Up until a couple of years ago, anyone who knew me, knew that I had a wonderful little mascot, Stewie the Shih Tzu. What few people also knew was that Stewie had 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, coming up with new ideas for several categories of products. Since Stewie was still so little, I brought him along.
This was a fairly typical brainstorming session. While much of the time was spent in spontaneous talk mode, there was some 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 said, “Please pass the puppy,” which I did. Stewie continued to travel around the room at various times throughout the day providing comedic relief when people needed to lessen their stress.
Stewie continued his apprenticeship over the years, listening in while providing 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 innocence into the session.
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 fifteen doctors per market.
After interview #10, a tram member said, “Hey, I have an idea. We pretty much know how we’re doing here. What would you think of bringing Stewie into the interview 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.
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. 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.
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 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 become an assistant researcher or facilitator? Just be sure to get your participants’ permission first.