What can we learn from the pioneers of the happiness economy?

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Change doesn’t ‘just happen’. Rather, someone, somewhere has to start the ball rolling. For the vast majority of us, it’s a case of watching and waiting to see what impact that change has, and then moving as quickly as possible to catch up with the first movers. I can see this clearly in our new happiness economy – a world in which the ability to tap into the emotions and feelings of our customers and employees can make the difference between success and failure.

In ‘The Happiness Advantage Report’ that I’ve recently co-authored, we consider the role of digital in enabling happiness. One of our areas of research for the report was the first movers. They’re the pioneers of happiness who transformed their business models long before the rest of us recognized its value both to business and to emotional wellbeing in general.

I’ve been inspired by the likes of Masayoshi Son, CEO of the Japanese SoftBank, who announced a corporate strategy built on ‘Happiness for everyone’ back in 2010. SoftBank’s only company value is ‘Try hard, have fun’. And it’s invested in digital with acquisitions of several niche tech companies in the areas of robotics and artificial intelligence.

What’s fascinating to me is the company’s understanding of the need for digital to contribute to happiness. After SoftBank had acquired robotics firm Aledbaran, it announced the launch of a new version of its robot Pepper. Aldebaran’s founder Bruno Maisonnier declared at the time that the role of robots would be as kind and emotional companions able to enhance our daily lives, bring happiness, constantly surprise us, and make people grow.

Another pioneer featuring in The Happiness Advantage Report is US-based peer-to-peer insurer Lemonade. Even the company’s name makes me smile and feel that little bit happier. Lemonade takes a high-tech, digital approach to business. It’s invested in clever algorithms to help speed customer claims journeys, which makes customers happy and is good news for Lemonade’s reputation as a fair and efficient insurer.

So, what do these two examples – SoftBank and Lemonade – tell us about the role of digital in today’s happiness economy? For my part, I believe they demonstrate that digital and happiness are inseparable. People want and need digital; but it must add to their happiness and wellbeing, not add to their frustration. Being explicit about contributing to happiness means you’re able to work on an human-centric agenda in a techno-centric future. And that’s where both of these companies score so highly.

Menno van Doorn

About

Menno is Director of the Sogeti Research Institute for the Analysis of New Technology (VINT). He mixes personal life experiences with the findings of the 19 years of research done at the VINT Research Institute.

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