Do you want to inspire creativity and innovation in yourself and your team? Throw out the beanbag chairs, colored markers and whiteboard, and try these three oddball ideas, backed by scientific research.
1. Problem-solve when you’re drowsy
If you’re trying to think creatively about a big problem, the best time to do it is when you’re fresh, energetic and alert, right? Wrong, according to a research study that said people do better problem-solving at "non-optimal" times. Mareike Wieth of Albion College and Rose Sacks of Michigan State University did the research.
The researchers asked students to solve different types of problems at various times of day, The Washington Post reports. When asked to solve insight-based problems that asked for creative thinking, the students who said they were morning people did better at night. Conversely, those who said they were night owls did better in the morning.
2. Bring on the noise
If you’ve been staring at the computer or pacing your office trying to come up with a new idea, maybe it’s time to head to the local Starbucks. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research details how noise levels affect creativity.
Participants were asked to perform creative tasks, such as generating ideas or doing word association, in three environments: quiet, moderately noisy or loud (a construction site).
The participants in the moderately noisy environments (about 70 decibels, or similar to the noise level of a busy coffeehouse) had higher scores. They came up with answers that peers rated more creative.
3. Have a drink, or two
You know the stereotypical story about the startup founders who scrawl their million-dollar idea on a bar cocktail napkin? Turns out it’s a stereotype for a reason. A study published in Consciousness and Cognition studied how having a couple of drinks affected creativity.
A control group of participants stayed sober, while another group was given enough drinks to put their blood alcohol level just under the legal limit. Then, both groups were given a word-association test.
The participants who were tipsy got more answers right (58 percent, compared to 42 percent of the sober group). They also came up with their answers faster and more intuitively, frequently saying the right answer just “came to them.”
Overall, the study found that having a few drinks improved participants’ performance by 30 percent.
Cheers to creativity
These three environments might appear to have little in common, but researchers in all three experiments came to similar conclusions.
When the mind is focused, it’s better able to ignore irrelevant information. But when you’re trying to be creative, sometimes that “irrelevant” information is exactly what you need.
Anything that distracts your attention or breaks your focus can inspire creativity by enabling you to see things from a new perspective. (It explains why you may sit through an unproductive brainstorming meeting, only to come up with a great idea the moment the group takes a break and you stop trying to be innovative.)
The bottom line is that if you’re trying to focus on a concrete task, like planning or accounting, do it when you’re wide awake, in a quiet place and sober. If creativity is what you're after, you might want to wait until you’re tired, then head to the local coffee shop or bar.
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