By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Most workplaces are thick with conversations, ringing phones, loud steps, enough stress to shatter glass and usually an imperative to do more and do it with less.
Lauren Abel of Abel Associates and Creative Consortium shows feng shui elements: chimes in the corner, silk flowers and black furniture to promote success.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/MELISSA HEATHERLY
But an ancient Chinese art of object placement, known to proponents as feng shui, suggests that far more is going on in our office and factory spaces than drudgery and despair.
According to this way of thinking, the thoughtful placement of inanimate objects can bring peace to the workplace (or any place) by shaping and directing a mystical force that caresses us all - our jobs, our bank accounts, our clients, customers, employees and bosses.
Proponents of feng shui believe people can harness a universal energy field called chi to relieve stress and brighten a company or individual's future.
Once a doubter, Paul Pearson, a 45-year-old Villa Hills resident, became a convert to feng shui a few years ago when a prospective venture partner told Pearson that Pearson's firm, the Laurel Design Co., was losing money.
The man, a feng shui master, said he knew of the red ink because of what he said was poor flow of energy at Pearson's former three-story house in Newport.
"He said he could tell that a lot of money had been going out of my company and that some things needed to be done pretty quickly," Pearson said.
"He recommended that I black out all light from the main door, which was at the bottom of a staircase. All of the energy in the house was coming down the staircase and going out my front door."
As surely as the wind blows, say proponents of feng shui, placement of accessories will redirect bad energy, contain good energy, and bring prosperity and health.
Here are some fast feng shui approaches:
Represent five natural elements in your workplace decor and accessories: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Have pictures, knick-knacks or the actual elements on hand.
Natural is not necessarily good. At the receptionist's desk, a cactus instead of an orchid, for instance, would bring prickly or thorny energy - not a good impression for guests.
A corporate logo should be lit, preferably in golden light, and doors should swing inward - symbolizing the flow of ideas inwards.
Chief financial officers and others involved in finance or corporate decision-making should have offices to the rear of a building.
Marketing people should have desks or offices closer to the entry because that's closer to the public.
You can't have too many red fobs hanging on door knobs, mobiles, crystals near stairways or wind chimes hanging on the inside of doors. The tassels reduce any potential conflict in the dynamic of the room and attract good energy.
Pearson blacked out the door, "and I stopped losing money."
Laurel Design, which sells candy and gifts to major department stores, is just one corporate example of a growing feng shui movement in the region and the nation.
Increasingly, real estate agents, executives and workers are hanging crystals and at the same time wondering: can a mobile, a brass dragon or a painting bring revenue and a competitive edge?
"Clearly, our business in feng shui consultations is increasing," said Dawn Schwartzman, chief imagination officer for Forest Park-based Interior Services Inc., a corporate interior design firm that provides products and services for business, education, health care and retail companies.
Schwartzman charts the growing popularity of feng shui by the increase in sales at their feng shui annex, 1360 Kemper Meadow Drive, Forest Park, of traditional feng shui cures including Mandarin ducks for romance, turtles for protection, a brass three-legged frog for prosperity and the Three Immortals for health and happiness.
Her three-hour feng shui seminars each quarter are routinely sold out and have up to 75 real estate agents enrolled.
"Either Western customers are becoming very literate or they have Eastern clients who are looking for everything from a house with a particular number to a house facing a certain direction," Schwartzman said.
Feng shui 'makes sense'
Sharon Mann, organizational expert for Esselte Corp., a Stanford, Conn.-based maker of office supplies, which employs 6,000 people worldwide in 26 countries and has annual sales of $1 billion, said many workers are drawn to feng shui because the principles "make sense."
"If you brought up the topic of feng shui a few years ago, people looked at you like you were crazy," Mann said. "But people understand it today, and they understand that there are things they can do to have a flow in their life."
Lauren Abel, chief executive of Abel Associates and Creative Consortium in Burlington, Ky., says her home-based marketing communications firm flourished after a feng shui makeover about six years ago.
"There are people who tell you knowledge is power," Abel said. "Anything you can do to make yourself more productive and more comfortable in your corporate life and personal life, well, that is a good thing."
Abel has not simply hung red tassels on everything in sight.
She has a Ba-Gua Map of her office - a feng shui chart that identifies key power zones in the room for success, career, wealth, partnerships and personal journey.
In each area Abel has placed a symbol, perhaps a Luna ornament designed by Edward Casagrande or silk flowers in key colors of pink, purple and red.
The decorative gestures stir up goodwill, good vibes and good money, Abel said.
"I do know I have more comfort in my house - whether mental or real - since I've had it done," she said.
"My business has skyrocketed, and that good fortune has come while other agencies suffered or closed. My business thrived. Was it feng shui? I don't know."
Courtesy can be beneficial
Frank D. Chaiken, partner at Thompson Hine, is not convinced that feng shui actually works in our physical world, but he knows his belief does not really matter.
He sees it this way: a few billion people half a globe away from the Ohio River believe it does work, and their mental state of mind is what counts - particularly for a company that hopes to sell them products or services.
In other words, ignore feng shui in China at your peril.
"It's a matter of cultural literacy," Chaiken said. "Some clients conclude that to make a strong, positive connection you need to adapt to local customs and practices, which are well-known, recognized and highly valued.
"For those reasons alone, it's important to incorporate feng shui into the design of offices, factories or any other place where you'll be interacting in China, and if it really works, well, where's the downside?"
Just as the lack of an office element or component - say no corporate logo at a company entrance - might create a sense of unease with a potential client in America, so, too, an absence of feng shui principals in office decor may turn off a potential customer in China.
Others make a stronger - though anecdotal - case for feng shui.
A few years ago, Cincinnati theme park builder Dennis L. Speigel, president of Cincinnati Theme Park Services, traveled to Asia to advise a client on how to end losses at a Beijing amusement park.
While working on the account for the client - who was also a feng shui proponent - Speigel followed the fortunes of a Singapore hotel. Operator after operator struggled and failed.
"It was a wonderful place, a great structure and a good location, but it just didn't work," Speigel said.
Finally, a new owner brought in a feng shui master, who changed the entrance and made other modifications. Within months, it was the leading hotel in the city.
Today, Speigel has no doubt about the merits of feng shui.
"I will tell you this, I have been in offices of major Asian chief executives where absolutely they've had this done in all their buildings," Speigel said. In one office, he was dawdling with doo-dads on one executive's desk. Finally, the executive reached out and politely asked him to stop.
Each item had a feng shui purpose, and had in fact been placed there by a feng shui master in a deliberative way, and the executive didn't want him to ruin its power.
Said Speigel: "There are things out there that we simply don't know and understand."
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