It's a balancing act
Each choice process is determined by the influence of the left and the right hemisphere, the interplay of reason and emotion. Every person has a preference for ratio or emotion and is, therefore, more likely to be attracted to numbers or images. Often this is jokingly referred to as the difference between men and women. Take as an example the way in which both sexes choose a car: based on acceleration speed, torque and engine capacity or colour, nice lamps, fashion-sensitive.
The fact remains that every human being has a left (rational) and right (feeling, intuition) hemisphere, they both influence how we see, experience and judge our environment. “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.” (Jonas Salk).
“Every piece of information has an emotional and a mental part.
Be it conscious or unconscious, objective or subjective.”
It is neither one nor the other. It is about the balance of both the left and right hemispheres. One hemisphere can not stand alone, it must be polarized and combined with its opposite in order to generate balance and completion. The brain works best when it can operate as a totality. Both rational and emotional arguments play a role in Decision-Making-Units (DMU). Decision-making is a complex mix of analysis, incomplete knowledge and intuition. Canadian neurologist Donald B. Calne sums it up nicely:
“Emotion leads to action while reason leads to conclusions”.
A building affects people. The key question is not what is the required size of the accommodation and what are the functional and technical requirements, but what is the effect of the learn/work environment on people’s behaviour and what message does it communicate to the market. By addressing both so-called opposites a synthesis will appear that transforms the rational and the emotional viewpoints and bring them into a more holistic harmonic whole that embraces what looked like oppositions.
However, the average building user does not exist. Therefore, a “One quality fits all” approach to the learn/work environment cannot be applied. So-called “market-compliant” buildings do not appeal enough to the user’s experience, they are suitable for many but of no interest to anyone.
Organisations with more or less the same corporate style (management style, culture, etc.) set similar requirements for their learn/work environment. It turns out that the corporate style determines the extent to which accommodation is used as a “compelling corset” or as “seductive lingerie”.
Identity is not only the appearance of the building’s exterior but also of the interior and the standing of the neighbourhood. In addition, communication should not only focus on customers but also on the employees. The learn/work environment can be used to make it clear to which larger whole the employees contribute. It is about creating a place that people enjoy coming to, a place that stimulates them to show more enthusiasm in their work.
How do these factors play a role in accommodation choices?
The way in which one is accommodated says a lot about the organisation; just as clothing says something about the person wearing it.
There are dress codes for special occasions, to be associated with a certain status, but also to be recognized as a group and to create solidarity. This turns out to be no different with accommodation. The learn/work environment constantly sends out a message, which is not only received by your customers but especially by your employees.
Accommodation (our third skin) is comparable to clothing (our second skin). What clothing is to a person is accommodation to an organisation. Clothing should fit well, be functional and durable but also beautiful. Research has shown that we demand from both clothing and accommodation the following five attributes.
- It is fitting, protective and functional. (meets the purpose for which it is created)
- Well made and durable.
- Gives a sense of belonging somewhere. (evokes a meaning to its users in terms of their own experiences)
- Enhance image (embellishment that brings delight).
- Expresses identity and gives a good feeling.
The first two of these requirements are rational and the proverbial tip of the iceberg. The other three are of an emotional nature and is the part of the iceberg that is underwater.
For clothing, the dominance of emotional aspects is perceived as normal. However, for accommodation, it is the iceberg upside down. In the conservative real estate world, there is a dominance of the rational left hemisphere over the right part of our brain. The right hemisphere that really makes a difference in people’s choice behaviour, the emotional components, is heavily underexposed.
Experiencing our learn/work environment is conditioned by the hemispherical division of the brain such that each of us perceives reality in two quite different qualities that are potentially conflicting. Both sides are working all the time, consciously and unconsciously.
The Divided Brain
According to psychiatrist, author and thinker Dr Iain McGilchrist, a world dominated by the rational left hemisphere would look like the following. Does it look familiar?
- Loss of the broader picture.
- Knowledge is replaced by information, tokens or representations. Rather than the actual knowledge.
