The Byrne Blog

John Byrne Communicating About Communications

Make some noise to be creative

To borrow on an old saying:  Everyone talks about creativity, but no one does anything about it.  And let’s face it, being creative is a challenge in today’s world of never-ending, mostly pointless distractions.

I will leave to another upcoming blog post my numerous tips for sparking creativity, but I feel compelled to share at least one for now, and it’s a biggie:  Never try to create in silence.  You need some noise.  Not a lot of noise, though.  Definitely less than a rock concert, but more than a string quartet.  In fact, it shouldn’t probably be music at all, apparently (more on that in a minute).  You need to hear a buzz, preferably of people talking.  Think moderately busy coffee shop in the morning, actually.

In fact, that’s what the folks at Coffitivity are recreating with their nifty little app.  I stumbled across it a few days ago, and I’m in love with it.  They say its “morning murmur” of coffee shop sounds will boost your creativity.  Well, jury’s still out on that for me, but they do cite research to support their claim.  In a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Consumer Research (Univ. of Chicago Press), researchers concluded that “ambient noise, an incidental environmental cue, is an important antecedent of creative cognition. A moderate level of noise not only enhances creative production but also leads to greater adoption of innovative products.”

Once more, in English:  Some noise helps you be more creative.  And not just any noise, either, but what I will call social noise:  “Our findings imply that instead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment (such as a café) may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.”  Soothing music won’t help your creativity, they found, although it may help your productivity in accomplishing mostly non-creative tasks (like maybe accounting?).  Listening to music doesn’t stimulate the creative part of your brain, apparently.

Noise may also create a sense of creative urgency, apparently.  The Times of London, owned by Rupert Murdoch (boo, hiss), has started piping in the sounds of clattering manual typewriters into its newsroom.  It’s all in a bit of fun, supposedly, and reporters are “bemused” by it.  But I wonder if there’s something more to it.

Being in the creative biz (writing and marketing and communications, that is), I have found that silence is deadly.  To creativity — and a lot of other things.  At my old day job, I used to enjoy one of my offices that had the marketing team clustered down one hallway where we could hear each other talking on the phone, or to each other, or the clatter of the mail cart, phones ringing.  Office doors were open and a ton of great work got done.  It reminded me of my early days working in a vast newsroom.  I dreaded going to another one of my offices mostly because it felt like a library: office doors closed, hushed conversations (if any at all) and you felt like you were disturbing people if you made a sound greater than a pin dropping.  Awful.  And it was hard to get work done.

Now, working mostly alone, it’s easy to be swallowed up by silence.  This Coffitivity app (and I’m sure there are others like it — leave them in the comments, if you like) is a godsend.  If you’re a creative type, give it try.  And perhaps if you’re not the creative type, you should definitely give it a try!  Yes, it’s a bit of a Potemkin Cafe, if you will, but I don’t care.  I actually feel more energetic from the noise, and I’m hoping it’s feeding my creativity.

But I do find I’m drinking more hot beverages during the day…

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