Rich experiences for the izzy+ team in Nicaragua

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Editor’s note: The following is a post from Brandon Reame, izzy+’s Market Development Strategist. Brandon is leading our second annual “giving back through design” trip to Nicaragua, November 8-13, 2013. The designers on the trip with him won the opportunity during the 2013 Valentine’s Day promotion. Look for another post about the trip soon, and read about last year’s inaugural trip here!

Many people join a company to do a job. One of the things that’s exciting about izzy+,  is that our employees and collaborators are interested in more than just a job. They’re eager to make a difference, both within the company as well as the outside world.

During the next few days, Melissa Huff (from our Chicago team) and I, along with the help of Grand Valley State University, have the pleasure of hosting six interior designers from around the country as we work together to improve elementary schools in one of the poorest corners of the world.

We are in Ometepe, Nicaragua, a pair of volcanic islands found in the heart of freshwater Lake Nicaragua. Ometepe is the largest volcanic island inside a fresh water lake in the world. Additionally, Lake Nicaragua is the 19th largest freshwater lake in the world, and 9th largest within the Americas. The climate is tropical, and several varieties of monkeys are found throughout the area.

During our flight, I asked our participants what they are most excited about. Here’s what they said:

“I am really looking forward to being inspired and helping people through design.” Eda Muco, Dyer Brown Architects, Boston

“I can’t wait to experience a new culture and have the opportunity to work on such a unique project!” Katie McCarthy, Perkins+Will, Minneapolis

“To be able to make a difference in one school that could turn into so much more is a legacy I wish everyone could experience. I am grateful for izzy+ for allowing me to be a part of this wonderful opportunity with a great group of people.”  Carrie Estock, Little Diversified, Charlotte

“I’m looking forward to experiencing a brand new culture and having the opportunity to share the joy of design with people across the globe—working hands on with them, in their environment.” Will Jenkins, HOK, New York City

“I’m most excited about how this trip will empower others, as well as myself, to continue to help people in need. Not only do we need to use our resources at hand, but we also need to provide new resources for the overlooked.” Justin Martinez, OZ, Denver

“I am excited about another opportunity to work with talented young people on a project that thinks about and does something for education and children. It gives me energy and motivation. And to do it all in a culture and surroundings that are so very different than the US is most stimulating. I’m excited that younger people show an interest in other cultures and in wanting to contribute in helping others less fortunate.” Waltraud, GVSU/AGII, Holland

“I’m excited about new ideas, new puzzles, and new ways of viewing the world learned from new friends in two languages. This is a dream to work on projects that impact educational change from the formative years. The can-do spirit of izzy+ is always exciting to be around. Thank you Chuck [Saylor] and all at izzy+ who help!” Dr. Lane, GVSU/AGII, Holland

“I am most excited about this trip offering me the opportunity to experience a culture and place of the world I have never been, and more importantly, to make a positive impact on a community of people. To be able to put our knowledge and creativity to use to bring learning and socialization tools to children is definitely the most rewarding part of this trip. I’m truly grateful to izzy+ for taking this on and believing that people matter most.” Melissa Huff, izzy+, Chicago

It’s always fun exploring a new country and culture, especially with a new group of travel companions and collaborators. While on paper the country can be described as poor, the opportunity to live and work side by side with the local Nicaraguans is a very rich experience. This beautiful country is rich in culture, history, and its people are dedicated to improving the lives of their future generations through education.

We will be sending updates throughout the trip via izzy+ social media. Be sure to add, like, bookmark, and follow us on Twitter and Facebook!

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Distance makes the mind grow broader

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Photo by lindyi

It’s summer—the time of year most synonymous with travel. As soon as the weather begins warming up, we start feeling that itch to get away. Travel is something most of us crave so much that we set aside precious time and money for it, and we often enjoy the planning and anticipation almost as much as journey itself.

There are obvious, almost universal benefits of travel, like the freedom of leaving our inbox, yard work, and the daily grind behind. Other benefits are more personal, depending on whether we’re seeking relaxation or adventure, natural beauty or urban stimulation, a complete change of scene or a chance to revisit a family tradition.

But no matter what kind of getaway you prefer, scientists confirm what people have innately known for hundreds of years: The psychological benefits of setting out for a new destination are multiple and impactful. In fact, “getting away” is essential to effective thinking—it actually opens up neuropathways in the brain, because it puts distance between us and all the problems that feel “close” when we’re at work and home.

When we get geographic distance from our own problems + feel more relaxed due to being on vacation, we’re more likely to see new ways of dealing with problems at home,” writes Psychology Today reporter Alice Boyes in “5 Reasons Why Travel is Good For You: The Positive Psychology of Travel.”

Yep. The first benefit of travel, according to Boyes, is that “Geographic distance leads to improved problem solving” that’s “more creative and expansive.” Brandon Reame, Market Development Strategist at izzy+, has seen that happen first hand—not just as a result of his own travels, but also when he led a group of interior designers on an izzy+ trip to Nicaragua last fall.

