McDonald’s Corporation Headquarters Used to Have a Suede Waterbed Think Tank

Evan Collins, co-founder of the Consumer Aesthetics Research Institute, stumbled on a forgotten and bizarre bit of corporate American woo-woo in an old issue of Domus Magazine. Apparently, back in the 1970s, McDonald’s headquarters in Chicago had a literal “think tank” lined with suede walls, a 700 gallon waterbed, mood music and an early biofeedback machine called a Toomin Alpha Pacer.

A 1972 article in the New York Times fills in the details,

On the seventh floor is the mail room, where rock music blasts from a radio, the cafeteria, where free coffee and nickel Cokes are available to all, employees, and “the tank” where’ with a reservation any McDonald’s clerk, secretary or executive, can escape to relax, write, or recharge their energies.

Entered through a hatch and hallway maze, the tank has total silence, indirect lighting, temperature controls, soft beanbag chairs, and an area for pacing.

Up a few steps and through another hatch, those who remove their shoes may enter upon a 700‐gallon water bed where every movement is instantly felt by all others present. Behind one panel are the stereo radio and tape player controls.

“According to the theory,” says Mr. Watterson, “the tank is so totally different—there are no vertical or solid horizontal reference points, for instance—you, will be unconsciously encouraged to think differently. It’s instinctive to resist change, but the tank almost forces you into a change configuration.”

In this same article we learn that Silicon Valley’s silly office culture isn’t new,

Instead of a desk, each employee has a “task response module, a combination phone booth, room divider, desk, table, set of drawers, closet and bulletin board that contains its own electrical and phone wiring and can be moved before you can say “double cheeseburger.”

Seated at a five‐foot tall module, an employee is protected from distraction by pervasive soundproofing, the arrangement of other modules and 400 deftly arranged, leased plants.

But when he stands, the worker is instantly part of the entire floor and within easy view’ of many of the 3,050 bright, cheery windows and dozens of colleagues.

And casual office wear also isn’t new,

Both male and female employees have taken to brighter, more mod apparel since the move here. Many more men, including Mr. Kroc, now work coatless. And the costly turnover of secretarial help, which had been 110 per cent a year in the downtown office, has been 30 per cent in the new surroundings, where the colors tan and burnt‐orange predominate.

I guess we can conclude that toxic work places can be cured with some tan and burnt‐orange suede walls and a 700 gallon water bed? Corporations these days have ditched the water bed pods for “mindfulness” classes but I doubt the workers are any happier.

I’ll leave it to some of the commenters on Collins’ Twitter post on the McDonald’s think tank to sum up what we’re all thinking about this think tank,

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