MWFA: Make Work Fun Again

 
Dick Beardsley, first place in the inaugural London Marathon & 1982 Boston Marathon 2nd place finisher.

Dick Beardsley, first place in the inaugural London Marathon & 1982 Boston Marathon 2nd place finisher.

Ann Bancroft, first woman to successfully finish a number of arduous expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Ann Bancroft, first woman to successfully finish a number of arduous expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic.

 

Let’s All Agree to MWFA:
Make Work Fun Again

Never in my adult working life have I been as motivated, excited, and consistently gratified as I am right now. Don’t misunderstand me, though. A lot of what I’m curating is in very infant stages, so everything is new and exciting — kind of like a new relationship you’re trying not to mess up with your personality quirks and unavoidable emotional baggage. I am well aware that a work plateau is indubitably on the horizon, but the reason I’m in this current sweet spot is what interests me the most.

A majority of my time recently has been spent having in-depth conversations with facilitators and company leaders, discussing how best to bridge the gap between stagnation and growth as a team. The vagueness of these interactions is not to be overlooked. A common concern in the workplace—in addition to the newly minted medical diagnosis of burnout—is lack of creativity. We tend to get comfortable in our job descriptions (not a bad thing) and inevitably proceed to autopilot (not a great thing). I’m continuously intrigued by what it is that pushes our creativity and excitement back to the forefront of our minds.

I like to think that I am a poster child for switching careers at a time that I needed it the most. In 2012, after years of working in Marketing, I quit my job and moved to Thailand. The decision to do this didn’t come overnight — in fact, I had been plotting this switch on and off since I had graduated college. I knew I wanted to do more than rise the ranks as a Marketing professional. I found myself participating in poor lifestyle choices on a daily basis and my job became more about monetary gain than anything else. I was unhappy, under-appreciated, scarily unhealthy and totally off track with my personal values. To realize this at the age of 24 was a big “holy shit” moment. I had the rest of my twenties —seemingly the best years of my young adult life—ahead of me and I was spiraling toward a dead-end of overconsumption. I needed a change of scenery…and fast.

My story is not unlike a lot of Millennials. A single track job doesn’t seem to fit our generational desire for stimulation and excitement, but I will argue that we are a product of a side-hustle culture designed to move us ahead at our own (fast moving) pace. A corner office doesn’t have the pull for a lot of people my age in the sense that there is so much more to being content than a set salary and a gold name plate. That isn’t to say a corner office isn’t something to strive for — I love me a good window view — but the intrigue and desire to flourish runs deeper than that. It’s a visceral need for creative spark and fulfillment. Moving to Thailand was my (very dramatic) way of getting outside of the office to do something I hadn’t done since the beginning of college: have a meaningful experience.

A Meaningful Experience. I want to bottle this up and serve it to everyone who needs it - which, just so happens to be, a majority of us. The beauty of this is that meaningful experiences happen in a variety of ways - in line at the grocery store, while reading a book at bedtime, walking the dog, on vacation, during a long run, at breakfast while eating a life-changing cinnamon roll. The main quality of a meaningful experience is easy to determine: it has significant impact on you. It’s meaningful.

Only recently did I realize why work became fun again. I have been busy hustling back and forth to school, reading new articles and journals and books, getting inspiration from new people and places and, above all, meaningful interactions and experiences.

Bridge Building at The Leadership Center at Sugar Lake Lodge

Bridge Building at The Leadership Center at Sugar Lake Lodge

I listened to Ann Bancroft, a prominent author and female polar explorer, discuss her life’s work becoming the first woman to reach both poles via the ice. After her presentation, we had a conversation about taking risks and the benefits of getting outside of your comfort zone. This turned into further conversation about packing in these life lessons into multi-day programs available for everyone from high school students to CEO’s.

A couple of weeks later, I (serendipitously) ran into Dick Beardsley, long-distance running turned fishing guide turned speaker. He was giving a presentation to a group up here at Sugar Lake Lodge and after I calmed down as his biggest fan (I’m a runner too, we discussed it for a solid 45 minutes) I discovered that his message of resiliency and positivity were exactly in line with the values we’re promoting through the Leadership Center. Dick’s presentation hit me at the exact right time, as I needed a boost of positivity after a particularly grueling couple of days.

