Dr. Craig Knight: “The best medicine is other people”

The best medicine is other people. One of the problems of this pandemic is the awful term “Social distancing”. This is the last thing we should be doing. Physical distancing keeps us safe, but social interaction saves lives. As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each […]

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The best medicine is other people. One of the problems of this pandemic is the awful term “Social distancing”. This is the last thing we should be doing. Physical distancing keeps us safe, but social interaction saves lives.

As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Craig Knight.

Dr. Craig Knight is Founder and Director of Identity Realization Limited (IDR), a commercial organization with strong connections to blue chip industry. Dr Knight is also an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Exeter, retaining research links with global universities. Working with various organizations, this combination of commercial focus and scientific application has seen Craig help realize increases in well-being, productivity and effective intelligence.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Many years ago, I worked for a large American furniture manufacturer. It became pretty clear, rather quickly that it wasn’t old furniture that made people perform poorly or feel bad; just as new furniture didn’t have the opposite effect. What mattered was how people felt about the place in which they worked. And if you could use the furniture as an emblem of something good, as a totem of something positive about the place that paid their wages, then you were onto something good. Otherwise a new desk was just a piece of furniture to keep papers off the floor. To see identical solutions having utterly different effects in different businesses — from the transformative to the exacerbating — was fascinating. Psychology has had me in its thrall ever since.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A chapter in a book, rather than a book itself. It was Bright Satanic Offices, (Baldry, Bain and Taylor, published 1998). It was the first thing I read that rammed home how businesses are just reinventing work processes that are over a century old and repackaging the same old, tired, and frankly bad, ideas simply because they keep managers in control over other people’s domains.

Agile, flexible, lean, hot-desk, open plan, biophilia. These concepts all date back to before the war, most to Josiah Wedgwood in the 18th Century. And even now during Covid, the consultancies who have made an awful mess of working practices — and yes, I will mean the consultancy of which you are thinking right now — are still pushing tired and lame ideas that should have been expunged ages ago.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons to Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

My company just released a survey and an experiment titled, “Covid-19: The Value of a Creative Culture,” We inquired about the population’s emotional and mental temperature, and its intellectual performance as people contemplated a return to workplace. The project explored the upsides of working from home and the elements of the old workplace that employees were missing, as well as the psychological effects of Covid-19 on feelings, performance and function.

During lockdown, a happy employee was seen to be autonomous, and connected to both friends and colleagues. Pandemic notwithstanding, these psychological engines delivered a strong sense of wellness. This in turn, meant better engagement across the organization, less stress, higher feelings of creativity and sustained performance. Unhappy workers, meanwhile, suffered across all fronts including their noticeably inferior intellectual performance.

Our research found that organizations should allow conversations, stop monitoring and allow autonomy; all of which results in a happy and engaged employee. The results of the research were dramatic and found that happiness is engendered by a combination of active social and business connections, and of being allowed to manage the work flow as the employee saw fit. More information on the research can be found here.

To be bleak, however, I see few reasons to be hopeful that things will improve in the workplace while the blinkered repackaged views, mongered by the same well-suited misguided hawkers as before, hold sway.

Instead let me give you five things that need to change instead of peddling pap optimism:

Infantilization: Nobody needs a slide in the workplace, Fridays Filled with — for God’s sake — Fabulous ‘Funtivities’; or celebrating success with pizza. If that is the kind of things managers want to do, they should arrange children’s tea parties. Treat employees like the adults they are. Ask them what they want.

Trust: What are you monitoring your employees for? When was the last time anybody rang the C-Suite and heard “This call may be recorded for training and monitoring purposes?” If you aren’t recorded at work, then have the common courtesy not to record anybody else. It wasn’t the Call Centre operatives who caused the financial crash was it?

Space: Humans beings are an animal. And just like every other animal on the planet, humans react badly to being cooped up in minimalist conditions, monitored (see above) and made to act along standardized procedures. In other words, if you are running either a lean or Six Sigma operation (or are influenced by their philosophies, ‘clean desk’ anybody?) then you are doing so against every biological and psychological law that exists. Scrap these evidentially toxic practices, have happier employees, make more money. This isn’t my say so, by the way, it is the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence.

Wellness: …is neither an exercise classes nor is it eating kale. Enforced activities and removing confectionary are punitive. Chocolate cookies are good for the soul, especially dipped in steaming hot tea. Wellness is feeling at ease in your space; being relaxed, enjoying a sense of being at home. If you generate wellness, then you generate happiness. Happy employees, stay longer, work better and are more productive.

Mental wellbeing: Would you trust a Boy Scout to operate on your gall bladder? He has his Whittling badge and a sharp penknife.

The American and British Psychological Societies won’t recognize anybody as a Psychologist until they have at least a Masters qualification. That is a minimum of four years’ work. To manage a doctorate and the necessary badges takes ten years or longer. Then you begin to develop an insight into that most elusive human set of human faculties, the mind.

It is no wonder that we have so much mental imbalance in both society, and at work, when anybody can set themselves up as a therapist, an advisor or a mental coach with a diploma.

If you wouldn’t trust the Boy scout with your vital organs, then for pity’s sake don’t trust anybody who has a diploma with your mental well-being. The latter will do far more damage.

I am particularly worried about the final point (above) as mental wellbeing is very much the zeitgeist. However, if we manage to address these five points properly, we will have superb places in which to work in the post Covid world. But if we don’t…

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. The best medicine is other people. One of the problems of this pandemic is the awful term “Social distancing”. This is the last thing we should be doing. Physical distancing keeps us safe, but social interaction saves lives.
  2. Take control. If you are in charge of what is going on around you, you reduce anxiety. If it all seems too much, then break a task into chunks that you can manage. Doing something is always better than doing nothing. Never be afraid to ask for help or advice (see 1, above).
  3. Exercise. There are many advantages of exercise, not the least of which is the triggering of endorphins which reduce pain and anxiety. And you don’t need to be a gym bunny either. The heart is a simple organ and will happily take any form of exercise that makes it pumps faster — yes even that (I know what you are thinking), but you must keep going for at least half an hour. And if you don’t want to disco dance, then thirty minutes of moderate paced walking each day is enough to bring benefit.
  4. Do things you enjoy. Build a wall, read a book, paint, restore a full-scale airship; whatever you enjoy. Immersion in an enjoyable pursuit is engaging, enjoyable and anaesthetizes the pain of the world. And on the topic, if a glass of the good stuff helps you relax before bed, then have a glass of the good stuff; a glass mind you.
  5. If you need to, seek professional help. Good help is invaluable. But check the practitioner’s qualifications (see above), you want something relevant and postgraduate at least (a masters in nuclear physics is impressive, but in this case as useful as a kettle in a gun fight). Remember the scout and the penknife.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

Other people, exercise and distraction. Engage in conversation with somebody you trust. Try a national helpline. In the UK, there is Anxiety UK (tel: 03444 775 774) and in the United States there is SAMHSA. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1–800–662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1–800–487–4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

No. I am curmudgeonly git. I don’t like inspirational quotes, as they make my toes curl. What I can say is that the most important thing in life is love. With love there is no war, no enmity and no oppression and people try to understand. Business needs love very badly. The most moving quote for me on the topic is from William Shakespeare:

“I love you with so much of my heart, that none of it is left to protest.”

If you find somebody with whom that sentiment is mutual, you don’t need the lottery.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Thank you, you have made me smile. I suspect that I have all the influence of a vegan at a barbeque, but what little I do have is probably in the world of work, where we will start the ART revolution. Everybody will remember that the most important aspects of any job are sufficient amounts of Autonomy, Resource and Trust to do the job well. How much is needed is decided by the people doing the job, not their overseers. That will be the first test of the amount of Trust available. A workplace where ART is ubiquitous will be fabulous.

What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?

Please find me via Twitter @TheBritishPsych and on LinkedIn.

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