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The Innovation Culture Bulletin: Back To Our Roots

Work & Lifestyle

The Innovation Culture Bulletin is a series of articles designed to cultivate a culture of innovation in your office. This month we look at how time spent in nature can help create a sense of space for our minds, and facilitate creativity.

“Yet so long as they live a life close to their wild land, subject to its weathers, something of its own nature will permeate theirs” — Nan Shepherd

We all know that being in nature provides substantial physical and mental health benefits. Richard Louv, who came up with the term “nature-deficit disorder”, argues that the more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need to achieve natural balance. Being in nature is perhaps the ultimate state of learning, where we’re using all senses at the same time, taking in a lot of information, integrating it, and connecting the dots. In contrast, being in front of a task on-screen often requires us to inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions in order to focus.

Recently, research conducted by the University of Kansas produced some hard data to back up this claim. A group of naïve hikers spent four days immersed in nature, disconnected from multi-media and technology, and demonstrated an improvement in higher-order cognitive skills. In fact, the research showed that performance on creativity and problem-solving tasks increased by 50 percent when in nature.

The researchers suggest that natural environments simulate the world in which we evolved, and allow us exposure to stimuli that “elicit a kind of gentle, soft fascination, both emotionally positive and low-arousing.” This period of restorative introspection in nature allows parts of the brain to “breathe”, and enables us to lower our threat responses. These experiences in nature, therefore, leave us better equipped for creative and innovative thinking.

But for most city-dwellers, it is difficult to retreat back to nature without a great deal of planning and organizing. So in our Innovation Culture Five this month, we suggest some small ways in which we can include (and simulate) nature in our everyday lives.

1. Encourage an engagement with nature among staff. An ideal solution is an away day, but if the team can’t all make it, the office could support employees in their outdoor ventures. Consider introducing a scheme where the company helps staff buy camping equipment, or welcome new colleagues into the office with a solar power charger, hiking boots, or high performance clothing.

2. Elevate your commute. Our commute is not something we acclimatize to, because it is different everyday — in the same way being in traffic is a different kind of misery everyday. If you can’t have more control over your commute by biking or walking, try to incorporate nature into at least a part of your route or your daily schedule. Maybe your team could book a meeting room that everyone has to walk to — the Springwise-featured Walkonomics app can help you on this.

3. Bring nature inside. A study conducted at a call center in the Netherlands showed that bringing plants into the offices improved employee performance substantially. Your team could also try incorporating natural light into the workplace, as it also leads to better sleep and improved physical health.

4. Decrease the tech in your office. Turn off the air con, unessential screens, and other distractions such as loud ring tones, alarms and email notifications. Try to create that “low-arousing, softly stimulating” atmosphere in your office.

5. Bring animals into the office. Dalhousie University in Canada set up a Puppy Room to help students de-stress during exam times; pets are also known for their health benefits of building immunity and lessening allergies. If it is not too distracting, try encouraging staff to bring pets into the office one day a week, or set up something like “Puppy Friday” — you heard it here first! — where the office hires pets for a day.

We’re once again sharing some music from the Springwise office via Spotify. If you have any thoughts, ideas, expedition stories …or #puppyfriday pics… please feel free to get in touch.