When in Doubt, Head to the Park: Five Lessons Learned About Communications by Spending Time in Nature

Among my favorite Albert Einstein quotes is one about nature that goes like this, “Look deep into nature and you will understand everything better.” Succinct. To the point. And on the money.

We learn so much about ourselves and the world we live in by studying the world around us. From weather patterns to photosynthesis, understanding nature is integral to our survival. There also is evidence that spending time outside makes us happier, healthier and significantly less stressed, with the benefits having a lasting effect well beyond the time we spend outside. Having grown up surrounded by a lot of green grass with the ocean not far away, I literally crave being outdoors – somewhere that reminds me I am but a small part of a much bigger world.

So with last year’s 365 photo challenge behind me, one of my commitments for this year was to take photographs while spending time in Central Park. I randomly picked three spots to snap photos every weekend I was in town. I had fun taking quick iPhone shots and even though they didn’t come out looking like Ansell Adams, Imogen Cunningham or Sebastiao Salgado, the time in nature, well that was irreplaceable.

I had no expectations on what I might learn or the benefits I would get but, as luck would have it, there was plenty of both. To start, I noticed that there were striking parallels between nature and communication, which is what led me to share my thoughts. If I had to sum it up, in nature, everything is interdependent and works together to bring beauty in the world. I’d like to believe the same is true of good communications.

Here are my lessons from my time in the park…

1. Adapting is key. There are plenty of ways that nature adapts to its surroundings in order to survive and it is magical to observe. But I didn’t expect to learn a communication lesson by the sudden appearance of a construction zone in the park. Seems the path on which I was photographing two of my spots was closed down in early fall for some needed repairs, making it impossible to continue. Rather than stopping me in my tracks, I realized it offered me the opportunity to singularly focus my attention on the one spot that remained and see how creative I could be within the limitations set. It also reminded me that if you are simply committed to sticking to the plan, you may miss a bigger opportunity.

2. Adopt both a panoramic and binocular mentality. View the world with eyes that take in your surroundings yet stay laser focused. Practicing this allowed me to see the subtle and dramatic changes taking place from the leaves slowly appearing to the shifting position of the sun. Before, if I had been asked, I might have believed the leaves on trees kept growing during the summer, but now I realize that they really are at their height in June and after that begin to shrink due to the heat of summer. This simple discovery reminds me that we need to develop both the big picture message and add compelling details to support it.

3. Variety and Consistency Co-exist. As humans we tend to get bored when we do the same thing over and over, but I never once got bored with my regular trip to the park, instead I looked forward to it. Whether early morning or dusk, with someone or not, I searched for the variety in the familiar – the shape of the clouds, the color of the leaves, the unexpected sunny day in between the grey, the people who surrounded me – and was energized by it all. I try to bring this awareness into my work, especially when doing a regular communication, and find a way to make it fresh.

4. Claim your moment. Photographer Henri Cartier Bresson is known for creating something called the decisive moment. That perfect moment where it all comes together. I certainly did not achieve that level of perfection but by positioning myself in the same place, I was able to capture the coexistence of nature and humanity – from the lone runner out on a sunny winter day to the lone person walking with an umbrella on a grey one to the crowds out on the first spring day. Similarly, being prepared and then seizing opportunities as they arise is what creates decisive moments that engage audiences.

5. Cycles. Everything happens in cycles or as a friend of mine would say, the world is circular it all comes around again. Even though winter hasn’t yet officially begun I am reminded by an early December snow that winter is heading our way again providing a chance to hibernate and renew ourselves for the cycle to begin all over again. And equally as I enter the new year, I look forward to finding new ways to take similar moments and be the best communicator I can be.

I doubt that these observations are what Einstein had in mind when he wrote his quote but I will say I gained a greater understanding of me and my role as a communicator by spending more time in nature this year.  And who knows, maybe I am also just a little less stressed and a little more in tune with the world around me.