"It seems two very different behaviors optimize creative thinking for innovation processes...If we never rest, can’t focus, or don't work with each other, we miss out on finding new ideas and fail to execute them."
This new paper from Haworth gets at the brain science behind creativity and innovation. Though the terms are often used in close proximity or even interchangeably, they are completely different. Importantly, the kind of physical environment that supports one, is all wrong for the other.
- There's a sweet spot that's ‘just right’ for creativity to flourish. It's where distractions, stress, and emotions are not high enough to sabotage our ability to focus, but not so low that we’re bored.
- Innovation occurs when people create together. It requires both group focus and periods of socializing.
Serendipitous interactions—particularly among people with diverse backgrounds—fuel innovation, but ‘protected areas’ where teams can feel safe amongst themselves are important too.
A supportive work culture is equally, if not more important than the physical environment. People need to be psychologically empowered to move between spaces as they choose. They need to feel valued, appreciated, and supported by their colleagues and by leadership. They need to feel psychologically safe to stare out the window, take a walk, share what they know, offer a different point of view, or fail.
The best organisational cultures are tolerant of the loner, the thinker. - John Wade "If I was you," said a colleague recently "now would be a very good time to involve customers, to get more people involved". No, I thought, right now that would be the worst thing we could do. Collaboration can kill creativity.…
People do their best thinking in private, NOT in groups. Over 800 studies show this to be true. So why do we keep building open workplaces under the guise of increased Innovation?
When is collaboration useful?
- When dealing with complex problems that span a range of disciplines
- For getting buy-in
- When dealing with fundamental and/or strategic problems
When isn't it?
- You really need to think
- You need radical thinking
- When you need a quick solution
Filter bubbles are a problem for democracy. We believe they’re a problem for creativity, too.
From IDEO: Escape Your Filter Bubble and Enhance Your Creativity
- Talk to strangers - Bill Murray's recommends conversations with cab drivers
- Unfollow people like you - it will open your eyes to other perspectives
- Join a different demographic - Bingo anyone?
- Volunteer - It brings you eye to eye with people you don't usually hang with (and it will make you feel good)
From Fast Company: Expunge these three phrases from the conversation:
- Best Practices - By the time they're 'best' they're stale
- Return on Investment - Yahoo turned down an offer to buy Google for $1M because it didn't pencil out
- "When I worked for ..." - It's so yesterday
If office noise is such a problem, why don’t noisy coffee shops, airports, or co-working spaces bother us?
"The problem may be that, in our offices, we can’t stop ourselves from getting drawn into others’ conversations or from being interrupted while we’re trying to focus. Indeed, the EEG researchers found that face-to-face interactions, conversations, and other disruptions negatively affect the creative process."
This HBR article suggests the problem with noisy offices is more a matter of who's making the noise than how loud it is. Recent brain science suggests just the right amount of noise (i.e. coffee shop level) may enhance creativity.
"The creative impulse, writes Wilson, did not spring into life 10,000 years ago as some suggest, but dates back more than 100,000 years, to the birth of modern humans. A tripling of brain size over the 3 million years before that had endowed Homo sapiens with increased social intelligence and empathy, paving the way for symbolic language. "
This round-up of three books (all published this year) suggests creativity may be the result of a "restless brain bored by monotonous input." Novelty may light up our curiosity, but sparks may also come from exposure to complexity, uncertainty, and conflict.