Switching Gears at Work with the Sense of Smell – Interview with AROMASTIC (TM) developer Shuji Fujita
[August 27, 2019] BY Kazumasa Ikoma
Translated BY Alexandria Hill
What would you do when switching gears or duties at work? For example, when you start intensive work on your own, you may listen to music or rest your eyes, changing your feelings through the sense of hearing and vision. However, it rarely occurs for people to think about switching gears when it comes to utilizing scent and the sense of smell. In fact, fragrances and aromas have already been pioneered as something that directly affects human emotions and memories. It was still an untapped area in the office environment.
To solve this problem, AROMASTIC, a personal aroma diffuser born from Sony’s Startup Acceleration Program (SSAP), supports startup creation and business operations. The product has been sold since 2016 as a palm-sized product that allows individuals to feel the scent anytime, anywhere without worrying about the surroundings. Targeting office workers in their 30s and 40s from the beginning of development, special cartridges such as the “For Business” aroma cartridge suitable for business situations are also available. It is a sign that we were conscious of changing the way office works through fragrance.
AROMASTIC developed by Fujita
There are 5 types of exclusive cartridges in each set, and 6 of them are recommended in advance. It is a cartridge type and can be enjoyed without mixing 5 fragrances. There is also a custom cartridge to put your favorite scent.
How can changing the way of feeling through scents change the way we work? We interviewed Mr. Shuji Fujita, product manager of the Sony startup Acceleration division (OE Project), who leads the AROMASTIC project.
Why did you focus on the office?
Fujita has been researching fragrances and how to use them for entertainment. For this reason, the idea of aromatherapy that uses olfaction and fragrance has emerged from the beginning. However, in a public space like a library where Fujita was contemplating this business, using the existing aroma diffuser spreads the scent around, so it could not be used anywhere anytime. In order to solve this problem, he developed AROMASTIC.
“The library and the office were the same.” Each person has come to a library or office to concentrate on what they want to focus on, but when they want to concentrate and when they want to take a break will vary from person to person. Concentration control by fragrance is similar to music, and if you want to listen to rock, some want to listen to ballads. But when you hear music that doesn’t fit your mood, it becomes a big distraction. In the same way, Fujita said that he wanted to realize that he could feel the fragrance of his choice when it suits him.
AROMASTIC employs a “vapor diffusion method” that scents only the air around the user’s face by blowing dry air into the cartridge. You can enjoy each fragrance instantly at its utmost purity just by turning the dial without changing the five fragrances in the cartridge. Fujita says that this “spontaneity” is important, and the first impact is an important part of obtaining the effect of the fragrance. For example, it’s just like when you step into a friend’s house, you get feeling from the unique odor, but you get used to it. Unlike traditional aroma diffusers that use heat or water to fill an entire room with a fragrance, AROMASTIC is enough for a single person to feel the effects of the fragrance.
Image of a vapor diffusion system. The actual specifications do not color the air.
The effects of fragrance and aroma on humans
The effects of fragrance, like the improvement of concentration, have already been verified by experimentation.
In December 2017, the AROMASTIC development team collaborated with the in-house think tank Self-powered development laboratory (currently the Motivational Science Research Institute) of Motivational Switch Group Holdings, Inc. conducted experiments to see how the change of learning is affected by fragrance for cram school students in Japan. As a result, the number of calculated responses in motivation for students who smelled a specific scent through AROMASTIC was improved. “We can say that fragrance helps to maintain and improve concentration in continuous learning,” the study summarizes.
In addition, it was suggested that it is possible to improve the working environment in public places, such as offices or cram schools, if the diffusion of fragrance is local (only around oneself) and instantaneous (only when a button is pressed) so that an individual can feel the fragrance at a preferred timing.
In addition, Fujita says that research results other than Sony have reported smelling fragrance while studying the number of calculations finished by the study subjects had increased. Since the part of the brain that processes fragrance and the part that controls memory are adjacent, the memory that you are studying and the fragrance are connected, and as a result, scent seems to be a switch for concentration when studying and calculating. Just as athletes do routine routines to improve their morale, the same effect can be expected on the scent.
In addition, olfaction works actively during sleep unlike visual and auditory senses, so sleep learning using the sense of smell is also possible. According to the results of the Israel Weitzman Scientific Research Institute, the number of cigarettes smoked in a week was reduced after the subjects who smoked cigarettes when both the smell of cigarettes and another unpleasant smell was introduced during their sleep at the same time. If used like this, the sense of smell can be used as a new approach to helping smokers to quit. In recent years, the number of office buildings that are becoming non-smoking has increased, so it’s great news for office workers that smoke who want to reduce smoking.
Aroma Becomes the Reset Switch for Work-Life
While discussing the effect of fragrance with Fujita during the interview this time, he stated that the use of scent as a “reset button or switch button” was mentioned as one of the themes for optimization and use in the office. In the current reform of workstyle, telework and remote work are endorsed, and the boundaries between work and life are becoming ambiguous. Therefore, by making it easier to reset and switch heads through scents, we will improve both work and life better.
Fujita says that because of the structure of the brain, fragrance is “something you can just feel.” Olfactory sends a signal directly to the limbic system, which controls emotions and instincts, not passing through the process of thinking and understanding the information obtained, unlike sight and hearing. In other words, it is said that when you need to concentrate at work or when you want to go home tired and want to take a break, you do not bother to see or hear something, but just feel the aroma and get the effect of concentration and relaxation. One of the biggest advantages of our sense of smell is the ability to switch emotions passively without effort.
