Spirit At Work -- A Curve to the Soul

Hard-edged work spaces typically aren't conducive to creative work.

Try this experiment. Find the ugliest piece of furniture in your office, and study it for a few moments. Walk around it and really experience the extreme hideousness of the offending piece. Then make some notes about what you noticed and why it affronted you so. Now find the most elegant and beautiful piece of furniture in your office, and study it carefully, too. Note what features attract you and why you find it exquisite. Compare your notes about the two. I'll wager that there is one striking difference that at first will not be obvious to you. You may not notice this difference because, like all of us, you may have become immune to one of the most insidious features of modern (read ugly) life. The big difference between the good, on the one hand, and the bad and ugly, on the other, is in the lines: The ugly will likely be rectangular or right-angular and the beautiful will be curved. Think about it. Right angles are hard to find in the natural world. Even trees do not grow at right angles to the earth. Animals, reptiles, fish, flowers, clouds, rivers, trails -- not a right angle among them. Even the Earth itself is curved. You see, the right angle is the result of the combination of the lack of human imagination and our urge to be cost-efficient and utilitarian. When we humans create our environments we resort to creating right angles. But where an object or an environment has been fashioned by the Creator, it will curve sensually, enrapturing the eye and the imagination, engaging the soul. In short, our DNA has been programmed for curves and this is why it, and therefore we, reject right angles (that is, unless they are fashioned by a genius like Frank Lloyd Wright). When we create "efficient" but ugly working environments, we challenge our natural will and affront the soul. Humans cannot work or play at their best in linear and therefore ugly places. We cannot expect people to produce amazing, creative work in uninspiring environments. When I speak to audiences I often ask them to imagine that they have been asked to do the most creative work of their lives, an assignment that will be their legacy on this planet. Then I ask what physical location they would choose in which to work while accessing their genius and getting their creative juices to flow. They usually describe places like mountains, forest, desert, beach, or islands. Sometimes they will name a place -- Yosemite, the Rockies, the Napa Valley, Mount Rainier, Hawaii, or the Grand Canyon. They never suggest the office. Suppose, though, that we designed our workspaces with curves -- no right angles -- with round windows, curved walls, and irregularly shaped doors and rooms. Suppose we inserted tables and chairs that were fluid and nonconformist; that natural, not plastic, plants were abundant; that the curves of water and sound were evident; that we could see the sky and the stars through curvilinear skylights; and that imagination replaced linear environments. Then we would access our imagination and lessen our linear thinking and, once again, creativity and brilliance would have a chance to flourish among our employees. Creative environments romance creative work from people. Inspiring workspaces -- what I call "soul spaces" -- inspire luminous results and leadership. Name your favorite item and it will have curves, not straight lines. This observation extends to people, as well. "In life, as in art, beauty moves in curves," said Edward G. Bulwer-Lytton, poet and novelist. Dramatically changing the lines of your working environment and the artifacts that fill the space, you can dramatically change the performance of your employees. Want to prove it? Give two teams of equal talent similar tasks, but put one in their Dilbert cubicles and the other in a cathedral, forest, park, or gorgeous building and watch the difference in output.

Lance Secretan is an advisor to leaders, a public speaker, and a recipient of the 1999 International Caring Award, presented by the Caring Institute, Washington, D.C.. Author of nine books, including Inspirational Leadership, Destiny, Calling and Cause (1999, CDG Books), Secretan can be reached at secretan@industryweek.com.

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