Shortlink for Sharing:
Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Reddit

The Surprising Lesson of the Productivity-Boosting Light Canopy

Posted by .

This post is not about lighting. Sure, if you’re squinting to read this blog post you might have a problem. But there may be a bigger issue just beyond.

The inspiration for this discussion comes from a piece from FastCompany on an architectural change at the campus of a well-known company. They describe the problem:

When the Philips Lighting headquarters was originally built in the 1950s, it was made up of a number of separate buildings, surrounding a large outdoor courtyard. At some point, the company decided to consolidate these buildings into one mega-structure by covering the courtyard with an enormous, 115,000 square foot ceiling, which let in sunlight through a scattering of skylights. But for a lighting company like Philips, the result was dreary—and it was an acoustic nightmare.

The solution? A enormous array consisting of 1,500 separate panels, overlaying one another like the canopy of a forest. The system is electronically controlled and moves gently according to programmed patterns. (To see some great photos, to head over ArchDaily.)

Light Canopy

© Flickr user Simon Blackley

This isn’t the first time we’ve covered the impact of lighting on productivity and happiness. Nor is it the first time we’ve talked about the importance of the office environment in general. But in this case, there is one twist the story that is entirely new.

How could a world-famous lighting company have a drab office?

Before Philips started down this road in mid-2012, their headquarters didn’t utilize the latest and greatest of their own technology. How could that possibly be? Surely the company knew the value of their lighting systems to employee productivity and happiness. They obviously were touting these benefits in their marketing material and on their sales calls. What happened?

The problems they had are incredibly common. Here are three possible explanations.

Cobblers Children Syndrome

If you are employed in making shoes for the local village and have plenty of work to do, it’s possible you’ll never find the time to make shoes for your own kids. This is the “cobblers children syndrome.”

In an article for Psychology Today, Dr. Ben Dattner explains:

In many organizations I have encountered during my consulting career, people have complained about “Cobbler’s Children Syndrome”. Like the proverbial children of the shoemaker who go without shoes, I have consulted to technology companies that have outdated computer systems, marketing firms that don’t market themselves in any way, and consulting firms that fail to put into practice for themselves a single theory or model upon which they have built their businesses.

Which of course, is incredibly foolish. But it happens everywhere.

The Status Quo Bias

Another reason that a lighting company wouldn’t have good lighting in their office is another cognitive phenomenon:

Status Quo Bias “tells” you to keep the current state of affairs for two reasons:

  • You won’t have to make a decision.
  • You can be sure there won’t be any consequences of a bad decision.

By sticking with the current state of affairs, you are in fact making a decision. But, because it’s a default of deciding nothing, you don’t feel as though you are. As for avoiding the consequences of a bad decision, that could be a fair point. However, you might also be losing out on some benefits. Doing nothing might be a good option, but it’s not always the safest or best course of action.

Organizations (or individuals) that do things the way they’ve always been done may feel like if it’s not broken, don’t fix it! But something which isn’t broken isn’t necessarily the best.

Aversion to Dogfood

A classic piece from the computer magazine InfoWorld praises the practice of dogfooding

Want to put me to sleep? Show me a story about how company X used product Y to solve problem Z. Tales from early adopters often yield vicarious thrills for technologists at more conservative companies, but they never did anything for me. The photo of the confident-looking executive, standing in some hallway, is like an icon inspiring me to turn the page.

There is, however, one approach to marketing that grabs me every time. When a vendor with a major online presence makes a bet on its own technology, I pay attention. In industry parlance, this is called eating your own dog food. It is strikingly effective when done in an honest and transparent way.

Companies need to “eat their own dogfood” wherever possible. And they should be aware of the status quo bias, as well as the cobblers children syndrome. These things matter. They delay progress and impede customer service. Think bigger, and be willing to make changes!

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on FacebookShare on Reddit
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
@lorraineball First probably depends on the business. But second is likely training, especially with regard to sales. - 2 days ago
Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter

Latest posts by Robby Slaughter (see all)