The sound of happiness: Julian Treasure at TEDxCannes


Translator: Thierry de Carvalho Banhete
Reviewer: Ariana Bleau Lugo Thank you. Let’s talk about how sound affects
our happiness at work. Because design largely takes place
for the eyes in our society. When we think about design,
we don’t think about the ears. Why is this? I would suggest, partly it’s because
we surround ourselves with noise. We’re so used to
standing on street corners shouting over noise like this,
(Jackhammer) and pretending that it doesn’t exist, that our habit is to suppress sound.
(Motorcycle engine fades) We suppress our
consciousness of sound all the time. And that includes designers. Most of us have a relationship with sound that looks a little bit like this. And yet, sound affects us
in four very powerful ways. Now, I talked about those
on my very first TED Talk. I just need to refresh those with you as a foundation for this talk
about sound at work. So here are the four ways
sound affects us. The first one… (Loud Alarm) Sorry about that.
That’s a little shot of cortisol, your fight/flight hormone. Sound is affecting us
physiologically all the time. Breathing, heart rate,
hormone secretions, even your brain waves
are changed by sound. I can calm you down again
with a little surf. 12 cycles per minute, very similar
(Waves Crashing) to the breathing of
a sleeping human being, and a sound we associate
with being relaxed. If you ever have problem sleeping, this is a good sound to use. The second way sound affects us
is psychologically. Music changes our mood, we know that.
(Sad Music) This piece of music is not
going to make you feel happy. It wasn’t designed to do that. But music is not the only sound
that changes our feelings. At The Sound Agency, my company,
we use bird song a great deal. Even in offices.
(Birds chirping) Because we’ve all learned,
over hundreds of thousands of years, that when the birds are singing,
we are safe. Makes us feel secure,
when we hear birds. Also, nature’s alarm clock.
Bird song, time to be awake. So it’s mentally alert,
physically relaxed. Just not a good moment if the birds
suddenly stop singing, is it? (Birds Stop)
Not good. The third way sound
affects us is cognitively. You can’t understand two people
(Julian talking) talking at the same time, or in this case,
one person talking twice. Even a woman cannot understand two people talking at the same time.
(Laughter) Sorry, but it’s true.
(Applause) We have bandwidth for
roughly 1.6 human conversations So if you’re in an office
that sounds like this, (Chatter) particularly if you can hear
one conversation, it’s very hard to think and the effect on your productivity…
(Dramatic Music) …is devastating. Now, we’ll come onto this
in more detail in a moment. The fourth effect of sound is behavioral. We just move away
from unpleasant sound if we can. So if I were to put this sound on,
(Jackhammer) and leave it for ten minutes,
most of you would probably go, yes? I would. Not pleasant. For people who can’t get away
from noise like this, the cost is devastating. The European Union
and the World Health Organization estimate that eight million people in Europe
are having their sleep seriously disturbed by sound at night, mainly traffic noise. The cost of that
to our society is enormous. So let’s think about offices. We spend a lot of time
in these places, don’t we? And yet they’re designed for the eyes
and not for the ears. The modern office has a long history, it goes back to the beginning
of the 20th Century, when Taylor developed the system of having people in little rows,
all identical, all doing identical tasks, so one person could oversee
a whole office very, very easily. We wouldn’t treat people
like battery hens in this fashion today, would we? No, of course we wouldn’t. Modern offices, sadly,
are still very similar. Taylorism has not gone away. Despite the fact that there’s
a mountain of evidence against it. The reason? Because we conflate
two very separate things. On one hand, you have cost saving. Cost saving, just saving money,
by cramming people in. But people think that’s
the same thing as productivity. It is not. And when you bring these
two things together, ladies and gentlemen, what you get is not productivity. If you start to standardize desks,
have everybody de-personalized, I can’t make it my home,
I can’t bring anything in with me, you cram people in
to high-density workspaces, you get very bad sound. And the effect is not productivity, the effect is misery. Misery for the people working there. Now, I said there’s
scientific evidence against, here is some of the scientific evidence against Taylorism, but wait, there’s more, I show just this lot, and then, there’s another page of it,
and there’s plenty more if you go and look for it. Now, to be fair, I should list
the scientific evidence for the Taylorist approach. Here it is. That’s all of it.
