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Do Environments Affect Our Conversational And Creative Lives?

“Creativity is a fragile flower, but perhaps it can be fertilized with systematic doses of serendipity,” writes Jason Zweig in his contribution, “Structured Serendipity,” to the set of essays edited by John Brockman in the book, This Will Make You Smarter.

“The almost ecstatic sense that makes us cry ‘I see!’ appears to come when the brain is able to shunt aside immediate or familiar inputs. That may explain why so many of us close our eyes (often unwittingly) just before we exclaim, ‘I see!’ It also suggest, at least to me, that creativity can be enhanced deliberately through environmental variation.”

I have been pondering the nature of the physical environment and what it does to our conversational lives. How do the spaces around us affect our inquisitiveness? Is our creativity hampered or helped by the three dimensional environment? In the next week or so, I shall explore that further. In the meantime, what do you think?


  1. What a fecund question! This is an especially hot topic for organizational psychology, where the literature about office environments is jewel-studded ( What also emerges from work in environmental psychology, such as that of Lorraine Maxwell, is that our competency is impacted by the control we have over our physical environment. Maxwell was researching pre-schoolers, but this intuitive finding is supported by research in building science as well. Maybe part of feeling ‘at home’ is the frame of mind that you have more control over your surroundings.

    Researchers from the Center for the Built Environment investigated the relative importance of symbolic aspects of a space to the physical attributes to find that our taste is indeed an important consideration. Stated another way, even if the designer chair is less comfortable, you may be more excited to have a conversation than if it were a more ergonomic, but less ‘stylish’ furnishing. ( Yes, as a designer I would like to think that physical environments have a big impact on behaviour. In truth, this position may be true to the extent that the physical environment itself is a manifestation of our social structure.

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