The place of memory

The place of memory

I was happily running my behavioral strategy consulting business in Phoenix Arizona when up popped a Linkedin message from a recruiter asking if I would be interested in a position that they were looking to fill. I had lived in Phoenix for 27 years and been running my own business for 19, so my initial response was “probably not but it doesn’t hurt to have a conversation”. Six weeks later I am living and working in San Diego California and loving my new association with Carrier Johnson + Culture. I am in charge of +Culture, perfect for me! There are so many interesting things about this journey that I am sure it will be blog inspiration for quite a while but the first topic is a look at the way memory and habit are tied to place.

Although I spent most of my life on the East Coast and in the South, my father grew up in San Diego. When I announced to the extended family that I had moved to San Diego, his brother (my uncle) sent me a story about the Spruce/Front Street pedestrian bridge. When they were young they found some really long ropes and would tie them to the middle of the bridge and swing out over the canyon. I mentioned to my dad that his brother had sent me stories and before I could go into detail, my dad blurted out “I bet it was about the rope and the bridge”. Apparently this was a significant memory for both of them!

There is a great Heidegger quote I would like to insert here but my books are all still in boxes and I can’t find it online so here it goes from memory…..’there is a stream which has many potential crossing points, any one of which is only part of the stream until we choose to put a bridge there. It is only by virtue of the deliberate choice to create a bridge at that specific point that it becomes a place. The place does not exist before the creation of the bridge.’ I have said it all wrong but Heidegger’s point is that we create “place” by the deliberate assembly of objects in the natural world. Then the extension as demonstrated by my father, uncle, and numerous research studies, is that those created places bring up those memories, thereby suggesting associated activities and behaviors and encouraging the habit of continuation of those activities and behaviors. Those behaviors become memory and the physical place becomes the permanent repositories for those memories.

The significant take away for business is to realize the power of the physical environment to encourage or discourage behavior, to create the culture you need or the one that you don’t, to build memories that help attract and retain the right people for the business strategy or to drive those people away. Moving is highly stressful and interjects a significant amount of turbulence into the business, but it is also a real opportunity to go back to your core values and decide who you want to be, how you want to live, what you want your business to do. Quite often businesses miss this opportunity, jumping right into hiring a broker or architect when the real starting point is re-examination of value proposition, brand, and talent strategy. For businesses that do it the way it has always been done, what an enormous missed opportunity to re-launch from a better place!

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence; it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Peter Drucker