(Laughter) Absolutely none. None at all. So this approach to modern offices is in the face
of all the scientific evidence. It’s a meme. It’s a spread, so we all think open-plan
fits every eventuality. It does not. No surprise, then, that noise
is the number one complaint in modern offices. It’s degrading people’s
productivity enormously. Take a look at the Leesman Index
if you want proof of this. It surveys tens of thousands of people
about what’s important to them at work, what makes them productive and happy, and, as you can see from this slide, noise is a serious issue
that they think it’s very important, very few of them think it’s OK,
they’re very dissatisfied with it. Same with the availability
of quiet working spaces. There’s not enough. Professor Jeremy Marson
isolates three types of work, which are “collaborative”, and that’s fine in open plan offices. That works perfectly well. “Concentration” is different. Concentration requires
a space that’s like a library, where the rule is
“Shh, we’re working here. No talking.” And there’s a third type of working
as well as concentration, which is “contemplation”. That may be
that you want to rest, you need to recharge from work, or you’re thinking
great strategic thoughts. We need more of a zen,
chill out space for that kind of working. Different sorts of work,
different sorts of workspace, and different sorts of sound. If you think about an open plan office, then you can have an office
that’s too quiet, and you can have
an office that’s too loud. They’re both pretty unproductive. If I’m in an office with, say, ten people, and it’s pin-quiet, really silent, and I have a phone call, that’s quite intimidating, isn’t it? I don’t feel comfortable.
Everybody’s listening to me. And, at the same time, I am degrading all of their productivity. Ten people, all at once,
having their 1 of 1.6 taken up with me. That’s a terrible effect on
the productivity of the whole office. On the other hand, in offices too loud, well, the health effects
of working in loud spaces are well known. Long term, it’s stress, anxiety,
potentially depression, all sorts of negative health effects which will kick on into absenteeism,
staff turnover, low morale, and it also has been shown
to make people less helpful and sociable at work,
if the noise level is too high. So you don’t want it at either end, you want to be somewhere
in the middle there. I would say roughly 45-55 decibels. If you’re too quiet, you would have
to install some masking sound, if you’re too loud, you would have
to maybe put up some sound absorption. The masking sound that tends
to be used is normally like this, this is pink noise.
(Pink Noise) I’m not a big fan of pink noise,
it’s an artificial sound and I think it takes effort
not to listen to this. So why not mix in
some natural sound in there? Or, even better, just use natural sound.
(Birds, Water Flowing) We’re comfortable with this,
we’re used to working with this, it doesn’t disturb us,
and it can be very good for masking. If you can’t get away from the noise, then there’s an app
that we created some time ago. It’s free, it’s called “Study”.
(Mellow Chiming) You can use it in headphones,
and you can mask out the noise of a noisy office around you, by wearing headphones
and playing that app, so you can get that on the usual places. Let me just give you
two of the most common errors I also find in modern offices,
apart from open-plan everywhere, which is, I hope we now agree,
not a good thing. The first, meeting rooms. Meeting rooms like this. All hard surfaces, square box. Can you imagine what four people
in this space sound like, or trying to have a conference
on that little device on the table, It’s not going to work very well. Meeting rooms are often
just not fit for purpose, because they sound terrible. Secondly, we have rest spaces
or recharge spaces that really don’t recharge. This was a canteen space
in a company recently that we audited. It’s all glass, wood,
hard, cutlery, crockery, radio coming from
loud speakers in the ceiling, really quite loud, and the TV on. No wonder she’s not looking too happy. I wouldn’t be looking too happy
in that space either. That’s not a restful space. So, this is a conversation about
designing not just appearance, which is what we always tend to do, but designing experience,
in all five senses. This is important, because
we are making people at work stressed, tired, ill and unproductive with the sound around them. Now if you want a tip
to go back to your office and design good sound,
just think of four things: the base block is acoustics. You may have to put some damping up
to make the rooms quieter. Second, you have noise,
maybe heating, ventilation, air conditioning, fans,
fridges, buzzes, clangs, anything around that’s raising
the noise floor, try to reduce that. If you’re going to put masking sound in,
you’ll need a sound system. Please make it a good one. We often find sound being played
through emergency systems that just were not designed for it. And, finally, content, and we’ve talked
about how that can be productive, and helpful and healthy. So, just three things
I’d like to suggest that you do: this is an idea worth spreading, with three actions
worth spreading as well. First of all, go forth and listen. Go into your office,
close your eyes, listen, and ask: “Is this the most productive sound
we could be making?” Secondly, design with sound. Any of you who are designers,
hey, here’s a new thing to play with. It’s fantastic to design soundscapes, just as we design with light,
colour and shape and so on. And thirdly, if you’re in a space
that is not fit for purpose, please complain. If you don’t say anything,
nobody will know. You don’t have to get angry,
just go and say: “This space is not working.” Ladies and gentlemen, I hope
I’ve been able to enroll you in the idea that good sound
is important at work. Good sound creates people
who are happier, it creates people who are healthier,
and they’re more productive. So it’s also good business. And I hope that is reason enough to install good sound in all our offices. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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