A short time ago we were engaged to assist with a large scale merger. The senior management recognized that the working philosophies of the two companies needed a new joint culture, one more contemprary than either had been using. As they planned their first corporate retreat, we assisted in the team building plans; and the selection of geographic location of the coming event. We were explicitly told by the CEO and the VP of Human Resources, “We are very concerned that the location we choose is conducive to the synergy and creative process for everyone that will be attending. Each of us has been in other retreats where the entire environment did not add any aggregate value. Our people will work on significant concepts that ultimately will determine their own personal success; and, the company’s total Wall Street success.” This was not only a stated desire but an astute observation by both executives regarding the ‘power of place’.

The novelist James Michener stated, “Hawaii is my special place. It puts my writing career back on track, where I can forge ahead.” With over 40 novels, the influence of those islands affected his style propelling him to fame; and, where he found happiness in his marriage and friends. Georgia O’Keefe, the American artist, was known for abstract paintings in which she combined flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones, and landscapes. She took her inspiration from a remote area approximately 120 miles north of Albuquerque, called Ghost Ranch. The multicolored cliffs inspired many of her famous landscapes. It is amazing that this place also influenced her health and well being so that she continued to paint only weeks before her death at the age of 98!

Place, associated ancestral history, time, sound; and even temperature, play important parts in the development of our personal lives, our relationships with others; and, the final outcomes we can achieve together. Roger Ulrich, a behavioral scientist, contributed to the environment theory on the psycho-physiological aspects of the environment experience. His assumptions were that humans are biologically programmed for pre-cognitive response to stimuli that would have been found in the natural settings where human evolution took place. Before we can even think about our reaction to a precise natural or constructed setting, we have an instinctual emotional like or dislike response to it.

Why is it that employees decorate their cubes or offices with personal effects or awards? What does this meaning of place do for their dedication to their sense of ethics, their presence of comfortability, or their determination for excellence? How does the working or assembly place environment encourage or limit the spirit of innovation, inspiration, and the collective bonding processes of any specific group? Let’s look at some of the elements of how environment influences ingenuity and vision creation. Remember this doesn’t always have to be in nature. When you preview conference facilities, look for some of these possibilities.

• The initial greeting space is said to have a profound effect on attendee expectations, prompting the response, “Am I recognized here?” International companies have displayed flags from each employee’s native country in the registration area. Inter-tribal counsels for the American Indian places a tribal Chief’s blanket on each chair that the participant will occupy for their annual conference.

• Sitting or walking spaces for side by side rather than facing one another, induces equal power for each participant. You can include rocking chairs facing each other in a circle or triangle.

• Unlock interior spaces or ballrooms. The experience of spaceness helps provoke the ‘what if’ mentality. Physical activities in these spaces can provide the sense of solidarity, confidence building, and pioneering inciting all to be unafraid to walk into the future without blueprints. One of our aerobic vendor clients had shag carpet put on the floor and the participants wear swim fins to demonstarte the low impact effects of their new rubber band program enhancing low impact fitness.

• The presence of water has both an intangible and symbolic way of affecting the ‘flow’ in consciousness of individuals and groups. Some experience mist or effervesce producers as an envelope to expand their perspective abilities.

• The presence of flame or fire has dynamism. Fireplaces, even candles can induce calm and comfort for those about to design sometime different and powerful for the future. While others perceive fire as signaling strength and non-invincibility.

When you think you need to create a more powerful place for your creativity, ask yourself:

• When selection of place is important, how can you enhance the experience separate from the topic or the facilitator’s skill? How can you envision the final outcome coming into reality, a new product, a new way of thinking, a new departmental culture or employee engagement practices?

• Do you need the influence of nature? If not, can you design the working environment to still be collaborative, maybe a little radical to induce playfulness?

• If you are not overlooking a natural panorama, can you have posters of natural places temporarily put on the walls such as, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, the Black Hills, or the Canadian Rockies?

• How can you select conference or retreat locations that feel like “coming home”, spaces that facilitate healing or generative thinking?

• Do you need a place that has an energetic field in continents perceived as immensely powerful such as, Sedona, Nepal, Machu Picchu, Mt. Fuji, or Crete? What is the budget you will need for remote locations like this?

• How do you expect the attendees to explore new paradigms for healing in your chosen location, as well as for rejuvenation and relaxation?

“People also leave presence in a place even when they are no longer there.” -- Andy Goldsworthy

Author's Bio: 

Bradley Morgan is a corporate and ontological coach who served as a hi-tech executive for over 17 years, in companies such as, IBM, Bay Networks, Premysis, and Brocade Communications. Bradley’s credentials include a BS from Georgia Tech, a MS from UCLA, a certificate in gerontology from the University of Boston (CGP); and a Professional Coaching Certification (PCC) through the Newfield Network program. In the telecommunications industry, she developed both domestic and international systems engineering teams for technical expertise and executive level leadership. Bradley is a member of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), American Management Associates (AMA), the American Society on Aging (ASA); and the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (APDA). Please visit walksbesidecoaching.com.