Both Ann and Dick have been incredibly instrumental in the inspiration for us building activities and programs that align with our beliefs of the power of authentic experiences and that getting outside of the office gives way to discovering new leaders, thinking clearly, and rediscovering core values. A few groups with whom I helped facilitate team building activities this past week told me the two things they found the most impactful about their programs were:

  • A fresh, new environment conducive to creative thinking

  • Experiential activities that were challenging, fun, and meaningful

With that, I encourage you to find someone or something to Make Work Fun Again. I don’t suggest quitting your job and moving to Thailand per-say (though I absolutely DO condone this decision, happy to support!) but outlining a process to get you, your team, or your entire company on a more creative, productive path is an excellent first step. There is abounding research available on the benefits of nature for our mental health, including the creativity boost that comes from even a fifteen minute walk outside. Collaborate with others, connect with people who inspire you, seek clarity in the work you do and, above all, find that creative spark and ignite it.

Nature in our Vocabulary

Originally submitted as research as part of Grad Program at MSU Mankato, 2019

Shifting Perspectives:
Giving Nature a Platform in Our Vocabulary

 
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#OptOutside

 

My first real experience with Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving known for extreme retail sales) came when I was a sophomore in college. I was working part-time as a sales associate at Macy’s. Until this particular year, I had spent almost all big American holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Fourth of July) traveling or camping or playing on the lake with family and friends. I was very fortunate to grow up in an environment where travel and experiences were a priority. As I stepped onto the Macy’s floor at four o’clock in the morning on the day after Thanksgiving, I realized a monumental shift in my understanding of our culture. A day where most people had valuable time off of work was being spent inside of large shopping malls and department stores with no other purpose than to engage in frivolous spending. Mundane discounts and one-day-only specials were reason enough to spend an entire day inside surrounded by thousands of other hungry deal chasers. As a naive 19-year old from the Northwoods, I was appalled by the display of hedonism and materialistic obsession. While the self-serving interactions with customers were enough to send me running to another part-time job, I couldn’t help but focus on the kids being exposed to such a toxic display of free time utilization. How could these children, being involuntarily schlepped around from store to store for hours, grow up to be anything more than overindulgent, intolerant citizens?

While it might seem overdramatic that a day of shopping can have such a profound effect on a child’s development, it is highly likely, in my opinion, that experiences of these caliber are detrimental to impressionable minds. It is my belief that consistent experiences in nature as well as everyday nature-themed vernacular can provide society with objective, inquisitive, and future-focused citizens.

In 2015, major outdoor retailer REI began their #OptOutside campaign, in which they promised to close all of their stores on the biggest shopping day of the year (Black Friday) encouraging consumers and employees alike to spend the day outside instead of inside, shopping (Nudd, 2017). The campaign, which spurred a flurry of social media postings featuring people pledging to “opt outside,” essentially encouraged people to stop and reevaluate what their time is worth and where it is best spent. REI sparked an interest (or re-interest) in nature with a simple shift in language, snowballing into a movement of prioritizing time spent outside that is still prominent today. According to Ben Steele, Chief Creative Officer of REI, the campaign spoke even more to a change in overall consumer behavior, and as the momentum grew, he witnessed people proclaiming that they were inspired to “...protect public lands, because they’re a place [they] care about” (Nudd, 2017). Because of being exposed to this nature-themed content, consumers rekindled their love for nature and in turn became advocates for preserving natural areas.

This example of a shift in language and a nature-inspired call to action is an incredibly compelling testament to the power of content in our society. A research study by Kesebir & Kesebir (2017) showed evidence of a drastic drop in nature activities in conjunction with the growing omittance of nature-themed subject matter in popular culture. Their research suggests that the “disappearance of nature vocabulary from cultural conversation reflects an actual distancing from nature” (p.260). With this shift in behavior and perspective, they found that these findings suggested “...unrealized gains to human health and well-being, as well as lost opportunities to nurture pro-environmental attitudes and stewardship behaviors” (p.260).

Moreover, their research suggests disconnection from nature is a growing result of urbanization factors and technological advances, particularly within indoors and virtual recreation options (Pergams & Zaradic, 2008). This research also speaks eloquently to the premise that, if creators do not interact with nature regularly, it is unlikely their work will reflect any sort of nature theme. If children are raised without exposure to nature-themed content, who will take on the responsibility of advocating for protection and advancement of natural parks and vulnerable ecosystems in future generations?

