Video production: Andrew Kennedy Lewis
One of the key neurotransmitters involved in the experience of joy, dopamine, is often thought of as a pleasure chemical. But according to Ingrid Fetell Lee, author of “The Aesthetics of Joy” and a keynote speaker at Chief Learning Officer’s 2019 Spring Symposium, it’s becoming clear that it is in fact a learning chemical. It helps take experiences and store them into memory, a critical part of how we learn new information.
Read the full transcript of Fetell Lee’s interview below:
To me, learning and joy are two sides of the same coin, and so creating opportunities for people to learn safely, learn joyfully in their day to day I think is a really powerful way that learning and development leaders can actually start to filter joy through an organization. What’s interesting is that we used to think about one of the key neurotransmitters involved in the experience of joy, dopamine, we used to think about that as a pleasure chemical. And I think it’s now becoming clear that in fact it is a learning chemical. That it helps take experiences and store them into memory and that this reward loop that dopamine is part of is a critical part of how we learn new information. One of the things about the modern work environment is that it’s often very gray, or beige, stripped of color and I think it was designed that way to prevent distractions. But what we now know is that a sensory-enriched environment actually increases productivity.
So, studies have been done that show that when people are placed in lean work environments, these are environments that have no sense of real stimulation. And then, there are other workers placed in an enriched environment that has things like art, and plants, and color, and all of these more vibrant sensations … people are 15 percent more productive in the enriched work environment. So, I think it’s about rethinking what we think of as distractions and actually starting to create a more sensory and enlivening environment.
One thing that’s really important when trying to increase the joy in an organization is modeling the behavior, making it safe. Because I think the reason that we often find less joy in the work place is because people hold themselves back. We’ve been taught that we’re supposed to be serious in the workplace. What leaders can do is actually make it safe, take the risk out of expressing joy, out of being playful. That’s one of the most important ways that managers can actually start to create a culture of joy in their organizations.