Working environments

Meetings in the great outdoors

By Judy Robertson & Alison Williams

Background

If you need to work with other team members, but you don’t want to disturb your colleagues in the office, why not take your work outside?

Changing the environment gives a new point of view. Moving a regular meeting to the garden, park or forest can help the group to establish new ways of thinking. There is considerable research into the beneficial effects of biophilia, the psychological attraction to life, aliveness or living systems (Fromm, 1964). It is also known and studied as naturalness  (Ulrich, 1984; 1993; Barrett & Barrett, 2010) and as connection with the outside context  (Kelly, 2001; Roessler, 1980; Wyon & Nilsson, 1980).

recipe62-02

Ingredients

  • A group of researchers who want to exchange ideas
  • A climate with low rainfall
  • Outdoor natural space
  • Ways of recording: tablet, large drawing pad, pencils/felt-tip pens, voice recorder

Method

  1. To be truly disruptive, go outdoors with a group of IT or philosophy colleagues – anyone whose usual preference is to be in an enclosed interior cave. Native Americans will go on a ‘medicine walk’ where they consider a question and look in nature for metaphors and stimulus. This is a form of biomimicry, in which nature’s elements of process, systems and models inspire new approaches to problems.
  2. Use biomimicry to reframe your ideas, and biophilia to renew your spirits and thinking.  Although Csikszentmihalyi says: “Unfortunately there is no evidence – and probably there never will be – to prove that a delightful setting induces creativity” (1996, p. 135) he still recommends heading for the hills whenever you can.
  3. Meetings on the move. Seeing as you’ve disrupted the normal (Fromm, 1964) meeting dynamic by moving out of doors, why not take it a step further by introducing walking meetings? Beatty & Ball (2011) examine the beneficial effects that walking can have on creativity. The ancient Romans talked of ‘solvitur ambulando’ (it is solved by walking). Blanchette et al. (2005) have researched the positive sustained impact of aerobic exercise on creative potential. Interviewees in Williams’ study are conscious of the effect that walking has on their creative processes: “and [then] I come back to my desk and I might then feel better about the work and have moved on” (2013, p. 372).

Notes on ingredients

The SPIRES travel scholars have observed examples of how changing the environment gives a new point of view on campuses in Seattle, in Sydney, and in Tokyo and Kyoto where the attraction of being outdoors in inspiring landscape or in quiet natural corners can open up thinking.  Although it might be thought to be particularly inspiring for artists or botanists, these spaces are too close to their usual area of study to necessarily spur creative perspectives.

Cook’s tips

If you are cursed with a rainy climate, you could try colonising a corner of a waiting area or landing. Standing-up meetings can be an effective way to save time!

Create indoor destination points or attractors so that the walking has a point.  ‘Let’s get a coffee’ and take the longest way between the two points, rather than the shortest.

Warnings

Obviously be careful about confidential meetings if you think someone else is hiding behind the rhododendrons.

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
Amazon: Paperback | Hardcover
Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Hardcover

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