In researching a prominent shift away from nature-based recreation, Pergams & Zaradic (2008) argue that it has been found that “environmentally responsible behavior results from direct contact with the environment and that people must be exposed to natural areas as children if they are to care about them as adults” (p. 2295).  The absence of nature-based language and nature-based activities almost ensures that future generations are unlikely to seek out natural environments, affecting everything from their physical health to mental health and more.

The deterioration of biodiversity understanding and advocacy is best represented by the term ‘shifting baseline syndrome’ (Pauly, 1995). Pauly describes this phenomenon as a sort-of reset on part by each generation who, when presented with data from the previous generation, does not take into account the starting baseline of the data, thus skewing the reference points resulting in inaccurate targets for economic development. As generations continue to precede the next, proper referencing of the effects of nature on humans is the only way to continue the lineage of making nature a prioritized value. Without proper research collection and understanding of these shifting baselines, future generations are threatened by misinformation resulting in inaccurate data samples. In his article, Pauly (1995) establishes a call for the development of frameworks for including prior research in reference to global fisheries, or as he recounts, “Frameworks that maximise the use of fisheries history would help us understand and to overcome - in part at least - the shifting baseline syndrome, and hence to evaluate the true social and ecological cost of fisheries” (p. 430). This example represents a larger framework that can be implemented across various natural resource research, inevitably pushing the continuum of activism throughout future generations.

While REI’s #OptOutside campaign didn’t necessarily change the world overnight, the shift in perspective and promoted language had a significant trickle-down effect on consumers in terms of returning to prioritizing time in nature based on the millions of media being posted from the outdoors. This year, REI has committed to partnering with the University of Washington for new “Nature for Health” initiative. According to Justin Housman of Adventure Journal, the goal of the initiative is “ to build a mountain of data surrounding the health benefits of living a life outside, while also digging deeper into the demographics of the outside community to figure out how to increase access to green spaces and public lands to people who don’t traditionally make a lot of use of those spaces” (Housman, 2018). With research like this coming from a popular outdoor retailer, consumer loyalty is able go hand-in-hand with nature-based activism and time spent outdoors. Instead of being lured by marketing tactics to spend holidays inside or online shopping, we as consumers have the opportunity to embrace nature-themed content while simultaneously becoming advocates for environmental progress and sustainability.

“Opting Outside” is continuously popular all over the world including here at The Leadership Center, where we fully embrace the ideology that outside is where your big AHA moments are waiting. Let’s go.


References

Housman, J. (2018, October 23). REI Gives $1 Million to Study Benefits of Nature, Boost #OutsideForAll. Retrieved from https://www.adventure-journal.com/2018/10/rei-ceo-jerry-stritzke-on-how-nature-benefits-human-health/

Kesebir, S., & Kesebir, P. (2017). A Growing Disconnection From Nature Is Evident in Cultural Products. Perspectives on Psychological Science,12(2), 258-269. doi:10.1177/1745691616662473

Nudd. (2017, November 20). Inside Year Three of #OptOutside With REI's Chief Creative Officer. Retrieved from https://www.adweek.com/creativity/inside-year-three-of-optoutside-with-reis-chief-creative-officer/

Pauly, D. (1995). Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries. Trends in Ecology & Evolution,10(10), 430. doi:10.1016/s0169-5347(00)89171-5

Pergams, O. R., & Zaradic, P. A. (2008). Evidence for a fundamental and pervasive shift away from nature-based recreation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,105(7), 2295-2300. doi:10.1073/pnas.0709893105

How Rural Retreats Cultivate Creativity

Originally published as part of graduate research at MSU-Mankato, 2019

Effects of Urbanization: How Rural Retreats Cultivate Creativity

 
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Imagine for a moment the typical corporate boardroom. It is designed to be as efficient and functional as possible. Everything is identical in shape, size, color, and space; the cohesion is undeniably succinct from the mesh-backed black chairs to the monochrome telephone to the spacing of the matte silver door handles. It comes as no surprise, then, that consistent meetings within a room of this design are unlikely to be a breeding ground for “aha!” moments. This analysis will serve as an argument for the importance of routinely exposing professional groups to a natural environment in order to promote creative thinking.

