The Office, From History to Future
To better understand how people and work spaces interact, let’s look at the history of office work. Until the later part of the twentieth century, people typically worked for the same company, or within the same industry for their entire career. Education was not universally available and on the job training was the standard operating procedure. Managers assumed that no matter the quality of your education, unless you had worked someplace similar previously, you arrived with little of any value in your head. So, they would invest a great deal in your training with the implicit understanding that you were there for the long haul. With this kind of assured longevity, workplace designs were improved over time so you could accomplish tasks as efficiently as possible, and then changed very little until newer technology had to be accommodated.
In the remote past, work stations were dependent on sunlight, dim candles and oil lamps, so first and foremost buildings, work tables and desks were aligned to take advantage of the sunlight. Our admiration of the ‘corner office’ with its multi directional windows is a throwback to that tradition. Then electricity and artificial lighting transformed work spaces. Today, people can change jobs, careers, offices and technology at a dizzying rate of speed because of the portability of electronic devices, but you still need to understand the secrets of personal positioning if you want to work to your greatest potential.
A Definition of the 'Boss: The person who decides where the desks go!
Here is a secret about very successful business leaders. They have a tremendously good instinct about how to position themselves in their workplace. They also understand how to position others depending on their relationship. Ambitious leaders seek out the positions of power. That includes being physically higher, placed to the north of the rest of the group, in visual command of the entranceways and in alignment with the front of the building. Each position has its own advantages.
Successful people like to arrive early to meetings so they can choose the most strategic position. Once their position advances and their chair is reserved, they can arrive late now and then to make the point that nothing is going happen until they arrive. But that’s the exception, leaders lead by example and punctuality matters. By arriving late and taking the prominent position they are using space and time to make their point and establish their dominance.
If you work with a good leader, watch how they adjust their position depending on the situation. For instance, where they sit with a customer is different from where they position themselves with their assistant. They may sit across the table during a hard negotiation, and then insist on sharing a couch afterwards to reconnect on a personal level. This flexibility is the union of body sense and emotional intelligence and it’s the sign of a successful person.
The Power of Show and Tell
There are many things that are best learned through demonstration, sports, dance, and all kinds of physical work. For instance, it doesn’t matter how much you explain the particular skills necessary to ride a bicycle, until you see it done up close and personal, you’re not going to feel at all comfortable taking a shot at it yourself.
Then, once you are in the saddle, your body needs some time to lock in the correct combination of movement, balance and perception. Once it’s programmed into the muscles, riding a bicycle is such a satisfyingly fluid motion that your body rarely forgets it. But, it all starts with the demonstration.
I always assumed that Show and Tell was everyone’s favorite part of school, but then I realized that not everyone likes public speaking. In fact, standing in front of a bunch of people and giving a speech is typically ranked as one of the scariest activities people fear. Yet many of us were happy to stand up in front of our elementary school classes and show off whatever we carried in that day.
There is something about having a prop to work with that makes us feel safer, more complete. That has to do with how much of our brain we use for remembering words and how much we use for understanding objects. Here is an example; can you remember what desk you sat at in first grade? Given a little time, probably yes! Do you remember what your teacher said the first day, or for that matter, anytime in that year? Probably not!
Why is that? Because the part of the brain that remembers objects and positioning is ten times larger than the part that is used for remembering words! Why else would it be so hard to remember names without repeated exposure?
Here is a technique to help you remember names. Imagine writing the person’s name on their forehead with your finger when you meet them. This works because it binds together the name with the physical motion, and then locks them into the part of your nervous system related to shapes. The key is to imagine writing the name on their forehead, complete with reaching out your arm, moving your hand and finishing with a flourish, while saying their name in your mind.
That is why great athletes visualize their motions many times in preparation for performing them. The mental pathways work best when the track is made clear by directing your attention along them. Just like a stable horse will follow a well beaten path, even with an inexperienced rider in the saddle.
The way we position ourselves is something we do automatically, based on how we are taught, and how our nervous system follows ancient programming. Good team management requires consciously choosing empowered positions; strategic arrangements and efficient motions that promote talent and cooperation.
That kind of physical positioning has to be demonstrated in three dimensions to be understood, so it can be retained in the parts of the brain that manage the physical world. As much as you verbally explain how to position a team, you need to see the arrangement before it really makes sense. And when you get it, you remember it.
That’s the value of ‘Show and Tell’. It reaches deeply into the subconscious brain where our relation to objects makes us feel safer and more confident. When we teach our Dream Desk Seminars, we use moving furniture and lots of props because we are talking to the larger part of the brain that understands the intimate world in three dimensions, using the alphabet it understands, objects.
Education's Environmental Design Lapses
Your first dozen years of school didn’t teach you how to create the best work environment for yourself and your team for one simple reason; students sit where they are told and teachers stand where the furniture demands. In turn, the furniture landed there due to the architect's plan for the room which was laid out based on the need for maximum window exposure and access to wide hallways.
The classroom layout is as standardized as possible so that both teachers and students can quickly find their places. The only opportunity that you have to learn about the power of positioning in school is on the sports field, and there isn’t usually much furniture out there. Luckily, your time on the softball field taught you to understand your rank in the office by your desk’s position, related to your boss’s. Are you the person that catches the boss’s ideas? Do you snatch up the fast track projects from the infield or are you stuck in the outfield waiting for someone to notice you, while waiting for your time at bat?
Knowing your position is important. That’s why large government buildings and businesses hang pictures of their chief executives in prominent places, because it lets everybody know who’s in charge. If your work space isn’t supporting your best talents, and it more than likely isn’t, your teachers should hang their head in shame. They did not teach you how to read the configuration of a work space and then shape it to your needs. But luckily, that’s what our Dream Desk Questionnaires do!.
For More Information call the authors Ralph & Lahni DeAmicis 707-235-2648