Biophilia and innovation: Can changing your view change your worldview?

You don’t have to look at the business press for long to find someone’s new idea for how to spur innovation. We all want innovation, whether to solve humanity’s most pressing problems or to further differentiate our companies in a crowded marketplace (ideally, both). So where does innovation come from?

Innovation, of course, requires people. More specifically, engaged people. In the knowledge and innovation economy, our people and their talents are our most critical asset, and in order to protect that investment, we consciously seek ways to engage and retain our human capital.

How do we enhance creativity and the ability to maintain attention in today’s distracted, stress-filled world? How do we ensure that our people are fully engaged, so that in addition to being highly productive today, they’re also optimizing their well-being over the long-term?

Many business leaders do not know that there’s an existing, straightforward strategy that is proven to improve the productivity and wellness of employees by decreasing stress and irritability, and increasing our ability to concentrate. The same strategy results in lower blood pressure, improved cognitive functioning, enhanced mental stamina and focus, elevated moods, and increased learning rates.

The answer is literally all around us: improving the design of our built environment. Our offices, it turns out, could do more than convene us. These spaces can be more than a place to work: They can actually work for us at a deeply biological level.

While many architects and designers have intuitively known this all along, we now have scientific evidence concluding that our surroundings affect us deeply, physically and emotionally. We now know that exposure to nature, or spaces that are evocative of nature, offers an amazing wellspring of renewal for our bodies and our minds.

By incorporating elements of biophilic design (defined by Dr. Stephen Kellert as “building and landscape design that enhances human physical and mental well-being by fostering positive connections between people and nature”), we can leverage the powerful intersection of neuroscience and architecture to enhance our own well-being and productivity. From health care to corporate offices, the practice of biophilic design could have staggering economic benefits, as outlined by Bill Browning and his Terrapin Bright Green colleagues in their white paper, “The Economics of Biophilia.”

Next page: A methodology, not an aesthetic