Muscles not scars

Alastair Somerville
2 min readSep 29, 2019

Long hours, insufficient sleep, limited family or friend time, maximum workplace attendance.

Organisations and their senior managers value this kind of staff behaviour. It’s the kind of thing they went thru to get where they are today.

Making scars

My early work life experience was awful so yours must be too.

This is the idea that humans works best when they are scarred. The pain, physically and emotionally, is necessary to create the future staff member who is capable and resilient.

This is a terrible idea.

Yet it’s stuck in an organisational loop.

Worse still is that the expectation of pain is raised by each generation. The level of education demanded now is higher than previously. The level of time demanded is higher. The level of emotional commitment is higher.

Scars. Deep scars.

Pain as learning. Visible pain as proof of experience and commitment.

We believe that our scars show our experience and that scarring our junior staff will build their resilience.

This is wrong.

Our scars are injuries and pain

Building muscle

What if we planned on basis of building resilience thru compassion rather than pain?

Muscles are built in humans by stretching and tearing. The body repairs tears and builds muscle.

Not scars, muscle.

This is about care: by organisations, by managers for their staff.

What used to happen is a terrible model for what should happen. Yet abusive work practices and conditions are ridiculously viewed as positives.

Managers need to review how they organise work on the basis of how it challenges and trains staff to become stronger. Simply presuming that their life experiences of pain and pressure are a good model for everyone else is bad.

There are alternative models for designing work life that are not scar-based.

At this moment, we need to recognise the scars our organisations are making every day and try to treat those injuries.

Soon, we need to plan how to build healthy organisations that build muscle, build up humans as strong individuals.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX