Dr. Sharon Livingston

By Dr. Sharon Livingston

Please Pass The Puppy

Please Pass The Puppy 150 150 Sharon Livingston

Up until a couple of years ago, anyone who knew me fairly well, knew that I had a wonderful little mascot, Stewie the Shih Tzu. We’d been hanging out together for 13 years and he accompanied me to many places: to work every day when I was in my home office, on the road whenever I could, to my hairdresser, and he sat on my lap in the dentist office.

What you may not know is that Stewie has participated in a number of marketing research, training and creativity events.

It started when he was a two month old puppy. At that time, I had a facility on Long Island. My partner and I were running a creativity session with a pharma company and it’s agency. There were 16 people sitting around the table for many hours, coming up with new ideas for several categories of products. Since Stewie was still so little, I brought him along.  After getting permission from the group, we set up a make shift puppy playpen in the corner just behind my chair.

Not surprisingly, early in the session Stewie started whining a little, so I picked him up and held him in one hand while I continued conducting with my pen in the other.  [Later one of the participants told me that Stewie’s little head kept bobbing up and down following the pen as it drew invisible lines and circles, mirroring the movements of my improvised baton.  Can you tell this puppy was my child?!  I thought everything he did was adorable.]

This was a fairly typical brainstorming session – the group was charged with identifying areas we wanted to develop, getting spontaneous downloads of ideas, using creative excursions to move away from the problem at hand to make new associations, generating possible ideas from the new input and then doing it all over again.  While much of the time was spent in spontaneous talk mode, there was some head down writing involving focused concentration.

For some people that part is tense.  At one point during a writing exercise, a woman lifted her head, turned to me, arm extended and commanded, “Please pass the puppy”  — which of course I did without a blink.  Stewie continued to travel around the room at various times throughout the day providing comedic and warm fuzzy relief when people needed a break or wanted to lessen stress.

Stewie continued his apprenticeship over the years, listening in while providing licks and entertainment to my clients.  Most of the people I work with were thrilled to have him attend and several actually requested him. Why? Because he brought “love” and innocence into the session. He’s spontaneously silly, engaging in hilarious antics that are entertaining. He cuddled, invited petting and patting, gave licks, asked for what he wanted, and was genuinely and obviously appreciative of any attention given to him.

One of my clients, James, loved to have Stewie along. In addition to just enjoying Stewie’s presence and clowning around, he also relished the opportunity to take the pup “out for a walk” – a euphemism for grabbing a smoke.

On one occasion, we were conducting a series of one-on-ones with MD’s on a set of concepts for a new medication.  It was suburban Philly.  We were interviewing 15 docs per market. After interview #10, James said, “Hey, I have an idea. We pretty much know how we’re doing here. [This was the final of three markets.] What would you think of bringing Stewie into the front room to see what happens.  It would be research on research!”

I asked if he was sure he wanted to take the chance of forfeiting the interview results, and he replied with an enthusiastic “YES!”  So, I greeted the psychiatrist in the waiting room and told him that I had my dog with me.  How did he feel about dogs? How might he feel about allowing the dog into the interview room?  The doctor said it was fine with him.

Imagine the set up. My back is to the mirror.  The doctor is facing the mirror.  I have two tables set up in an L with stacks of materials as well as discarded papers in a pile under the table ready to be shredded.  We start the interview with the purpose of the talk and an introduction of the doctor; medications he currently writes for his patients, etc.

Then we switched to concept exposure.

Stewie started out laying at my feet.  That lasted for about 10 minutes before he started exploring.  The first thing he found was the pile of papers on the floor. Stewie saw an opportunity to earn his keep and started aggressively shredding the paper. Meanwhile the doctor continued to talk as if oblivious to the noise and distraction, while I’m thinking to myself, “oh well, I guess this isn’t going to work.”

I picked up Stewie and got him to settle down on my lap while we progressed in the interview, showing more ideas for the doctor’s feedback. I don’t know what you know about Shih Tzu’s, but because of their short snouts, they have a propensity to snort and snore. In fact Stewie can snore louder than my Grandmother who was queen of sawing wood, honking and whinnying while she slept.

Internally, my virtual eyes were rolling, but I stayed with the process, asking questions, probing, clarifying, moving onto the next set until we finished. Surprisingly, after a couple of giggles of acknowledgement of Stewie’s off key concerto, we got through the entire interview covering all the materials.

As were winding down, I asked the doctor what it was like to have the pup in the room. His answer was very interesting. He said that he’d done interviews before and that even though he knew he was being asked for his honest response, he generally found himself trying to give the answers he imagined the interviewer wanted to hear. But this was different. He allowed himself to be authentic and say what was really on his mind.

In classic interviewer style, I said, “interesting, what might have contributed to the difference in your response.”

He said there were two things. Having the dog in the room gave him the sense that his own playfulness and creativity were encouraged. To him this translated to allowing himself to be relaxed and open. In addition, my accepting of Stewie without punishing his behaviors said that I would be accepting of whatever he had to say. The result was he was comfortable taking the risk of telling me how he really felt about the product concepts.

James, who had been laughing his head off in the backroom, sobered up and took notice. James was in charge of the internal research training program. His company holds a bi-monthly Lunch and Learn event that is offered to all in the research department of his company. The doctor’s reaction was so intriguing, that he actually wrote it up and distributed it to the VP of Research as well as his peers for future consideration.

There is a dynamic relationship between people and animals. Each influences both the physiological and psychological state of the other. In the presence of animals, people seem healthier and happier and actually experience improved health benefits: lower blood pressure, less anxiety and a general sense of feeling good about themselves. In fact, pets can add to longevity. Grieving elderly widows and widowers left with pets survive years longer than their counterparts without pets.

Animals are a natural source of genuine affection. They create an emotionally safe, non-threatening environment that can encourage people to open up. In the presence of friendly pets, people relax and calm down. They forget about their worries, loneliness, sadness, pain and fear. They laugh and feel moments of unselfconscious joy.

Did you know that 20% of American businesses allow their staff to bring companion animals along with them to work?

The value of a cute pup or pet in work situations has been researched. Results of a survey sponsored by The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association indicated positive outcomes as a result of bringing pets to work.

Participants agreed that bringing their pets to work led to:

  • An increased willingness to work longer
  • A decrease in absenteeism
  • Improved relationships with co-workers
  • An environment that fosters creativity
  • Higher productivity

So, do you have a pet that might like to give back? Maybe become an assistant researcher or facilitator?  Just be sure to protect anyone who might have fear of fur and get their permission before introducing your pup.

To learn more interesting tips on making work less like work and encouraging employee engagement click http://www.future-proof-your-career.com

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