A Sense of Place


Years ago, I recall a devout Christian describing her experience in the Holy Land, where she touched the stone on which the body of Jesus reputedly had been placed. She described getting dizzy and weak in the knees from the contact. I don’t doubt that she was indeed deeply affected by touching the relic, although I suppose that the physical sensation she experienced was due to her beliefs about the significance of the stone rather than some kind of miraculous or paranormal happening.

We all tend to do the same thing, to varying degrees, when we come in contact with places or objects of great personal or historic significance. If I handed you an old brick, you might be rather non-plussed. If the director of Mount Vernon opened a velvet-lined walnut box and handed you a brick, telling you that it had sat on George Washington’s desk as a paperweight for 20 years, you might be more affected. Holding an object so intimately associated with the founder of our country would, for many people, be a moving experience. Once again, though, our experience is shaped by our belief about the object rather than some intrinsic power of that object.

When we choose a place for our business or to live, a sense of place and history is often neglected despite the considerable impact they can have on us emotionally. Whether it is as simple as a historic home or as elaborate as Chicago’s Tribune Tower, being in a location with a sense of history can profoundly affect our mood and that of the people with whom we interact. (The Tribune Tower is a great example of a place of business that embodies history – itself the product of an architectural competition in 1922 intended to produce “the most beautiful office building in the world,” the building gained immediate historical substance by studding the base of the building with “over 120 stones from famed sites and structures in all 50 states and dozens of foreign countries. They range from the Parthenon (Greece) and Taj Mahal (India) to Bunker Hill (Massachusetts) and Mark Twain’s ‘Injun Joe Cave’ (Missouri).”

Does your place of business have a story to tell? What about an object in it? Do you think you’d be more creative if you sat down behind Albert Einstein’s desk every day? Or wrote your daily plan of action using Andrew Carnegie’s fountain pen? (Sorry, I don’t think you’ll find either of those on eBay.) And what about your customers – do they perceive your business as a manufactured environment, or one that comes with historic substance?

1 Comment
  1. Scott says

    Or is the better question – How do you create something historic out of your business? Having a historical connection can give you immediate credibility but it can also bring baggage with it.

    Use Carnegie’s pen or use his ideas? Einstein’s desk or his viewpoint on the universe? Which is more powerful.

    Connect with something historic? Or connect with our customers by being real.

    We can focus on our connections to the past or focus our efforts on creating history.

    I would prefer to be the next Andrew Carnegie than to write with his pen 🙂


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