There were three of us in the same office. Two of us were coding, while the third was constantly on his cellphone. The two soon came up with a proposal, that the third should go and continue talking somewhere next to the North Pole. The third person was quick with a counterproposal: “make me a phone booth.”

Done.

That day we gave up coding. We became experts on acoustics.

The booth was ugly and not particularly soundproof, but we found our calling. We realized that many workplaces suffer from the same problem, and no solution was available. That day we gave up coding. We became experts on acoustics. A silent phone booth, silent ventilation, silent environment. We even made our coffee using hertz and decibels. It paid off.

Our phone booth turned out to be super functional. Companies such as Microsoft, SAP and Deloitte loved our phone booths, and we sold them thousands. We were selling silence – but we were wrong. We thought we’d solved the problem of noise, but our customers saw the bigger picture.

Our customers told us to think about two companies competing for the same applicants. One company offers a better pay package, while another one promises that its employees will be happy at work. Which one will be more successful?

Happiness wins hands down. Happy people produce better work, and better work generates success. In other words, success follows happiness, not the other way around. This was our wake-up call. When we removed the noise problem, we removed an obstacle to happiness – one obstacle – but there clearly had to be other ones.

Noise is just the tail of an elephant. We have to tame the whole beast.

Work is changing greatly and quickly. What was relevant in an industrial context does not apply to information work. What worked in an open-plan office does not work in multipurpose spaces. And whatever we are learning about the new digital working methods, will become obsolete as soon as we start working side-by-side with artificial intelligence.

Noise is just the tail of an elephant. We have to tame the whole beast. We have to remove all obstacles to happiness, and to do this, we first need to identify them. That’s one heck of an interesting job.

We intend to be happy while doing it.