The Space Between
The space that exists between where you’re at and where you want to be
No, I’m not referencing the 2001 mega hit song from Dave Matthews band (though I bet you’re humming it now) No, I’m not even referencing in any way the well-known Netflix show Stranger Things which focuses on this world and the other side of the world we occupy. Though that may make for a good reference down the road. I’m writing about environments, atmospheres and us. I’m writing about how space impacts people, not so much the distance between two objects but the overall influence that an environment has on those in it. Recently I was referencing a study that was done decades back at Harvard in which 8 elderly men were put in a sanctuary for 2 weeks, this sanctuary was intentionally outfitted from top to bottom to reflect a begotten era, a time from these men’s past — a time where they were younger, stronger, faster and more cognitively sound. From old Time magazines on nightstands being presented as current news, to rules being given to these men that all conversations they had were to be of the time era that they now were participating in. Each of these men were immersed in a world that they once occupied, their environment being reflective of better years, healthier and more robust times.
After two weeks of talking, listening, interacting with and living in a land of make believe — these men were changed. At the top of the study some of these men needed assistance just to move around the room, all of them had their vitals taken and when the study was wrapped up these same vitals were taken again. The changes were incredible. Heart rates, blood pressure readings and cognitive recall were all impacted for the positive. The readings reflected younger men and beyond the measurements the physical signs lined up. Many of these men were not only now walking unassisted but they were by the end of the study playing touch football!
Did these men somehow find a fountain of youth? How were they impacted beyond the study? At some point they would have to leave the sanctuary and go back to their normal home, normal life. Would they stay young? No, as the environment shifted, as the language system was altered and the beliefs around who they were, where they were and how they were came back into right chronological alignment, these men went back to the former. Their former health, life and way of being. Did this experiment merely reflect a gross exaggeration of what it’s like to go away on vacation, feel lighter than a feather only to go back to normal living and what many term the grind?
I think in a way that’s exactly what occurred but the impact that this had on these men in their physical bodies, mind and how they physically were able to operate in their environments is nothing short of astounding. Some would argue the makeshift environment was nothing more than a placebo however even if that were the case, it’s still a sensational study and something worth noting especially if you’re one who has any say over an environment that you lead over.
If a makeshift environment can create fleeting moments of dynamic change, then how much more can an altered and sustained environment impact a person, a group, a workforce? What about not only the scenery but the words that are set as pillars in your organization? Can you imagine the potency of operating a business that not only looks the part but as the expression goes — “talks the talk but also walks the walk”? From words spoken to trite expressions littering the walls of a business, of an organization, of a workforce — the environment we’re in must be more than a mission statement pinned to the walls in a hall that leads to the boss’s office they must be living reality for those that operate under them.
Beyond the scope of fantasy and temporary change is the potential for reality and a new and intentional regard for one’s workplace environment. If you don’t love how your business currently functions perhaps it’s less about policy and more about people? Perhaps it’s about words, actions, standards and less about rhetoric, far off company values and bloated ideals that float well above the ground of what is real.
Perhaps it’s about the space between. The distance from what we say and what we actually do. The chasm allowed between communicated standards and what actually occurs between the 4 walls. I gave a brief breakdown of this study to leaders within my industry the other day and I’m not entirely sure how much of it was actually understood. Not due to the complexity of it but mostly due to how I may have positioned it in front of them. The concepts here are easy to understand but far more difficult to take underhand. How do you begin? How do you create the necessary change in a sustained way that brings transformation?
You look to the space between. The space that exists between where you’re at and where you want to be. In that space is potential, is possibilities. How do you create change in a practical way?
Well from my experience you start then you speak and without hesitation, pushing through any and all hindrances you hold the standards of the reality you want to see for not just today but for tomorrow. All environments are tied back to a voice, possibly (preferably)your voice but if not yours then another voice none the less, words that fill a room and either build it up or break it down. Yet not just voices but actions — actions that are linked to words that originated out of a vision. Now all of this seems rather simple and in practice it largely is but as it is with most things it’s the ability to repeat a behavior time and time again that proves most difficult.
The challenge comes inside the chasm, in the space between, from what is uncomfortable yet convenient versus what is desirable yet inconvenient. If creating the environment that could house your dreams was that easy, you would simply wake up and do it tomorrow (who wouldn’t?) The elderly men were immersed in a fountain of youth but not without a highly constructed, controlled environment that eliminated any hints of who they were today by enforcing an era upon them that had their brains thinking young and their bodies following suit.
We do not have the luxury in our homes, in our marriages or in this case of talking about workplace environments to paint a picture that is solely focused on how we want it to be while navigating the realities of life that often fly in the face of those pressing dreams. Stages work in film where a director can yell “Cut” but not in a world governed by time clocks and not timestamps. Frankly, to ignore would be reckless, to pretend would leave anyone disillusioned and ultimately defeated. Yet to create the change you want to see, to cultivate an environment that is conducive to the vision you desire is not just a noble feat but an achievable one.
Though messy, recognizing what does not line up then adjusting to what must is not just key, it’s critical. Solution based thinking must reign even if the solutions are temporary as the environment adjusts to the vision, as you start, as you speak and as standards are held. Eventually things shift, they turn and what you’ve been aspiring to obtain becomes not a dream but a reality if only you’re honest in the space between and you occupy it with starting, speaking and standards — don’t resist, don’t let go and don’t allow your dreams to become disillusionment.