Environmental Effects and Change-Making

There are reasons people read or scroll through content on beautiful places and spaces; it inspires us to create. Our environments play a big role in shaping ideas and creating innovations. This post was inspired from the recent episode of Censemaking: The Innovation Podcast.

When I was five years old, I had a terrible accident at a playground that broke my arm in many places and dislocated my elbow. It was a pretty gruesome injury and it required multiple surgeries to fix. After my last surgery, I would continue to see my doctor at the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary (where the surgery was done) for checkups to monitor my healing.

Decades later, I found myself in the hospital again, only this time as a scientist and researcher working on areas of health system transformation. I often compared my experience working in those hospitals to the experience I had as a child, the difference was largely due to environment. It always struck me that children’s hospitals are filled with light and bright colours, plants and physical features designed to make kids feel safe and welcome. Meanwhile, the regular hospital that I worked in and have gone as a patient is dreary, ugly, and sad.

Why would we be expecting everyone else to heal an environment that was so aesthetically unpleasing and really not conducive to healing?

Healing Spaces and Creative Spaces

When you think of yoga, what kind of environment do you think of? Chances are its probably quiet, calm, and beautiful. It might be a peaceful studio or could be someplace out in a field or on the beach. There’s a reason for that research shows that sound space and light and our environment all contribute to our wellbeing.

And our focus, access to outdoor spaces has been shown to increase positive mental health and lower our blood pressure. Light expsoure can enhance our mood. These are environmental factors and they are one of the most important, yet least discussed areas of behaviour change (and I would argue innovation).

One of the things that I often struggle with is that as a designer, people often equate design with making things look nice. Now that is partly true, but it’s only a very small part of what makes good design effective. That doesn’t mean beauty or aesthetics aren’t important – especially in environments where we don’t often consider beauty to be a factor. It is.

Beautiful Environments and Beautiful Work

What if I told you that your work, regardless of what it is, could be beautiful? Research conducted by Steven de Groot and others has found that people do better work when it’s beautiful. Even though beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it is something that can be shaped by our environment. In his book Organizational Aesthetics, de Groot covers the extensive theory, research, and practices that support making beautiful work and space.

(If you want to learn more about the book I wrote a review of Organizational Aesthetics in the journal by the same name).

Dr. de Groot points to the research on values, perceptions of work and physical environments and how beauty can increase performance well-being and overall satisfaction with work and its outcomes.

To do better, create better, add more beauty to your psychosocial and physical environments. Plants, light, clean spaces — whatever works for you, shape your space.

Lessons for Better Environments

So what can we take from all of this?

Firstly, our environment has a significant effect on how we think feel and conduct ourselves. It means not taking it for granted and making it invisible, but rather recognizing that our environment means something important to what we do find and invest in creating space that suited to what you need and want to do is a worthwhile investment.

Secondly, use your environment as a means to advance not only ideas but wellbeing. We want to spend time in environments that are healthy and inspire us. Go and create and find yours.

Lastly, beauty is not something to discount. Fill your spaces with beauty, however you define it. That includes creating work that has value and opportunities to make it beautiful. This is a good investment no matter what your job or role.

Remember, we are all designers in our lives. Why not design something special?

For more information on this, check out Censemaking: The Innovation Podcast. Available here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Image Credits: yunchuan luo on Unsplash, Calder B on Unsplash, and by daan evers on Unsplash

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Cameron D. Norman

I am a designer, psychologist, educator, evaluator, and strategist focused on innovation in human systems. I'm curious about the world around me and use my role as Principal and President of Cense Ltd. as a means of channeling that curiosity into ideas, questions, and projects that contribute to a better world.

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