This week…
What Colour Is Your World?

What Colour Is Your World?

Take a look around you for a moment.

What colour is your world?

The chances are that if you are reading this at work the predominant colour is a mix of grey or beige, maybe magnolia and the majority of your paperwork is black and white.

Have you ever thought how drab it all is?

Maybe, though, you are reading this at home and you've taken the chance to add a bit more colour to your world…

There’s a small detail in Ricardo Semlers book Maverick that has always stuck with me. Maverick is about one mans attempt to see how far down the organisation he could push responsibility and decision making. (I don’t recommend reading it unless you want everything you believe about what is possible as a manager turned inside out!).

Then some of the assembly-line workers decided to paint the factory. Each selected a colour for the column nearest him, while the walls behind each group of five or six workers were painted a collectively chosen shade…..These hues may have looked chaotic but they were symbols of our desire to let our workers control their destinies.

What’s most interesting about this incident is that one manager in the plant warned against letting people have too much choice in case they chose the "wrong" colours. Eventually Semler told him that the company philosophy was to leave such decisions to those who would be living with the consequences.

My daughters (8, 6 and 2) live in a multi-coloured, visually stimulating world where colour, shape, and texture are used to help them learn at school and nursery. Stuff that they watch and read is also highly coloured and visually stimulating. In contrast, the last time I worked for someone else the surroundings were varying shades of grey, light brown and white/blue - that kind of "corporate furniture look" that you may know so well.

So, here’s my question…

Why do we take all the colour out of our working space when we mature? Are bright colours childish or are we childish for not letting a riot of colour into our adult lives?

How do you use colour with your clients and customers - are you very mature and professional with them (i.e. drab) or do you use colour for a purpose?

If your people are spending their leisure time in a very highly visually stimulating world is there a problem with the very drab, cold or sterile environment of most corporate settings? How do your people feel when coming into this environment on a Monday morning?

Here, to stimulate your thinking, are some thoughts on the common colours and their related meanings. (With thanks to Molly Holzchlag.)

Table: Common Colours and Related Meanings
Colour Meaning
RED Red Power, energy, love, warmth, passion, aggression, danger
RED Blue Trust, conservative, security, technology, cleanliness, sorrow, order
RED Green Nature, earth, health, good luck, jealousy, renewal, money (in USA)
RED Yellow Optimism, joy, hope, philosphy, dishonesty, cowardice, betrayal
RED Purple Spirituality, mystery, royalty, power, transformation, cruelty, arrogance
RED Orange Energy, balance, warmth
RED Brown Earth, reliability, confort, endurance
RED Gray/Silver Intellect, futurism, elegance, modesty, sadness, decay
RED White Purity, cleanliness, precision, innocence, sterility, death
RED Black Power, sexuality, sophistication, mystery, fear, unhappiness, death

Notice the contradictions in this table and the importance of shade and context. For example, a neon green elicits a different response to a deep forest green and red is commonly used as a danger sign unless it is a red love heart.

If you’d like to know more about how to use colour, there is a simply wonderful website that you must visit, which has a wealth of information on how to use colour to your benefit.

Here’s a quote from their home page: Color plays a vitally important role in the world in which we live. Color can sway thinking, change actions, and cause reactions. It can irritate or soothe your eyes, raise your blood pressure or suppress your appetite.

When used in the right ways, color can save on energy consumption. When used in the wrong ways, color can contribute to global pollution.

As a powerful form of communication, color is irreplaceable. Red means "stop" and green means "go." Traffic lights send this universal message. Likewise, the colors used for a product, web site, business card, or logo cause powerful reactions.

Perhaps this week - in the drabness of Winter - it is time to pay greater attention to the role that colour plays in affecting your results.

PS - Earlier this year, I was helping to run a workshop where we asked people to sort themselves into introverts and extraverts. We noticed that on average the extraverts dressed more brightly. I'm not sure what this means - perhaps you could test this out for yourself…

PPS - Invoices that are printed in colour get paid 30% faster (according to a colour printer manufacturer!).