How I convinced my boss to buy a purple elephant for the office and why

Time: 09:08
Subject: We need an elephant
SP Body:
Reading through the book you gave me in the office I think we need an elephant. A pink one (see photos attached)

Time: 09:17
DS Reply:
yeah – I think your right 😉
Ill get one

Time: 09:19
DS Reply:
bought one (link)

Time: 09:23
SP Reply:
Haha 🙂 I need to write an article on “How I got my boss to buy a pink elephant for the office” 😀

Time: 09:24
DS Reply:
I bought a purple one 😉
Pink one looked a bit too girly 😉


At the moment we are choosing the name for the new teammate. I quite like “Norman”.


The tech world has become famous with its unprecedented and unorthodox methods applied to bonuses and benefits for its employees. Google’s workers famously use scooters in the hallways or play video games during breaks. Other companies include gym memberships, day care in the company’s offices for the employees’ children or a set of ever-changing cafeteria lunch menus. Does all this work? In short, yes. For example, Coors Brewing Company has stated that it has a $6.15 return in profitability for every $1 they spend on their company’s fitness program. And they are not alone – including such benefits has been reported to bring an incredible boost in productivity.

The reality is that productivity and motivation can be increased with much simpler and cheaper methods. And those methods do not have to be used only on a company level, but can be applied on a personal level as well.

So what motivates us? Recognition.


Recognition is a motivational factor often underestimated, not recognized or simply unknown. However, recognition is a very powerful motivator. 

In fact when recognition is specific and deliberately delivered, it is even more motivating than money. – Shawn Achor

There is a study that found a 31% higher performance in teams with encouraging managers that recognize their team member’s achievements, compared to another team whose manager’s were less positive and open with the way they praise their team members.

Recognition motivates us, because it proves that our work is important to someone else other than us.


Accountability is the other side of the recognition coin – recognition implies accountability. In other words, if I know someone will see the article I am writing, that motivates me to research it better, to write it better and to generally be more thorough and produce a higher quality outcome than if I was the only one to read it. Moreover, knowing that what I write will solve a problem or add value to the one expecting it motivates me even more, because I can see that it can have an impact. It will lead to some change in the direction of someone else’s actions and that is exciting. It means that I have control, that I can make a difference and alter the way things are done, and ultimately what the results will be.

At times we are not aware that we are accountable and that someone is actually paying attention. But when they recognize our effort and are specific as to what impact it had on them, the effects on our motivation are immense.

A good example is the article I wrote on depression. When I was writing it I knew that a couple of friends are reading my blog (accountability), but I didn’t think that the articles I wrote were any good or made any difference to anyone’s life (no recognition). Also, I was afraid to publish that particular article, because it exposed me and made me vulnerable. But oh was I surprised from the reactions when I published it. That day and in the next couple of days multiple people wrote to me, friends that have read the post and others that found out about it because they were told by the friends that read it. Suddenly I was surrounded by people that were thanking me for writing it, because what I wrote resonated with them and made them feel better knowing that they are not alone in their depression. I was speechless. I never realized as much as in that moment the impact that words can have. That motivated me to keep writing no matter what (knowing that not all posts will be good, but with the hope that at least some will).

What about the purple elephant a.k.a. Norman

The morning that the conversation with my boss ensued I was in bed, exercising my daily ritual of reading ten pages from a book. In particular I was reading “The Happiness Advantage” by Shawn Achor and on page 58 I discovered the one whom I now call Norman. The author described a motivational technique used at a Danish car company. The company decided to establish “The Order of the Elephant”.

The elephant is a two-foot-tall stuffed animal that any employee can give to another as a reward for doing something exemplary. – Shawn Achor

The author went on to explain that the benefits of The Order of the Elephant reached beyond the recognition and praise of the respective employee.

other employees stopping by immediately notice the elephant and go, ‘Hey, you got the elephant What’d you do?’ – Shawn Achor

This meant that other employees are impacted by the positive stories and best practices that are happening in their company. The benefits from the recognition delivered to one of the employees was suddenly extended and multiplied over time to many more employees.

When I read that example, I took a photo and send the first email you saw at the beginning of the article to my boss.

Recognition beyond the company

I suggested that we apply “The Order of the Elephant” in the company, because I want everyone there to receive the benefits I was reading about. I want to work in a motivated team with people that are happy, that encourage each other and are eager to look for the best in their colleagues rather than scout out for the negatives.

Those benefits do not need to be limited only to the work environment. We can extend them into our personal lives.

One way is to make a commitment with someone close to us. We can tell them what we want to achieve (loose wait, read more, sleep better, exercise, eat healthier, finish a report, anything) and they can hold us accountable. Establish the steps we need to do on a daily basis and let them provide us with feedback on the progress. Striving for their recognition will motivate us so that we can go through the lows where doubt and lack of motivation can easily prevent us from reaching the goal.

Moreover, the relationship can be made even more positive. If the person that holds us accountable for our goals, commit to their own goals that we can hold them accountable for as well. The benefits are that when we see the other achieving and hitting all their goals it creates a competitive environment that pushes us beyond our comfort zone as we aim to match or improve their results.

If you don’t have anyone close to you that you can do this with, another way is to just make a public commitment. Post on Facebook that you will be reading ten pages every day and each day post the book you are reading from and which page you reached and possibly add the key points of what you have learned. Or share your every meal as part of your goal to eat better. The dynamics here are a bit different, but you will still have the pressure of being held accountable to your commitment. It will be harder to skip a day when you know everyone is expecting your next post. Even more, your activity can inspire others and motivate them to try it as well. This in turn will motivate you even more to continue towards your goal.


Norman is already proudly sitting on one of the developers’ desks because of the great work he did outside of office hours. People are sharing the photos on our internal network and the whole tone of positivity is spreading.

Simple interactions like recognition and encouragement can completely change the spirit of a team or a whole company. Instead of looking for the negative sides of people’s work we can look for where they excel, highlight that and let them know. In turn, this will motivate them to do more work that is great and that adds value to the team or the whole company. To do that, we don’t have to spend a lot on gym memberships, scooters or masseurs. Norman cost us less than £20 with the delivery and he has already made a positive impact.

Continuing in the same way, we can improve our personal lives by recognizing the work that the people close to us are doing. We can be thankful and let them know. Tell them specifically how much we appreciate the delicious dinner that they cooked, the note they left us or even for making the bed in the morning. Moreover, we can put ourselves in the situation where we are accountable. Thus, we can give others the opportunity to recognize our work, help us improve it and to motivate us.

Don’t wait, start now – make a commitment to do the thing you always wanted to do. Commit to it publically or with someone close to you. Also, recognize someone else’s achievements and let them know why you think the work they do is great and helpful to you!

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