through some life transition and your service should be designed to talk with them about how the property will help them better achieve their lifestyle needs.

9) Have you incorporated a Customer Experience Management process to properly translate the marketing and design initiatives to staff?

Customer Experience Management or CEM is the outcome of this growing realization by businesses that their customers receive some kind of experience, ranging from positive to negative, during the course of buying and consuming their goods or services. This experience is inevitable and occurs every time an organization interacts with a customer. The customer experience is the result of this “experiential journey”, which generates happiness and satisfaction along with a sense of being personally respected and cared-for.

A recent survey has found that 60 percent of Customer Experience Leaders gave a ‘touch-point’ only definition of Customer Experience Management. These ‘touch-points’ are the points of contact that the customer has with the business. These may vary from a phone call, an email, a visit to the store or a click on the website. They also include response to queries, delivery of the goods, after- sales service etc. In short it is the whole process or journey that a client has when interacting with the business.

If you answered NO to three or more of the above, your organization could increase ROC by incorporating the Experience-based Marketing and Design practices.


For more information on integrating Experience-based Marketing and Design for Multifamily Housing: Breaking the Mold of Conventional Design: A neuromarketing guide for multifamily developments

Contact us for a free consultation, evaluation and introduction to adopting XD Marketing/Design


[1] David Pink, A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (Riverhead Books, 2006), 61.

Your Art Is Costing Your Company Money

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Most companies underestimate the impact art has in the work environment.  The majority of the time an interior design firm has selected the artwork to match the design and color scheme, which is often done at a cost to the work environment.

The healthcare industry has been practicing Evidence-based art for several years in an effort to create a more healing environment that allows shorter recovery periods for patients. People can have a physical reaction to colors and the healthcare system takes this into consideration for their designs.  The color red causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Additionally, the color red can cause digestive issues and emotional distress for those dealing with health issues. The color blue is a more universal color that has the opposite physical reaction by lowering blood pressure and heart rate.  This too can become challenging since it could cause patients to become cold or drowsy.

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Red and yellow color combinations are traditionally used for fast food restaurants since yellow is the easiest color to see, and red is a color that increases appetite.

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The color blue is typically used for spas since it is a color that creates a relaxing sensation for guests.

Corporate culture has become a fairly new term used to define the work environments of corporations.  We are currently living in a Conceptual Age as the result of abundance and overwhelming amounts of sensory information in our lives. 

“In an age of abundance, appealing only to rational, logical, and functional needs is woefully insufficient.  Engineers must figure out how to get things to work.  But if those things are not also pleasing to the eye or compelling to the soul, few will buy them.  There are too many other options.  Mastery of design, empathy, story, play, and other seemingly “soft” aptitudes is now the main way for individuals and firms to stand out in a crowded marketplace.”[1]

Companies are not only missing opportunities to better their work environments by selecting appropriate artwork and images that reflect their culture.  In fact, some companies are harming their work environments by underestimating the impact art can have on individuals in a work space.  There is a misconception that employees want to see images of sunsets and beach scenes in an effort to create a more relaxing and pleasant atmosphere; however, this actually has an opposite effect in the minds of employees as they are constantly reminded of a place where they would rather be and that they are indeed not there! 

Furthermore, art provides an opportunity to inspire people and reflect the values the company wants to create within the space.  Employees that work in a health insurance office would better benefit by artwork that reflects the diversity of people that they are helping by doing their job. Mirroring is a technique often beneficial to enhance positive emotional experiences. 

Mirroring is the behavior in which one person subconsciously imitates the gesture, speech pattern, or attitude of another. Mirroring often occurs in social situations, particularly in the company of close friends or family. The concept often affects other individuals' notions about the individual that is exhibiting mirroring behaviors, which can lead to the individual building rapport with others.

This can also be used in advertisement and artwork to provoke a defined response from individuals. Using the health insurance company example, images of diverse people engaged in receiving care with a simple graphic message that reads, “Your work makes a difference in this person’s life.”  The images could link to an online platform where the stories are told. 

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Photographer, Henry Domke creates Evidence-based art images for healing environments in healthcare.

Landscape and nature-based art can be beneficial in promoting health and wellness through biophilic design.  Biophilia is the human tendency to interact or seek connection with nature.  And, having a collection of artwork with images from all around the world can reflect the diversity within an organization.

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Once the Greek and Roman sculptors created the “perfect” human body, they quickly abandoned the perfection for a more abstract representation.  The mind is more attracted to exaggerated features.  This is why abstract art evokes an emotional response.

While abstract art is subjective, there is scientific research that supports our attraction to images that are distorted, especially of the human figure.  V.S. Ramachandran, Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego, is best known for his work in behavioral neurology.  He has explored the connection between the brain and art and has identified the Peak Shift theory that helps explain our interest in the abstract world of art.  

“This psychological phenomenon is typically known for its application in animal discrimination learning. In the peak shift effect, animals sometimes respond more strongly to exaggerated versions of the training stimuli. For instance, a rat is trained to discriminate a square from a rectangle by being rewarded for recognizing the rectangle. The rat will respond more frequently to the object for which it is being rewarded to the point that a rat will respond to a rectangle that is longer and narrower with a higher frequency than the original with which it was trained. This is called a supernormal stimulus. The fact that the rat is responding more to a 'super' rectangle implies that it is learning a rule.

This effect can be applied to human pattern recognition and aesthetic preference. Some artists attempt to capture the very essence of something in order to evoke a direct emotional response. In other words, they try to make a 'super' rectangle to get the viewer to have an enhanced response. To capture the essence of something, an artist amplifies the differences of that object, or what makes it unique, to highlight the essential features and reduce redundant information. This process mimics what the visual areas of the brain have evolved to do and more powerfully activates the same neural mechanisms that were originally activated by the original object.

Some artists deliberately exaggerate creative components such as shading, highlights, and illumination to an extent that would never occur in a real image to produce a caricature. These artists may be unconsciously producing heightened activity in the specific areas of the brain in a manner that is not obvious to the conscious mind. It should be noted here that a significant portion of the experience of art is not self-consciously reflected upon by audiences, so it is not clear whether the peak-shift thesis has any special explanatory power in understanding the creation and reception of art.

All of the above taken into account, your artwork should never be an afterthought to your organization’s design. Your art selection should not be left up to the executive team.  It should be placed in the hands of a professional art consultant that will understand the ways to best enhance the culture, vision and mission of the company. 





[1] David Pink, A Whole New Mind:  Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future (Riverhead Books, 2006), 34.