- Loss of concepts of skill and judgement. They are replaced by computer algorithms.
- Abstraction and reification (seeing an abstract as a material thing/objectification). Lost of touch with the real world.
- Bureaucracy (Berger distinguish the following policies: procedures that are known; anonymity; organisability; predictability; justice reduced to mere equality; explicit abstraction.)
- Loss of the sense of uniqueness.
- Quantity is the only criterion. Not quality.
- A black and white view. It is either this or that.
- Reasonableness is replaced by rationality.
- Failure of common sense.
- Systems are designed to maximise utility rather than anything else.
- Loss of social cohesion.
- Paranoia and lack of trust. The left hemisphere is in overdrive condition.
- Need for total control. Maximize observation.
- Anger and aggression are the keynotes of our relationships.
- The passive victim. Others are the wrongdoers.
- Art becomes conceptual rather than embodied. (Visual art lack a sense of depth and distorted or bizarre perspectives; music would be reduced to little more than rhythm; language diffuse, excessive, lacking in concrete reference).
- Deliberate undercutting of the sense of awe or wonder.
- Flow becomes just the sum of an infinite series of ‘pieces’.
- Discarding of tacit forms of knowing. (Network of small complicated rules.)
- Spectators rather than actors.
- Dangerously unwarranted optimism.
The Divided Brain was explained by Dr Iain McGilchrist himself in an RSA cartoon video.
Mental and emotional dimension
So it is not about the left side, using the environment or the right side, understanding the meaning of the environment. For imagination as for reason we combine them in different ways all the time. The successful organisation knows how to harmonize and address both hemispheres of the brain. The narrow and the broad picture of the learn/work environment at the same time.
Every piece of information has a mental and an emotional dimension, like the Yin-Yang symbol. The yin and the yang, opposing forces acting in unity that are essential to maintain balance. The two-dimensional representation of expanding and contracting forces of a sphere or a torus.
Even strategic decisions in the board room are essentially made by emotional aspects such as: does it feel good, ‘does it click’? The fact that rational aspects are then sought to substantiate the emotional components does not detract from the emotional core. See also Building: a matter of mind and heart.
In fact, it should be towards a more strategic and context-specific approach instead of mainly operational and financial. A so-called right-brain mode of perception that sometimes is referred to as the ‘intelligence of the heart”. With a focus on the needs and well-being of the users of the accommodation. Creating buildings with a soul.
Managing organisational strategy
Entrepreneurship is one of the most important energies in humanity to walk new paths. Entrepreneurship in which the relationship between masculine and feminine forces is in a good balance is crucial to society’s next release. Polarity allows movement to take place, attraction and repulsion that sparks evolution. Being entrepreneurial is above all making an innovative contribution.
Nowadays, more than ever, adaptation and renewal is a must for any organisation to survive in the midst of all the rapid changes. Innovation is by definition created by the collaboration of people. This cooperation (external and internal), in addition to the management style and the available knowledge, has an important positive influence on the capacity for innovation and thus contributes to a better competitive position. Accommodation facilitates this collaboration and thus has a strategic impact.
When the values and standards that an organisation stands for, as well as the “look & feel” of the products/services that one produces, are palpable in the accommodation, this contributes to the unity and involvement of employees. So know who you are and what you (unconsciously) radiate. This is (un)knowingly encoded in the built environment. Especially retail organisations know how to use this in their buildings to enhance their branding and sales.
It happens that the accommodation evokes an opposite perception of the organisation than the desired one, and thus reinforces the wrong image.
The learn/work environment should therefore be managed from the perspective of the organisational strategy instead of the day-to-day operational level.
Not only the corporate style and organisational model, but also the marketing and competitive position of an organisation are important inputs for making a brief. It is mainly about the desired identity, about the message that is sent with the learn/work environment. Do you want to come across as a price fighter, social employer or creative professional? An organisation can calibrate itself in relation to other organisations and reach an internal agreement on a number of soft accommodation factors. Determine to which group they want to belong and then use accommodation to propagate this (“dress to impress”).