            On the surface, living and working in a bustling urban city promotes attractive benefits of engaging its community members in advancements of arts, entertainment, business opportunities, etc. More and more people around the world are gravitating toward urban environments, creating an epidemic of smaller, more densely populated urban cities where open spaces once occupied. According to UN, an additional 2.5 billion people are predicted to live in urban areas by 2050 (UN News, 2014). As the growth of smaller urban cities continues to rise, so does the lack of access to green space. This is detrimental for a myriad of reasons, one vastly important issue being the constant exposure to stimuli with little to no reprieve. Additionally, in any given workplace environment within the confines of the urban landscape, one is unlikely to encounter a natural environment for days—or even weeks—at a time due to overwhelmingly rigid schedules and seemingly endless construction.

The traditional 9 to 5 lifestyle is quite simply not conducive to spending quality time outdoors. With the status quo being a house-to-work-and-back-again schedule, when do people have the opportunity to slow down? When do they find the time to let their brains take in an hour of solitude and quiet? Where do they go to escape the noise and lights of the city?

The notion that that the brain suffers dramatic neural effects due to over stimuli is nothing new, whereas according to psychologist Donald Hebb it is “reported that rats allowed to run free in his home performed better on problem-solving tasks than rats kept in standard laboratory cages” (Lambert, Nelson, Jovanovic, Cerdá, 2014). This coincides with Charles Darwin’s discovery that domesticated rabbit’s contained smaller brains than their wild counterparts (Lambert, et al., 2014). These findings suggest a strong link to the development and function of the brain when habitually exposed to natural elements. The importance of exposure to natural environments is clear – it cultivates clarity, decision-making, and the opportunity to think creatively.

In a world of increasing technology and distraction, businesses are starved for both employee retention and team development. Without proper time outside of office walls, teams are likely to fall into a pattern of what Josef Pieper, German philosopher, referred to as ‘total work.’ David Levy alludes to Pieper’s theories in his article No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship, 2007. In reference to Pieper’s theories, Levy recounts Pieper’s claim that “The world of work is becoming our entire world, it threatens to engulf us completely, and the demands of the world of work become greater and greater, till at last they a make a ‘total’ claim upon the whole of human nature” (Levy, 2007, p.240).

            This workplace-focused trajectory threatens our ability to utilize leisure to our creative advantage. Increasingly, one of the biggest obstacles of our generation is burnout. In an op-ed written by Huffington Post Founder and CEO, Arianna Huffington, burnout is referred to as the “disease of our civilization.” According to Huffington, the American workplace refuses to divert from its current path to destructive environmental qualities and instead “glorifies an approach to measuring success that leads to burnout and a culture enraptured with technology to the point that tools meant to give us greater control of our lives have, instead, taken control of our lives” (Huffington, 2013). Burnout displays itself in many different forms ranging from exhaustion to irritability to the inability to continue in your current role due to disinterest. Depriving teams the opportunity to disconnect and gain clarity in a significantly less frenetic environment is harmful to the mental and physical health of everyone involved in the business. As creativity dwindles and burnout grows, employers are likely to find they cannot keep their teams focused enough to thrive in competitive markets.

To put it simply, teams can benefit greatly from time away from their daily interactive environments. A rural retreat in an area like Northern Minnesota offers a company the ability to get employees out of the office and into a fresh environment, encouraging imaginative thinking and the opportunity to disconnect from their over-stimulated lifestyles. A meeting set in a Northwoods environment overlooking a quiet, crystal clear lake can transform the mind and body to slow down and think differently. Without the distraction of busy streets, bright lights, monochromatic office walls and stifling agendas, the mind is free to wander in new, imaginative directions.

To experience a rural retreat, contact me or check out The Leadership Center at Sugar Lake Lodge for more information.


References

More than half of world's population now living in urban areas, UN survey finds | UN News. (2014, July 10). Retrieved from https://news.un.org/en/story/2014/07/472752-more-half-worlds-population-now-living-urban-areas-un-survey-finds

 

Brains in the city: Neurobiological effects of urbanization | Neuroscience & Behavioral Reviews. (2014, October 8). Kelly G Lambert, Randy J Nelson, Tanja Jovanovic, Magdalena Cerdá. Retrieved from d2l.

 

No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship | Ethics and Information Technology. (2007). David M Levy. Retrieved from d2l.

 

Burnout: The Disease of Our Civilization | Huffingtonpost.com. (2013, October 21). Huffington, A. Retrieved from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/burnout-third-metric_b_3792354.html