Heavy Duty

Here’s the title of a recent article by Natalie Angier in The New York Times: “Abstract Thoughts? The Body Takes Them Literally.” The point of the article is this – we embody, we incorporate, we flesh-out the abstractions we think about. As the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty put it: we are our bodies.

When people are asked to think of future events, their bodies move slightly forward; when asked to think about past events, their bodies move slightly backwards.

When students were asked to evaluate a fictional character, those students who had been holding a warm cup of coffee were more likely to consider the character “warm and friendly” than students who had been holding an iced beverage.

In another study, participants were given a survey form on a clipboard and asked to evaluate six foreign currencies. Participants who held heavier clipboards considered the currencies worth more than those who held lighter clipboards.

The more we can involve “the whole person” in the activities and thinking that we do, the more memorable and effective those acts and thoughts become. At The Idea Loft, a space designed specifically for the facilitation of idea generation sessions, participants do their focus activities in a comfortable, den-like setting. They then generate ideas around the focus in a wide-open area. The physical space compliments the type of thinking: confined for convergent thinking; open for divergent thinking.

Ideas participants generate at The Idea Loft are printed on Idea Cards. Why cards? So they can be handled, sorted, shuffled, and dealt with.

Physical space matters because our bodies occupy it and are affected by it. If you want to engage participants in an idea generation session, pay attention to the space:

  • Is the lighting right?
  • Are the chairs comfortable?
  • Are the pens/markers easy to write with? Do they smell good?
  • Can people hear each other?
  • Are there healthy refreshments and stimulating music?
  • Are there frequent breaks?
  • Do people change seating positions?

These are simple things, but take care of the body and you’ll lift the spirit!

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