Keith Kelsen’s Scent Narrative: The Smell of Success in Business

The Smell of Success in Business

The business environment is more demanding and competitive than ever before.  The globalization of business, the international linkage and all that is demanded in a 24 by 7 environment, has caused employees no end of stress.  Add to that performance demands have increased and we live in an environment where the drive for success is more intense than ever. Our effort to get ahead and yet collaborate has created an environment where we must always be at our best.

It is important in this high pressure and high yield business environment that corporations make the environment contusive to attracting the best teams.  Google has gourmet chiefs, Facebook has a Spa, Apple has concierge services and everyone is in overdrive to support their teams. Scent is the next frontier!

It is important to keep a team, large or small, on an even keel.  Productivity nose-dives when people get distracted or worse, emotionally negatively charged.  Volumes of research prove our daily emotions are impacted by our sense of smell.  In fact, nearly three quarters of it is affected by scent!

From our noses, it is the connection between the olfactory gland and the limbic system that drives emotions and memories.  Scent receptors in the nose connect directly to the section of the brain that is responsible for memory and emotion. According to Martin Lindstrom author of Brand Sense: Sensory Secrets Behind the Stuff We Buy: “75% of the emotions we generate daily are affected by smell. Next to sight, it is the most important sense we have.” Therefore, a smell has the ability to transport you backwards, to a certain time and place, linking back to a particular memory or feeling to the present and what you smell.

Business is looking at scent to aid in wellness and other programs. In the intense working environment, it might be a de-stressor.  In a University of Maryland study[1] showed that rosemary is often used in to increase concentration and memory, and to relieve stress. The study suggested that rosemary, combined with other pleasant-smells, may actually lower cortisol levels and help reduce anxiety.  That is vitally important in the success of a business is keeping the focus on the maters at hand.

The sensitivity and selectivity is amazing.  Scent is an acute sense. While dogs are the most sensitive, humans can recognize approximately 10,000 different odors. What is so significant, however, is how smell trumps visual. We are able recall smells with 65% accuracy after a year, in contrast to only 50% of visuals after three months.[2]

In the 1990s, researchers at University of Cincinnati found that a whiff of peppermint helped test subjects concentrate and do better on tasks that required sustained concentration. “Not only do you get an improvement [in focus] with peppermint, you get a change in response that affects alertness in target detection.” said Joel Warm, a professor of psychology[3].

Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, an associate professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University in West Virginia, found that athletes who had a sniff of peppermint performed better than those who didn’t. The University of Cincinnati study showed that inhaling the essential oil of peppermint could increase mental accuracy by more than 25 percent.

In Dr. Kate Fox’s breakthrough work, The Smell Report, we have learned that scent is becoming a part of performance enhancing solutions worldwide.  “Work Experiments have shown that exposure to pleasant fragrances significantly enhances performance on work-related tasks. In particular, ‘arousing’ fragrances such as peppermint, which increase alertness, have been found to improve performance…One Japanese company uses citrus scent to stimulate its workers at the start of the day, floral scents to boost their concentration in the late morning and early afternoon and woody scents such as cedar and cypress to relieve tiredness at lunchtime and in the evening.”

People who work in scented areas demonstrate a higher self-efficiency and are more likely to adopt efficient work strategies. Lemon and lavender fragrances have been shown to significantly reduce typing errors and with scents such as peppermint, increased speed and accuracy occurred. The world of ambient scents is just coming of age now.  Ambient scents within breakout creative spaces can instantly transform a space to allow focus. Businesses that employ creative thought (Coding, Advertising, etc.) encourage employee creativity with scent.  The environment can make all the difference for individuals and teams to “brain storm”.

Scent has arrived in the workplace. Not in the form of invasive little smudge pots on desktops. No, scent is now the secret advantage of the sophisticated workplace, where teams can creatively beat the challenges imposed in this very competitive age. Businesses must take care however, as imposing anything on employees can cause a backlash. Personal preferences in the workplace take priority and the scents must be carefully chosen.  It’s essential that the scents appeal to everyone as they must live with them.  If the wrong scent is chosen, it could have the opposite effect of what is desired. The point is to stimulate and motivate, not the opposite!


[2] Sense of Smell Institute, 2011

[3] Warm conducted the research with his late colleague William Dember.

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