2012-03-14

Co.Exist

Why Ditching The Office Could Help You Be More Creative

The quiet, workman-like atmosphere of your office is actually not making your brain work as hard as it could. A little noise can go a long way toward getting you better ideas.

Researchers have shown that a flexible schedule helps employees be healthier, happier, and more productive. If your boss still isn’t convinced that you should work wherever you want, here’s some more evidence to bolster your case: A study in the Journal of Consumer Research says that working in coffee shops and other moderately noisy places boosts creativity.

The University of British Columbia researchers involved in the study asked over 300 participants to work on creative tasks—thinking of all the possible uses for a brick, imagining how a mattress company could make its product better, playing word association games—in nearly silent, moderately loud (70 decibels, or about what you would expect in a coffee shop), and very loud environments.

Not only did the participants in the moderately loud environment do better on the creativity tests, they also were hailed as being more creative by their peers. These participants also did better on word association tests.

The researchers explain in the paper: "A high level of noise may cause a great deal of distraction, causing individuals to process information to a lesser extent and therefore to exhibit lower creativity. A moderate (vs. low) level of noise, however, is expected to distract people without significantly affecting the extent of processing. Further, we reason that such a moderate distraction, which induces processing difficulty, enhances creativity by prompting abstract thinking."

There are downsides to working in coffee shops. That moderately loud noise level isn’t ideal for making business calls, the wireless networks are often unreliable, and outlets can be scarce, especially in telecommuter-heavy cities where every coffee shop is packed to capacity by 9 a.m.

Coworking spaces are a happy medium for many people. They’re often a bit noisier than the average office but still offer all the amenities necessary for a productive day of work. But if you’re just in need of a brainstorming session, the local coffee shop is probably the best—and cheapest—place to go.

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26 Comments

  • Douglas Eby

    Another aspect of work situations and creative productivity is personality, including traits such as high sensitivity and introversion. For example, Susan Cain (author of "Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking") commented in a New York Times article: "Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist." - From my post To Be More Creative, Be An Introvert  http://blogs.psychcentral.com/...

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  • Samuel Hight

    I wonder what the implications are for education...  How should our learning environments be structured to promote the creativity and innovation that we so desperately need?  Classrooms that are more like coffee shops?  I'd love to teach there!

  • Alicia Soret

    Samuel, I used to teach high school (9th grade geography) and whenever my kids were working on stuff individually, I would always let them listen to music quietly. I know that I personally work and focus better when I have music on, or am in an environment like what the author described. I LOVE that sort of environment for working! So I had a feeling that my students (who, at the time, were only about 10 years younger than me) would probably feel and work the same or similarly to me. The older teachers, those who had a more old-school mindset, were so against music and distractions and headphones, that their classes became such a stale, sterile environment which the kids couldn't WAIT to get out of. My class became the cool, fun, and productive class because I let them learn in their own ways, and respected that they all had different learning styles, as well. :)

  • Laurie Tema-Lyn

    Love it! and that's why the music is on in my home office, the dog is welcome, even when he barks at the birds and squirrels that he sees through the open windows.It's the right combination of country quiet and comfortably noisy.

  • Rob C

    Taking it a step further, when I worked for PR firm we would have meetings in open spaces, go for walks in natural surroundings, or other "non-traditional" settings as time and environment allowed. The best ideas got generated not sitting around a table, but when you had blood flowing to your brain--standing, moving, or surrounded by color, light, and fresh air.

    Sitting in a conference room with white walls, beige carpet, and dark suits do not creativity inspire.

  • Marie Wallace

    Interesting research that definitely supports my personal experiences, an airport is my noisy environment of choice. But I also find something else happens in a noisy environment - not only do I start thinking more abstractly but sometimes I find that I get into a deeper zone of concentration. Maybe because I have to block out external factors I get more "into the zone".

  • nosybear

    Okay, the moderately noisy environment may boost creativity in extroverts but how about us on the other side of the scale?  Recreating a coffee shop environment in my workspace would drive me absolutely berserk as my internally focused brain attempted to deal with all those external distractions extroverts love.  So how about this:  A central space where people can meet, chat, drink coffee, interact and do all the things extroverts love with some quiet spaces surrounding it where we introverts can go and be at home with our internal selves?  There's no one solution for all people so by taking differing styles into account, we can actually make everyone more productive.

    By the way, a cube farm is the worst of all possible environments - walls for the extroverts and noise for the introverts.

  • Candace Nicholson

    I agree with you, nosybear. As a matter of fact, I find this whole study to be complete balls. When I need to be creative and hammer out an freelance article or blog post, noise is my enemy. And no study in the world is going to trump my own empirical evidence.

    When I go to coffeeshops with my laptop, I'm doing minor touch-ups or social media marketing. It's fine for doing rudimentary tasks that don't take any true creativity at all. But if I have to write, coffeeshops are the worst. Studies like this is just another sad attempt to try and force introverts to be more like extroverts no matter how often we say "This does not work for me."

  • Yvonnewrites

    I am an INFP--an introvert, and though I enjoy silence at home, I very much prefer the hum of activity in a coffee shop when I'm writing. I'm not participating in the activities around me, which would be an extravert thing to do, but I do find them stimulating. I simply write better and am indeed more creative with that hum. 

  • Luciana Botner Vieira

    Here goes an idea. Why not Recreating the coffee shop environment inside our working space?
    Within the office space.

  • LouisMaalouf

    My children knew this a decade ago, I am just catching on as I head into the ranks of seniors.

  • Brett McArdle

    So true. I find that a nearly silent office stifles my thoughts and even makes me drowsy. Give me some noise, some chaos, the sounds of activity. That gets my neurons firing. Pair that with some caffeine and away we go.