In a previous article (see “Innovation Lessons from the Idea Factory,”) I wrote about Jon Gertner’s book about the quest for innovation by Bell Labs. Up until the 1980s, Bell Labs was the research and development wing of AT&T and was a huge driver of modern innovation including the transistor, the laser, digital communications and the technology behind cellular telephones. They did this by gathering together the greatest scientific minds of their times to collaborate on applying the latest science.
In the 1980s, another of the most innovative companies in the world was Procter and Gamble, who rolled out an incredible number of new, successful products including pull-up diapers, anti-dandruff shampoo, color-safe detergent, and quilted paper towels. Jonah Leher, in his new book on creativity, “Imagine,” explains that they did this by having “more scientists on staff than any other company in the world, more PhDs than the faculties of MIT, UC Berkeley, and Harvard combined.”
Richard Scheller, the Executive Vice President of Genentech, a biotech firm, spent most of his career as a biology researcher and academic at Stanford University. When he first joined Genentech in 2001, he knew nothing about being a leader of a large corporation (in fact, he didn’t even know what “H.R.” stood for where he spent much of his first year as he learned to navigate the challenges of corporate management.) But when asked if he wished he had developed more business leadership skills, he said no, because he would have had to sacrifice learning the science. Ultimately, he said, it is getting the science right that will allow them to do better than their competition.
The reason I bring these examples up is because if you look outside of the spa world (my industry), it’s pretty clear that the pathway to innovation (and success) is by hiring talented people who are trained in the latest science of their industry, and applying that science in the best possible way.
But spas are not creating technology, products or pharmaceuticals, they are creating wellbeing. And since the spa industry is about making people feel good, we should be applying psychology to our innovation, and understanding the science of how we make people feel.
This was the basic premise of the talk I gave last month at the Global Spa and Wellness Summit at the Aspen Institute (see video below). The theme of the conference was “Innovation through Imagination” so I argued that the “science of happiness” is critical for innovation in the world of spas.
The International Spa Association defines spas as places that enhance wellbeing across body, mind and spirit. But if you look at the way most spas market themselves, it is about the scope of their facilities, the quality of their products and the techniques of their therapists—all physical aspects of the experience. If the spa industry is going to live up to its own definition, it needs to do a better job in the mental and spiritual domains, and it can do better by applying the science of psychology to what we do.
But many people have an adverse reaction to the idea of selling “happiness.” It seems shallow, superficial, and not as compelling in a tough economic environment. In this way, the spa industry struggles with its own pampering identity, preferring “wellness” as a promise that may give them more credibility to their customers.
The ironic thing about this is that research shows that happiness and wellness go hand in hand. In fact, happiness is correlated with a variety of important life outcomes including better relationships, success at work, salaries, creativity, kindness and better physical and mental health. Perhaps we should start taking happiness more seriously.
My studies in positive psychology suggest two important takeaways for the spa industry (or any other business trying to create holistic wellbeing):
1. We need to get inside our customers heads. The best spa experience is not made or broken by the facilities, treatments and products. It is literally based on how we make our customers feel. The only way we will live up to our promise of body/mind/spirit wellbeing is to understand the psychology of mental and spiritual wellbeing.
2. Spas do make people feel good. So while there are many healing institutions in our society that promise evidence-based health and wellness, spas are the only ones that people look forward to going to, enjoy while they are there, and remember fondly afterward.
I’m not suggesting that spas should not focus on wellness or not be evidence-based in their approach. But we should stay true to our unique strength: healing that feels good. This has always been the mission of spas, and studying the psychology of wellbeing gives us an opportunity to innovate and imagine what the spa of the future might become.
The video features a panel discussion moderated by Professor Mary H. Tabacci of Cornell University with introductory remarks by Andrew Weil and then the panel, consisting of Jessica Alquist, a researcher who discussed her work on Willpower and Self-Control (she’s a student of Roy Baumeister who was one of my MAPP professors,) and my talk on Spas and The Science of Happiness. Enjoy!
by Jeremy McCarthy
Now available: New e-book on The Psychology of Spas and Wellbeing.