All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.

― Blaise Pascal

I have often marvelled at the simple logic of this statement. As investors we seem to value the importance of not doing anything, from time to time, but sitting in a room is easier said than done especially if the chair is uncomfortable. 

Recently, this headline caught my attention. “Apple Is Leading a Revolution in Office Chairs”. I respect Jony Ive’s design sensibility and his choice of minimalistic and functional user interfaces. Why would this unassuming person go out and pick 12,000 chairs of a certain kind to furnish Apple’s new offices?

We went through the same exercise while picking chairs for PPFAS Mutual Fund’s new office but we were not as ambitious as Ive. However we saw the same things in the chair that perhaps Ive saw. The chairs’ ability to hold us in for as long as possible without making it feel like a punishment. Comfort, a well supported spine and a good angle for the hands to type on the keyboard. The chairs immediately blend into the office space and now we hardly notice them until we see someone scooting from their desk to their neighbour’s desk.

In our profession if we take pride in managing our emotions well, it’s also a manifestation of our physical condition that allows us to behave that way. Our CIO, Rajeev Thakkar, gave this interesting talk on the Physiology of Finance. In the talk he quotes research from a fascinating book by John Coates, The Hour between Dog and Wolf. To paraphrase, he says that if our bodies are not in the right physiological state, no matter how much aware we are about our biases we will not be able to fight them off while making any decisions. It’s like no matter how well we think we can drive a car, after three shots of tequila we should just Uber it home.

If our immediate surroundings are not ergonomic we may not feel the urge to sit around in that place and think. The word ‘ergonomic’ generally evokes a sense of fancy modernist work spaces with really expensive (expensive looking) furniture, white walls and bright light. Well, ergonomic can also mean sitting comfortably under a tree with the correct posture to make sure we don’t hurt our back while we build our knowledge.

From Dilbert Comic Strip

The Apple article also represents the change in work culture over the years, emphasising on making the day as productive as possible for the employee. A simple choice of designing the right kind of office space without any frills but thinking through the ergonomic needs demanded by the job, goes a long way in ensuring the “sitting at one place & doing our work” bit.

Also, with good chairs there’s always a risk of this happening as well. 🙂

from XKCD comic strip