“There’s something about a change of scene that gives you a different perspective,” says Reame. “It’s almost like at home you’ve been stuck attacking problems from the same angle, over and over again, and as soon as you get away you can see the whole situation differently. I loved watching how being in Nicaragua opened up the minds of the designers we took on our trip.”

Joy Eling, izzy+ Product and Brand Manager, agrees: Travel is inspiring—even when it’s just a family vacation to the beach.

“What I love most about travel is stepping outside the norm of daily life, and the flexibility and experiences that come with it,” says Eling. “That comes from creating my own schedule, which is usually no schedule at all, and being able to explore new places and experiences. It all helps me feel relaxed and inspired.”

In the “5 Reason Why Travel is Good for You” article, Boyes shares four other key benefits of travel: being more open to new experiences, which builds new skills to take home with us; developing a more expanded sense of self and what we’re capable of; being able to fully relax (a given benefit!); and returning home with more curiosity and a broader sense of meaning in life.

Reame adds another benefit: Travel impacts how we see others, which in turn impacts our ability to be Better Together.

“There are really great people everywhere in this world, from Abu Dhabi, to Cologne, to Birmingham. Traveling has allowed me meet and form great relationships in many corners of the country and world,” Reame says. “Getting out of the office is also the best way to really see what other people are dealing with. It’s hard to create a relevant brand without spending time out in the world.”

While all those benefits of travel sound wonderful, the reality is that we have to stay home and take care of business before we can afford the time and money travel requires. So does that mean our problem-solving, creativity, and relationships are destined to remain stuck when we’re stuck in the office?

Not necessarily. Especially if you’re in an environment that’s been designed with multiple “inspired destinations”—places that compel you to get away from your desk, interact with different people, and enjoy a change of scene. The impact won’t be as powerful as traveling with izzy+ to Nicaragua or Norway, but even these mini “getaways” can do you plenty of good (and you don’t have to worry about airport delays!). We’ll explore how in Part II of this blog series, as well as in our NeoCon 2013 showroom. (Now there’s an inspired destination—hope to see you there!)

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The group of designers that traveled to Nicaragua with izzy+ in November 2012.

Two companies learning & growing together, across the miles

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What does dog sledding have to do with seating ergonomics?

Or what does a manufacturing plant have in common with a herd of reindeer?

And why would two furniture companies based more than 4,000 miles apart decide that a partnership is a great idea?

For more than eight years, izzy+ has been making treks to visit the Norwegian side of its family and uncover answers to those questions and more, firsthand.

Most recently, in March, it was a group of 11 izzy+ sales representatives who traveled to Norway, where HAG has been based since it began designing and making workplace seating in 1943. izzy+ founder Chuck Saylor met HAG leaders in early 2004, when izzy+ was just three years old, and the two companies announced alliance at NeoCon that June.

“The corporate culture and beliefs at izzy+ and HAG are so much alike,” says seating product manager Nick Fernandez, who has visited HAG twice since starting at izzy+ in 2012. “When you’re at HAG you hear the same types of stories, and see the same passion for the same things. It’s also laid back like izzy+—they don’t take themselves too seriously on a day-to-day basis, but they take what they do really seriously, just like izzy+ does.”

While the commonalities of the two companies sparked the partnership, it’s their differences that inspire such a vibrant collaboration—and make these regular treks to Norway so important—according to Rune Akselberg, a native of Norway and Vice President of Sales and Market Development at izzy+.

“The culture in Norway is quite different than in the U.S., especially when it comes to caring for the environment and general health and wellbeing,” says Akselberg. “It’s a much stronger lesson when you can experience it for yourself—when you see the elk and the reindeer drinking from the stream right outside the HAG plant, you understand that everything is connected. The choices a company makes have a broad impact, well outside its doors.”

The Norway trips, which include time in Oslo, where HAG is headquartered, and Roros, the small mountain village where HAG’s main plant is located, are all about learning through active participation in the culture, not passive observation.

For instance, at the Oslo Opera House, izzy+ groups see another type of Scandinavian design, experiencing how form, function, and people come together. When they visit a dog sled camp, they learn basic dog sledding techniques, then harness the dogs on sleds and go on a thrilling ride into the mountains. After dog sledding, the group convenes around a big fire in a teepee, where they eat, drink, and share stories—perfect object lessons in HAG’s focus on movement and izzy+’s Better Together philosophy.

“Dog sledding is an experience like no other, and it perfectly demonstrates the HAG philosophy around balance, movement, and the environment,” says Akselberg.

Laura Connell, who is based at the Chicago izzy+ showroom, says immersing yourself in Norwegian culture really makes a difference. She uses the word “profound” to describe her experience in Norway this past March.

“Norway is the healthiest country I’ve ever been to. The culture is all about balance and movement, and how our bodies are supposed to function,” says Connell. “Everything we did on the trip tied into something we were learning about HAG. At HAG they have a very holistic approach to everything—the environment, corporate responsibility, ergonomics, design—it’s all there in every chair. It was great to see it all in action, both in how they work and how they live.”

