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To excel in innovation, you have to invest in nature Leen Gorissen - July 9, 2019

Organizing Innovation Allef Vinicius 167640 Unsplash Min 5551B8B15Aaf5C194C0Ae74501Fad935

Unhappy and unhealthy employees are not good, for any business. And company culture, however fun, is not enough to push the frontiers in innovation & proficiency. Science shows that all humans need a regular dose of nature to support health, happiness and brainpower. Whatever destination you chose to go as a company, you cannot go there without nature. The nature of the future and the future of nature are interdependent.

I have mentioned it before, that nature is better for your health than the health care sector. Yet collectively, we keep devouring nature as if it is a resource we can do without. But evidence of the impact of nature on our health, happiness and wits is mounting. For one, a multitude of scientific investigations show that wandering through forests reduces blood pressure and heart rate. What is more, forest immersions reduce the levels of cortisol, our stress hormone, while increasing the levels of serotonin, the ‘happy’ chemical that operates in our nervous system. The restorative impact of nature is so great that merely looking at nature through a window boosts mental energy. In fact, employees who have a view of nature from their desk perform better than those without. Their job satisfaction is also higher.

Likewise, the ability to focus and concentrate is higher when people spend time in nature compared to urban environments. Research showed that creativity and problem-solving capacity of students was raised by 50% after spending four days in the wild. Students that spent the same amount of time in a city, did not show this increase. Attention tests with school children also showed that they scored much better in the presence of plants than without. And recently, scientists discovered that low childhood exposure to nature is associated with worse mental health in adulthood. The study, involving 3585 participants from four European cities, demonstrated that growing up without regular exposure to nature leads to higher levels of nervousness and feelings of depression in adult life.

And not only cognitive abilities are improved in nature, our immune system is also improved. So much so that the number of killer T-cells, the cells in your body that eliminate cancer cells, is significantly higher after a trip into the woods. And when going out into the wild is not possible, merely looking at nature footage already increases feelings of contentedness, joy, wonder, awe, amusement and curiosity while reducing feelings of tiredness, anxiety and stress. Nature therefore not only makes us healthier, she makes us happier and smarter too.

Applying these insights to how we construct our human dwellings, is called biophilia. This discipline investigates how we can design buildings and (office) spaces that energize, restore, heal and improve our being, just like nature. The need to rethink the way we design the human habitat became painfully obvious when researchers discovered that our buildings actually make us ill. They even formulated a name for it: sick building syndrome. Not only do the pollutants and toxins of modern building practices lead to dis-ease and disease, so too does our disconnection from nature.

Sometimes it takes going to space to figure out what we humans need to stay healthy. Enter the space research program that is investigating how we can get to Mars. The most difficult challenge to solve in terms of long space journeys is not so much technical as it is psychological. The mental deterioration associated with deep space travel is an important obstacle to solve before we can send astronauts to the red planet, a mission that has been tickling our imagination since the landing on the moon. Turns out that one of the solutions that offers the best prospect to solving the issue, is to supply the mission with a large amount of plants.

Experiments with plants in space like aboard the International Space Station, have demonstrated noticeable positive effects on astronaut’s moods. So much so, that the search for bioregenerative life support systems in space has significantly intensified over the past years. This did not surprise Stefano Mancuso from the University of Florence, whose laboratory has been investigating the effects of space travel on plants. He writes in his compelling book ‘The revolutionary genius of plants’ that plants are the engine of life. We humans are totally dependent on them and whatever destination we choose as the next step of our expansion into space, we cannot go there without plants.

And neither can your company. No matter what you do. Nature is as vital to our being as the air we breathe (which of course, is produced by nature). So, it is time to stop isolating the human work force in the sterile dead zones that are office buildings and industrial zones. Because the science is simple: nature exposure is beneficial and nature deficiency is harmful. Renaturing office spaces and rewilding business districts not only boosts health and creativity, it boosts bliss and wits too. The nature of the future and the future of nature are interdependent.

This post is a reworked piece from my book © Natural Intelligence that will be published in the coming months. Find more information on https://www.naturalintelligence.info.

Leen Gorissen
Leen Gorissen

Leen is an Innovation Biologist, Sustainability Transitions Expert, Writer and Founder of Studio Transitio. Leen Gorissen, PhD in Biology, works with companies, governments and...

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