Every day at Defy Ventures starts with 14 hugs–per person. Everyone gives 14 other people full, bear-hug style embraces. “We tell them no cheat pats on the back,” Catherine Hoke, founder and CEO of Defy Ventures, told Fast Company. To ensure nobody under-hugs either, Hoke has the group count down the set out loud.
Hoke, one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business, helps people with criminal histories develop entrepreneurial skills and careers through her organization. She works with a lot of “tough guys” just out of prison. Starting the day with mandatory, sequential, full-bodied physical contact not only helps breaks the ice, but has many other positive benefits for the people she works with. “It pretty much always unleashes a smile,” she explained. “There’s a friendly vibe between the two of you; generally you feel instantly connected, you shared a moment. It starts to establish a bond, and can establish a small level of trust that is just a beginning of a relationship.”
All of these things make sense in the context of Defy, which works to help former inmates break down walls they have had up for much of their lives. Much of Hoke’s work during the six-month long program involves teaching inter-personal skills, and helping the former inmates build trust.
But Hoke also recommends the morning routine for traditional corporate settings. “I think that business people in general–business professionals, investors–act just as tough as the people I serve that have criminal histories,” Hoke said. In any culture, the hug system can help break down barriers and build bonds, which is particularly important in the business world. “Business is conducted when people like each other,” she added.
The exercise especially helps create relationships between executives and the rest of a company. The higher up members of an organization can often seem untouchable both figuratively and literally. A hug erases those barriers, which, Hoke argues, leads to better creativity and productivity.
Indeed, studies have found that hugs release oxytocin, the hormone that increases trust, compassion, generosity, and reduces fear and social anxiety. Neuroeconomist Paul Zak recommends at least eight hugs a day to get all the benefits from the chemical. Hoke’s 14 should do the trick.
Getting a group of any people to gives lots of hugs first thing in the morning will elicit at least some resistance. But Hoke finds people get over that. “On occasion, I forget to do hugs, and they say, ‘Hey, we forgot to hug,'” she said. “They’re a very huggy crowd now.”