Seeing HAG’s beliefs in action has really stuck with Fernandez, who says, “No decisions are made randomly or by accident at HAG. Every decision is held up against their brand standards. It doesn’t matter how cool something is or how easy it would be to sell. If it’s not up to all their standards, they won’t make it.”

More than anything, Akselberg loves seeing groups of izzy+ travelers return home with stories to tell and a deeper, more passionate understanding of HAG, their Norwegian family.

“I think this relationship with HAG has played a huge role in how we understand and talk about important issues like the environment, and health and wellbeing at izzy+,” Akselberg says. “Learning together, experiencing something new together, is a really powerful experience. izzy+ and HAG have so much in common, but also so much to learn from each other because of our different perspectives and cultures.”

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Pictured at the top of the post is the izzy+ group that traveled to Norway in March (photo by Stacy Marcus). Below are photos of the izzy+ group preparing to go dog sledding; people congregating and walking on the new Oslo Opera House (both photos also by Stacy Marcus); and a recent outcome of the izzy+-HAG collaboration: HAG Capisco Puls seating, pictured with Dewey 6-Top tables.

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The power of inspiration: Beyond bad posters & sappy songs

Inspiration. It’s a word that can easily drift towards Cheeseville, thanks to bad “inspirational” posters featuring eagles flying into the sunset, and songs like that sappy 1984 hit by Chicago.

But the truth is, we not only love being inspired, we need it. Without inspiration, our dry moments would grow into deserts, and the walls we hit would become insurmountable. We can’t always keep the ideas flowing, the good moods soaring, and the creativity generated simply by reaching deeper inside ourselves. Sometimes we need to reach for inspiration beyond us.

Put simply, inspiration is something that moves your emotions or intellect. That movement can get us over a hump, shift us out of a rut, or just knock us off-balance enough to help us see things in a new way.

What inspires you? Or, to put it a different way, what do you do when you’re feeling uninspired and stuck? Do you seek out certain people, or maybe a different setting or activity?

Michael Smith, owner and lead at DesignVox in Grand Rapids, Michigan, doesn’t hesitate when asked what inspires him.

“I’ve got to have a certain amount of recreation and outdoor adventure in my life,” Smith says. “Being outside is a huge deal for me, as well as learning new things.”

Being on the move is a theme for Smith. He loves traveling to see new art, architecture and theater, and he tries to keep his design studio staff moving, too. Whenever he can, Smith makes plans for a team of designers from his studio to work together at his cottage near Lake Michigan. Once, the entire office even went to Chicago to visit museums, cook together and hang out.

“Getting a change of scene is an important part of staying inspired,” Smith says.

Even within the no-walls office space, people move around depending on their changing projects, teams, and other needs. Smith himself no longer has a designated desk in the office. It’s all about connecting people, opening communication, and keeping things fresh.

Allison Roon, an interior designer, adjunct professor and long-time izzy+ consultant, also relies on inspiration—and puts it into action—daily. In particular, travel, people, and great design inspire her in both her life and work.

“In order to be creative, you have to rejuvenate your creative juices,” Roon says. “Experiencing different settings and cultures is essential in having a larger wealth of design context to draw from. I love to explore bigger cities and hang out in social places with inspiring interiors. ”

That social piece is important to Roon and her work as an interior designer, whether she is traveling or at home in her usual setting and routine.

“Learning from others is always an important part of life,” Roon says. “And being a good life-long learner and listener is an essential part of being a good designer, because it’s all about listening to your client and learning from their perspective. To be a designer you need to be a people expert! Spaces are for people. Human-centric activities help me create better human-centered places.”

Some other izzy+ friends and employees shared with us what inspires them. We’d love to hear from you! Add your inspiration to the list, by leaving a comment!

– My team is comprised of a group of amazing, creative people, and my view from my desk is of a beautiful Michigan fall day. I’m inspired…and lucky. 🙂 – Laurel Pfister, E-marketing Specialist at izzy+ in Spring Lake, Michigan

– When I am able to forget myself, I recognize the ‘inspired’ work that has taken place.  – Gary Howe, an educator, photojournalist and social entrepreneur for public spaces in Traverse City, Michigan

– I’m inspired most by the open road, the kindness of strangers, good conversations, and the hope of tomorrow.  – Emilee Shake, Sales and Marketing Specialist for a print center in Champaign, Illinois

– My most compelling moments of muse often happen while traveling. The mixture of solitary instrospection, diverse people-watching, and the very concept of transit is incredibly rich.  – Melanie Kahl, K12 Education Knowledge Manager at Perkins+Will, Chicago

– izzy+ inspires me because I love my employees that work for me and love the company. I enjoy going into work and putting out good quality products that improve people’s lives.  – Brian Keeton, an izzy+ Production Facilitator at the Florence, Alabama plant