Illusion of Reality

Illusion of Reality 150 150 Jason Lauritsen

I’m a fan of reality TV.  Think of me what you will, but I find many reality shows entertaining and fascinating for a variety of reasons.  So, I tend to sample a lot of different shows to see what they are about.  Recently I stumbled upon “The Bachelor Pad” on ABC.  The show is the sort of sordid stuff that makes reality TV interesting to peek in on.

This particular show is a spin off of the popular show “The Bachelor” and, as you would expect, an element of this show is matchmaking and romance.  In the particular episode I watched, one of the female contestants had won a dream date on which she could bring one of the male contestants of her choice.  After selecting her partner, they are whisked off to experience a zip line course and helicoptor ride over some  beautiful countryside.  This was followed by a private candlelit gourmet dinner at an exotic resort.  As this date is unfolding, each of the two people on the date are commenting on camera about how amazing it was to be with this other person and how it just feels great to be with them.  They both become convinced that they have an “real connection” to one another.  

I’m always struck on these shows by how easily people become influenced by their conditions.  A tenant of designing a great reality TV show is to isolate a group of people in a controlled situation or environment so that they will behave in dramatic or unpredictable ways.  They begin to accept their surroundings as “normal” versus recognizing them as part of a game, which leads them to make interesting decisions.  As in the example above, do these two people really have a connection or are they just overcome by the romantic situation they’ve been place in?  Might they just be caught up in a manufactured for TV moment?  It’s for this reason, that I think that most romances that start on these shows break up so quickly after the show ends. Turns out real-life romance requires work and isn’t only about yachts and helicopter rides.  Regardless of how fast these relationships break up, these couples are always convinced that their relationship is real and that it will sustain when they return to real life.

Thinking about this made me wonder how much of an effect our workplaces have on the judgement and decisions of the employees who work in them.  Several questions came to mind for me:

  • As in reality shows, to what extent are we creating conditions that cause people to make decisions in ways they wouldn’t outside of work?
  • Do our work environment lead to artificial relationships that won’t sustain beyond the job? 
  • How can we design our workplaces so that the actions and interactions are more authentic to who each person truly is and not who they become when stepping into the work environment?
  • Do I watch too much reality TV?
Not sure I know the answer to these questions, but I think that they are interesting to think about if we are interested in pursuing high performance, innovative workplaces.
  • Paul Hebert

    Great thought starter Jason. I think those companies with very traditional set-ups have this in spades. When value and contribution to the organization is represented by proxies (ie: mahogany offices and assigned parking spots) decisions become twisted – just like in the shows you mention.

    Those organizations that strip out the non-essential environmental swag (ie: zappos, amazon, etc.) seem to have organizations that end up focusing on the individual – creating more authentic relationships.

    If a company relies too much on the "perks" of power and influence they end up being a magnet for those with little ability and a lot of ego.

  • Tanya

    I completely agree with this sentiment. I think you need only look as far as enron or any of the firms that manufactured the financial crisis to see that we are all prone to normalize quickly to our work environment.

    I think it is easy to dismiss clear mission, strategy and communication as soft stuff. Yet, to the extent that a company's culture and values create "reality" for its employees it is important to spend time thoughtfully asking what that reality means and how it meshes (or not) with the outside world.

  • Steve Boese

    Really interesting post. I think that when we end up having too separate our 'true' selves from the selves that we are forced or trained to be at the workplace, the worse off we are, and the level of performance and success will also suffer. Conditions at work, that respect, value, and make a safe place for us to be our true selves, I think will be the most meaningful and successful.

  • TrishMcFarlane

    Such a fascinating concept Jason. I can already tell this is something I'm going to be chewing on all weekend. Work environment most definitely impacts our decisions and behaviors, both positively and negatively. I am especially interested in your third question about designing work spaces that allow authenticity of employees. With that innovative thought, can organizations begin to make strategic design decisions that will aid performance in coinciding with organizational goals? I bet it could. And, to take it a step further, what about our homes? Would our home life be better if we somehow captured a sense of comfort and functionality it may not have now? Would our relationships with family members improve if the living space was improved? Hmmm…..

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Jason Lauritsen