Physical environment effect on problem solving

We all know from experience that our surroundings can have an important influence on the way we feel, think and work. This is particularly true of solving problems, in terms of both' the process itself and the' general attitude to productivity.

The type of physical environment we favour for problem solving is a very personal matter, according to what factors create in us the right state of mind for a particular task. For example, the bathroom is often reported as a site of inspiration, probably because it's a time when we are relaxed and distracted from concentration on a problem.

The enviroment

Most people require a different state of mind when they need to think creatively compared with doing analytical work. Analytical thinking requires concentration on the details of a problem, while creative thinking usually requires a more relaxed, free-ranging attitude.

Environmental stimuli can affect the ease with which we can use various mental skills. There is a biological mechanism through which physical stimulation automa­tically increases concentration up to a certain point, but beyond which it reduces our ability to concentrate. We each have a different optimum of environmental stimulation for both creative and analytical thinking.

 

We need to learn, through experience, what conditions suit us best and try to recreate those conditions each time we have a problem to tackle. This does not mean, for example, dashing to the bathroom every time we get stuck with a problem and need inspiration. We simply need to recreate the state of mind which we find most effective for solving problems.

In general terms, the following factors should be considered as important in the working environment:

Physical comfort

This is essential and should include a comfortable, even temperature; good lighting to avoid eyestrain; ergonomically designed furniture and office systems; low levels of noise; and minimum 'through traffic'.

 

Physical environment

Well planned space

Creating a 'light and airy' environment, rather than one which makes people feel enclosed and restricted, has a beneficial effect on people's state of mind. This includes avoiding overcrowding, providing natural light wherever possible and adequate storage and filing facilities to reduce clutter and give the appearance of order.

Good office resources

Lack of resources can cause unnecessary frustrations, so the easy availability of photocopiers, typing facilities, efficient means of communication and other necessary resources is important.

Read the next article: Does your organisation encourage and support problem solving? 15 telling questions to ask!

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