For example, you are working at home, but your children will distract you with something unrelated to your job. It’s pretty difficult to switch off that state, especially if the job is something that needs concentration and deep thinking. That’s when you can change the focus of consciousness by sniffing the scent for a few seconds.
Actually, the scent called “Easy to Switch Gears” is very useful for Fujita when he is doing research himself. Since there is no fixed work, it is necessary to control the following research content and the process by oneself, and the work patterns and schedule of the researcher, leading to the improvement of the work when doing it. This way of working does not mean that everyone is good at it. Some people are better at getting the task decided by people.
In the future, there will be more and more situations where you have to build your own works, including where you work and how much time you have to spend. Fujita says that people who feel anxiety in this can use the scent as a “reset button for consciousness.”
Examples of Uses
In fact, AROMASTIC has already demonstrated the effect of switching and changing the awareness and feelings of workers in many places.
For example, a user with a sales position often gets motion sickness when driving around a customer in a car, but he felt embarrassed as a man. Now, he uses AROMASTIC to change his mood, and it seems that he still purchases that specific cartridge every month.
Some users of smokers use AROMASTIC as a way to calm down when they can’t calm down in a situation where they can not smoke. As I mentioned earlier, the number of smokers who suffer from the same situation will increase in the future as smoking rooms are reduced and smoking cessation is promoted in the building premises.
Other users use it when they are concerned about the smell of other passengers’ meals on the plane. When meals are served, the timing at which meals are served may shift, and the smell of food from other passengers may remain in the enclosed space even when you want to refresh after your meal. I imagine those of you reading this who have gone on many business trips have experienced this at least once.
Recently, Fujita said there are cases of it is being used even amongst Sony Group employees. After experimenting with AROMASTIC, it was said that it was well received and eventually introduced as a tool to help employees switch their moods. As in these examples, fragrances have made steady results in the situations that each individual needs.
From here, Personalization of the Fragrance is Key
In order to promote the effect of fragrances in the workplace, Fujita said he would like to strongly promote a “personalization of fragrance” as a future development.
According to a paper by Rockefeller University researcher Andreas Kelley, humans can smell about 1 trillion different scents. Plus, whether each smell is pleasant or not depends on each individual’s preference. In order for the scent to be used in the future, the key is to narrow the scent to the individual level, not to everyone. This is a big challenge for Fujita.
The fragrance of “For Business,” one of AROMASTIC’s exclusive cartridges, uses the essential oil of the British organic cosmetic brand NEAL’S YARD REMEDIES. When selecting five types of essential oils to be used in the “For Business” cartridge, Fujita discussed the scent according to the situation of the working person in consultation with the company.
According to the results of the experiment conducted in-house on the relationship between fragrance and simple reaction time, the lemongrass that is used is ideal when it is easy to concentrate. But when you want to relax, on the contrary, it is suggested that lavender used in “For Business” is best. In addition to these pre-set scent cartridges, “AROMASTIC Custom Cartridge,” which allows customers to create their own scented cartridges, was released in November last year and has gained popularity.
5 fragrances included in cartridges “For Business”
Two Areas of Olfaction: Instinct and Learning
Fujita is promoting the personalization of odors, but the research area is said to be a field where many unknown parts remain. Previous studies have shown that there are two types of odor: instinct areas and learning areas.
The instinct area is something that is identified at the DNA level, such as, “I like this smell if I am Japanese,” and the brain shows a specific response to a specific smell. On the other hand, it is said that the learning area occurs when the memory of the individual is connected with the smell. Therefore, the reaction to a specific odor and the memory to be flashed differ depending on the individual.
The boundary between this instinctual area and the learning area is ambiguous, and it is unknown whether, for example, the reaction of Japanese people to the smell of tatami mats is instinctively rubbed on by their sense of smell, or whether it is something they have learned culturally. In addition to this, there are differences in personal likes and dislikes, and Fujita said that it would be possible to further classify the likes and dislikes of smells in the future. In the future, it will be interesting to proceed with personalization such as the smell is good in certain industries.
Conclusion: For Future Overseas Expansion
In my personal opinion, “smell and fragrance” in a conventional workplace are often negative, such as the smell of a meal or the smell of another’s strong perfume, so I thought that eliminating such factors would be a comfort in the workplace. But now you can carry and use the scent that makes you feel great. This will change the concept of smell and fragrance in the workplace.
Fujita is already trying to change the way Japanese workers work but says he wants to expand this AROMASTIC overseas. In the future, he says that what he wants to build a what would become something like a three-step process of fragrance.
For example, music/video can be recorded first, then processed, and finally played back on a speaker or display. But still impossible to do it with a scent or a smell. Fujita’s dream is to realize these 3 processes with his sense of smell and to be able to reproduce the fragrance anywhere, regardless of location or region.
From now on, Fujita will change the way we work through fragrance. I would like to support Fujita’s future activities so that we can see a world where we can carry our moods wherever we work.
Writer of this post
Kazumasa IkomaWhile working as an office manager in San Francisco, he posted numerous articles about the office designs, corporate cultures, and working styles on the West Coast. He researches what constitutes comfortable offices for companies and employees every day and puts his ideas into practice at his company.
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