Micro-Kitchens are the Modern Day Coffeehouses

I was thinking about companies that serve free food (few companies) or coffee (almost everyone). While there are some emotional reasons companies do this, e.g., showing appreciation for workers or desire to keep them healthy, I think there are solid business reasons to do this.

Providing Spaces For Lunch (or Buying Lunch for the Company) Sparks Innovation

Gathering everyone together for lunch naturally sparks ideas. I remember the story from The Psychology of Computer Programming where Gerald Weinberg talks about management removing the water cooler from the office because they noticed that employees were always around it. Once the water cooler was removed, productivity plummeted. As it turns out, the water cooler was a hub of informal knowledge transfer. I liked this quote from Peter Diamandis’s piece From Beer to Caffeine: The Birth of Innovation because they talked about 18th century coffeehouses — the non-work places where great ideas were sparked.

The coffeehouse was a hub for information sharing. These new establishments drew people from all walks of life. Suddenly the rabble could party alongside the royals, and this allowed all sorts of novel notions to begin to meet and mingle and, as Matt Ridley says, “have sex.” In his book London Coffee Houses, Bryant Lillywhite explains it this way “The London coffee-houses provided a gathering place where, for a penny admission charge, any man who was reasonably dressed could smoke his long, clay pipe, sip a dish of coffee, read the newsletters of the day, or enter into conversation with other patrons. At the period when journalism was in its infancy and the postal system was unorganized and irregular, the coffee-house provided a center of communication for news and information… Naturally, this dissemination of news led to the dissemination of ideas, and the coffee-house served as a forum for their discussion.”

Serving Coffee as a Drug Delivery System

I always wondered why coffee was available in every office I’ve worked in. First I thought it was a perk for employees. Now I realize it’s a drug delivery system. Caffeine is one of the most powerful drugs known to man. By keeping employees hopped up on coffee, you can make them a lot more productive. But keeping caffeine pills by the water fountain seems so vulgar — so we are left with coffee. As Diamandis says:

In his excellent book Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, author Steven Johnson explores the impact of coffeehouses on the Enlightenment culture of the 18th century. “It’s no accident,” he says, “that the age of reason accompanies the rise of caffeinated beverages.” There are two main drivers at work here. The first is that before the discovery of coffee, much of the world was intoxicated much of the day. This was mostly a health issue. Water was too polluted to drink, so beer was the beverage of choice. In his New Yorker essay “Java Man,” Malcolm Gladwell explains it this way: “Until the 18th century, it must be remembered, many Westerners drank beer almost continuously, even beginning their day with something called “beer soup.” Now they begin each day with a strong cup of coffee. One way to explain the industrial revolution is as the inevitable consequence of a world where people suddenly preferred being jittery to being drunk.”

So eat, drink and be innovative!

Note 1: I once saw this hanging in an office:

Note 2: Michael Pollan has a great audiobook Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World which goes into way more detail on the drug.


How Cell Phones Cause Car Crashes (And Can Also Save Lives)

Cell Phones Make You A Worse Driver — Taking Many Lives

Talking on the phone is dangerous. The New York Times wrote a great series of  articles called Driven to Distraction to explain the science behind this. Basically, your brain keeps saying “Why do you keep looking at the road? We’re having a conversation here! David Pogue has a good article on the dangers of hands free texting as well. Yet people keep trying to put more and more distractions in their cars.

Cell Phones Also Save Some Lives — When Used In An Emergency

There was an interesting article on insurance that mentioned how cell phones saves lives:

Technology has also had a profound impact on survival post
accidents. One company we interviewed told us that, in the
late 1990s, it noticed that its losses from motor accidents had
increased substantially, but it didn’t know why.

In the end the company discovered that the advent of mobile
phones meant that accidents were reported more quickly, so
people survived more often. That is, of course, very good for
drivers, yet increasing the survivability of severely injured
motorists wrong-footed actuarial assumptions at the time.

Fun Stuff

Some Great Videos Sponsored by Big Brands

I’ve been very impressed recently at how some big brands have been using sponsorship dollars to do some really awesome things. Some examples:

Fun Stuff Ideas

When People Can’t See What’s Right In Front Of Them

This is  the preface to Po Bronson and Ashley Merriman’s book Nurture Shock. It’s one of the best stories I’ve read about how people can completely ignore irrefutable evidence that’s right in front of them:

During the late 1960s, visitors to the Magic Castle— a private nightclub in Hollywood, California, run by professional magicians— were often delighted to see that the club had hired a Cary Grant look-alike as its doorman. As they’d step up to the portico, the door would be swung open by a dashing man in an impeccably tailored suit. “Welcome to the Castle,” he charmed, seeming to enjoy his doppelgänger status. Once the guests were through the lobby, they would titter over just how much the doorman resembled the iconic actor. The nightclub is mere yards from the Chinese Theatre and the Walk of Fame. To have the best Cary Grant impersonator in the world holding the door for you was the perfect embodiment of the magic of Hollywood in all its forms.

However, the doorman pretending to be Cary Grant wasn’t an impostor after all. It was, in fact, the real Cary Grant.

Grant, a charter member of the Castle, had been intrigued by magic since he was a kid. Part of the Castle’s appeal to Grant and many other celebrities, though, was that the club has an ironclad rule— no cameras, no photographs, and no reporters. It gave stars the ability to have a quiet night out without gossip columns knowing.

Grant hung out in the lobby to be with the receptionist, Joan Lawton. They spent the hours talking about a more profound kind of Magic— something Grant cared more deeply about than the stage. Children.

Lawton’s work at the Castle was her night job. By day, she was pursuing a certificate in the science of child development. Grant, then the father of a toddler, was fascinated by her study. He plied her for every scrap of research she was learning. “He wanted to know everything about kids,” she recalled. Whenever he heard a car arrive outside, he’d jump to the door. He wasn’t intentionally trying to fool the guests, but that was often the result. The normally autograph-seeking patrons left him alone.

So why didn’t guests recognize he was the real thing?

The context threw them off. Nobody expected the real Cary Grant would appear in the humdrum position of a doorman. Magicians who performed at the Magic Castle were the best anywhere, so the guests came prepared to witness illusions. They assumed the handsome doorman was just the first illusion of the evening.

Here’s the thing. When everything is all dressed up as entertainment— when it’s all supposed to be magical and surprising and fascinating— the Real Thing may be perceived as just another tidbit for our amusement.