Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder

A book review by: Jennifer Quarrie
Buffalo State College

Vitamin N for Creativi-T:
Applying The Nature Principle to Creativity

How have you experienced nature in the last few days? If you’re like me, perhaps you sandwiched a quick run between the morning routine and hours of errands? Spent a few minutes watering the houseplants or lawn? Possibly something as decadent as sitting on the front porch for a few minutes, of course sorting through mail or thumbing through a magazine (ever productive!). We know this degree of outdoor time isn’t ideal, but is it really so important to hang with the mosquitos or risk a sunburn? Well, as it turns out, time with nature is extremely important for everything from your physical health and emotional wellness to your social investment and ability to focus. What’s more, most of the ways in which nature helps humans to thrive are also key elements to fostering creativity. 

While Richard Louv may have written his non-fiction book, The Nature Principle: Human Restoration and the End of Nature-Deficit Disorder, to share his conception of the role of nature in the lives of humans, he may not have realized that he also helped collect foundational research on ideal physical climates that foster creativity. There currently exists a critical gap in creativity research in the area of climate. The majority of creative climate research has been in the field of organizational climate aimed at enabling individuals to thrive creatively within varied social and institutional constraints; however, very little attention has been paid toward the impact of physical environment on creative work. That said, it is commonly accepted that we generally feel happier and more productive when snagging a window office or going outside in the middle of the workday. Many people report getting their best ideas when they are on a walk, exercising outdoors or on vacation in a natural setting. Anecdotally, we also know that some of the most creative people in history specifically relied on nature to enable their work, and some of our modern creativity tools, such as excursions outdoors, leverage time in nature to step back from a problem, introduce numerous unassociated stimuli and put our minds into a more receptive and open state.

Inspired by memories of a childhood growing up in nature and concerned by modern children’s predominantly indoor and increasingly digital lives, Louv coined the term nature-deficit disorder to mean “an atrophied awareness, a diminished ability to find meaning in the life that surrounds us, whatever form it takes.” He published Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder in 2008 to raise awareness around the growing distance between children and their most stimulating environment. 

Much like creativity, reconnecting with nature requires expanding awareness, gathering information and stimuli, realizing core values and priorities, placing oneself in new contexts, and letting go of assumptions. At its core, Louv’s nature principle asserts that “a reconnection to the natural world is fundamental to human health, well-being, spirit and survival.” He believes that the mind/body/nature connection, also called Vitamin N (for nature), will not only enhance physical and mental health but will also help lead to a more “high-performance human [who] will conserve and create natural habitat,” and with it, new economic potential. Louv embraces technology and its benefits but recommends using nature to balance it, thus increasing “our intelligence, creative thinking, and productivity, giving birth to the hybrid mind.” This holistic approach mirrors some of the primary tenants of creativity - inclusion of disparate elements, finding new ways elements may combine, and consciously building our future through awareness and deliberate work - that will leverage human/nature capital to “enrich and redefine community to include all living things.”

Fostering Creativity
I found Louv’s research incredibly inspiring at both a human and intellectual level. Something resonates deeply when discussing our innate draw to nature - it makes sense intuitively. Yet the science is strong as well. While the majority of the research can only be categorized as correlative rather than causal, the link between time in nature and varied aspects of wellness is undeniable. At minimum, nature is a force multiplier in the greater equation of thriving. The potential for further research to examine these strong correlations between nature and wellness, as well as the specific relationship between nature and creativity, is alluring. While the book is more of a research volume than a story, Louv shares the information in a very fluid and digestible way. Numerous studies cited throughout The Nature Principle apply, but these primary themes embody the core of how nature may directly foster creativity:
  • Increasing memory and attention, increasing the likelihood of striving for quantity in ideation and pushing past obvious solutions
  • Enhancing physical well-being (through exposure to sunlight, microbes, etc.), thus ensuring we have the resources to solve problems
  • Nurturing social bonds, therein increasing chances for collaboration, exposure to diverse mindsets, inclusive and generous behavior, empathic listening and deferral of judgment
  • Increasing psychological well-being, and thus people’s willingness to solve problems and implement solutions
  • Prompting flow while embedded in ecological time vice mechanical time and connected to greater biorhythms
  • Honing our senses, possibly leading to increased awareness, information collection and emotional intelligence
  • Lending perspective when faced with challenges, reminding us that everything is constantly changing, many problems are smaller than we think compared to the larger world and thus may seem more solvable, nature finds a way and so can we, and that we are part of something greater than ourselves

While The Nature Principle is not dedicated to creativity, it holds important implications for the field and provides a vast set of starting points for further research specific to creativity through neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, medicine, design, art and architecture. It also brings the reader to a new point of awareness about the benefits that come from time in nature and creating that which we love and find most fulfilling - why are we watching Treehouse Masters when we could climb a tree or build our own castle in the clouds?


Louv, R. (2012). The nature principle: Human restoration and the end of nature-deficit disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

About the Jennifer Quarrie:  
Jennifer Quarrie is an innovation strategy and change leadership expert for Booz, Allen & Hamilton, where she also leads strategic communication initiatives, facilitates entrepreneur/startup partnerships, and pioneers crowdsourcing approaches.  She combines her expertise in creativity and background in cognitive neuroscience to teach metacognitive courses including creative problem solving, critical thinking, cognitive bias, interdisciplinary thinking, mindset and leadership development.  Ms. Quarrie holds a graduate certificate in Creativity and Change Leadership from the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State and is a current candidate for a Masters of Science in Creativity Studies.  Her creativity focus areas include wellness, physical climate, empathic listening, neuroscience, consciousness, intuition, inspiration and quantum mechanics.

The Nature Principle on Amazon

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