Mindfulness researcher Ellen Langer reminds us in her book Counterclockwise that “Our physical environment primes our feelings and behavior, although we are typically oblivious to its influence. Primes often tell us what is expected of us, and too often we mindlessly comply.”
“Primes” is a term that comes from psychologists Anthony Greenwald and Mazarin Banaji, who use that word to refer to the cues that activate particular associations and influence in our behavior.
All day long we walk around and the environments give us cues about how we should act or behave. In some ways, it is a form of subtle manipulation, but in its most positive sense, the physical environment can help reinforce the values and spirit that we hope to encourage in our people.
It’s the reason a renovation of a home can give a completely different feeling to the exact same location and why more and more companies are being thoughtful about the physical space that they show up to each day.
Whether it’s the music in the background and the messages they put on the cups at Starbucks, the smells that fill the streets at Disney World, or the way a stale doctor’s office makes us feel cold, all have an impact on our experience.
Airbnb, the growing online marketplace that allows people to list, find, or rent apartments or homes around the world, sets up their lobby in their headquarters in San Francisco to look exactly like a room in a property they list. This gives employees the physical reminder every day about the types of places they are representing. It puts them in a different mindset, one focused on those they are serving.
Have you ever noticed the way some airports have designed the walking path that leads you directly through the duty-free shops? That’s because they realize that in the most highly distracted time in the history of the world, if you want someone to look at something or think about something, you need to put it right in front of them.
Writer Jennifer Hullinger explained “According to a study by the consulting company Internists, Duty-Free shops with ‘Serpentine Walk-Through’ designs have 60% more sales because 100% of customers are exposed.”
Where we look is where we go! The physical environment you put into place will help enhance the culture you are trying to create—or it will detract from it. Wedding the language, value, and spirit of your people into the design of the physical environment has the ability to create synergy that anchors the culture even more significantly.
Jason V. Barger is a globally celebrated keynote speaker, leadership coach and author of Thermostat Cultures, Step Back from the Baggage Claim and ReMember. He is founder of Step Back Leadership Consulting, a Columbus-based company that works with businesses and organizations worldwide. Connect via email at jason@JasonVBarger.com or on social media at @JasonVBarger.
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