How fresh air can lead to fresh thinking and why that's important if we're to reframe our ideas about today's challenges.
Dialogue and conversation are integral to every business. Despite the wave of new apps and technologies that offer better business processes at a click of a button, a fundamental element to any successful business is still face-to-face communication.
Innovation, strategy, creation, and implementation are all human-centred processes that rely on people talking to each other.
As Steve Jobs said, “There’s a temptation in our networked age to think that ideas can be developed by email and iChat. That’s crazy. Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions.”
And with flexible hours, the increase in time spent in front of screens, and the demands of city life, it's never been more important to get teams communicating and working at their best.
With workplace relationships being so very important, more and more organisations are becoming increasingly conscious of the importance of team dynamics, and are taking steps to improve company culture to create the conditions for better conversations.
A 2017 report by Mazars found that culture is one of the top three priorities for company boards, and that the importance of corporate culture to business success is an area of growing strategic importance.
However, with virtually all employers thinking about improving conversations in the office, at School of Wild we believe getting out of the office might be a better option.
Nilofer Merchant, author and business innovator, spoke about the benefits of outdoor meetings in a TED Talk in 2013. She found a direct link for how walking meetings can change how we think: “Fresh air drives fresh thinking,” she says, and delivers some scary statistics about the health risks of spending too long indoors to back it up.
“Nowadays people are sitting 9.3 hours a day, which is more then we’re sleeping,” she says. “Sitting is so incredibly prevalent we don’t even question how much we’re doing it, and because everyone else is doing it, it doesn’t even occur to us it’s not okay.”
But it’s not just health risks that can be reduced by getting outdoors. As Merchant found, going outside brought benefits to conversations too.
She explains, “There is this amazing thing about getting out of the box that leads to out of the box thinking, whether it’s nature or the exercise itself, it certainly works.”
And the science is there to confirm it. One study discovered that simply being exposed to office plants can boost employee wellbeing and productivity by 15%, which gives an inkling into the dramatic benefits that being outdoors can bring.
According to another study by the University of Kansas, being absorbed in nature can help increase creative problem-solving ability by as much as 50%.
With the multitude of distractions that office screens and phones give, it’s no wonder that getting away from the office is a good way to change a conversation.
Researchers at the University of Rochester also found that exposure to nature resulted in participants valuing community and connectedness over more superficial concerns like personal gain and fame.
In a business sphere where dialogue is integral to growth, this increased connectedness is exactly what’s needed.
At the conclusion of her TED talk, Merchant reflects on what she’s learned - that outdoor meetings combat two seemingly diametrically opposed areas: work health and personal health. “I used to think of it as, you can take care of your health, or you can take care of obligations. And one always came at the cost of the other.”
Realising this is not the case made her see “how much each of us can hold problems in opposition when they’re really not that way.”
She continues, “If we’re going to solve problems and look at the world differently, whether it’s governance and business, or environmental issues and job creation, maybe we can think about how to reframe these problems as having both things be true, because it was when that happened with this walk and talk idea that things became doable, viable, and sustainable.”
At School of Wild we resonate strongly with this. Combining nature and business isn’t something that everyone is doing, but as economist Kate Raworth puts it, in order for our economic system to meet the needs of all people within the means of the planet, a change of perception is needed to change the idea that nature and business have to be opposed.
If your business is to prioritise the wellbeing of your employees, improve workplace productivity, and have a regenerative impact on the environment, getting your team to spend time in nature as part of their working life is vital.
All business should innovate, and not only do walking and outdoor meetings create the conditions for innovative discussion, they represent that innovation themselves.
As Nilofer Merchant discovered, by reconnecting with nature we can all reconnect, and move our business conversations in a better direction.
At School of Wild we stand by this idea and facilitate frequent Campfire Conversations for organisations wishing to harness the duel benefits of outdoor meetings.
If you want to find out more about the workplace and wellbeing benefits of outdoor meetings, get in touch with us here.
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.