Let's say you've been tasked with some creative project, like if your boss asked you to think up a dozen new slogans to put on hilarious T-shirts or come up with five new ways to get more cheese into a pizza ("We can put it INSIDE the pepperoni!"). And let's say you're allowed to create the perfect work environment to spur your creativity. You'd almost certainly ask for a place that was quiet and full of kind, supportive people, and for a relaxing work schedule that guaranteed you'd always be fresh and wide awake.
And you would be screwing yourself before you even got started. Because science shows that almost everything you hate about your shitty office actually makes you more creative. For instance ...
#5. You're More Creative at Work When You're Tired (or Drunk)
Creative individuals tend to bump into two stereotypes: Either people see them as bottle-hugging semi-professional winos, or they're labeled as lazy bastards who procrastinate until the deadline is looming and then engage in sleepless, coffee-fueled, last-minute workathons.
For instance, there is an amazing documentary called Six Days to Air about how the makers of South Park will create an episode in just six days, working all night, every night, sleeping for a few hours under their desks. By the end of the process, they're barely able to speak coherent sentences, exhaustedly delivering the final cut four hours before broadcast. Why do they do it? Science says it's because working while tired -- or even drunk -- simply works.
"So technically I have more of a drinking solution."
Scientists found that people who were tested during their least optimal time of day (when they were at their most tired) were more effective at solving puzzles that required creative thinking than when they were at their most alert. This goes a long way toward explaining why your weirdest, most outside-the-box ideas always come to you at three in the morning (a time of day when you're so sleepy, you almost feel drunk).
Well, shit, why stop with merely feeling drunk? Why not go for the real thing? So researchers set up a word-association test where they tested a group of sober guys against another group who were knocking back liberal amounts of vodka and cranberry. The groups were presented with three words ("peach," "arm" and "tar," for example) and asked to come up with a fourth, connecting word ("pit"). Awesomely, the intoxicated subjects wiped the floor with the sober ones: Out of 15 questions, the drunk group scored 8.7 correct answers on average, as opposed to the sobers' somber score of 6.3. And not only did Team Vodka Cranberry find creative thinking far easier than their sober counterparts, but they were a lot quicker to provide their answers, too. Obviously, there's a limit to how much you should drink -- most people find it difficult to paint the next "Mona Lisa" while passed out in the gutter.
"Back up. I think I'm about to Jackson Pollock all over this bar."
But these examples are pointing to the same phenomenon -- you're at your most creative when you are unable to focus properly. By confusing yourself with booze or lack of sleep, you are able to kick your brain in the balls and give your imagination temporary free rein as your analytical thoughts are busy writhing on the floor in their own vomit.
#4. Sarcastic Assholes Help You Generate Ideas
Sarcasm is an essential survival skill in modern society, to the point that the inability to understand it is often a warning sign of brain disease. Still, there's a time and place for everything. The creative process is not unlike placing your dick on an anvil and hoping that no one feels like swinging the hammer. Whatever you create, it features a heaping helping of you, which leaves you pretty open to dismissive remarks. That's why the natural predator of a creative person is always the critic, and that's why the absolute last thing your creative project needs is some snarky co-worker standing behind you and making sarcastic comments.
However, don't offer that snide bastard a knuckle sandwich just yet. According to science, sarcasm actually boosts your creativity and problem-solving skills.
Cool study, Einstein ... no, seriously.
A bunch of scientists set up an experiment where 375 engineering students had to pretend that they were customer service agents. First, they listened to recordings of neutral, openly hostile or painfully sarcastic customers. They were then given work that featured both straightforward "get this shit done" style tasks and ones that required creativity. The results were surprising: The subjects who had listened to angry customers sucked monkey balls at creative tasks, whereas the segment that was subjected to sarcasm had creativity to spare.
There's a logic behind this: Getting yelled at inspires you to work hard ... but not smart. You're like a steam engine fueled by barely suppressed rage, running on straight tracks toward Not Getting Yelled at Again City, possibly with a stop at Elaborate Revenge Fantasy Junction. There's no room for creativity there -- you think strictly inside the box, unable to account for anything that doesn't directly relate to the situation.
"Oh, I'll do his stupid report ... then, his wife."
On the other hand, being on the receiving end of sarcasm requires far more cognitive effort and complex thinking. Just listening to someone spout Joss Whedon-speak at you kicks you into creative mode, as your brain frantically attempts to peel off the layers of snark your ears are hearing. And as you are still well aware that you're being reprimanded, you're going to work just as hard as you would if they had shouted at you ... only instead of furious anger, you're left with ready access to your full creative arsenal.
So by all means, supplement your creativity by having someone constantly make sarcastic remarks at you. And resist the urge to stab them until after the project is turned in.
"Oh, hey, your project turned out great!"
"How knives of you to say!"
#3. Constant Annoying Background Noise Helps You Focus
Let's say you're inches away from finishing an important creative project. A jet pack/stilt combination for handy bank robberies, some fan fiction that laughs in the face of sanity, a new peg leg for that police officer who got in the way of your last creative project ... we don't discriminate. You tinker away until you suddenly find yourself sorely lacking in inspiration.
Everyone knows that in cases like this, your best bet is to find a nice, secluded place where you can really concentrate. But wait! Before you head down to the local library for some hobo-smelling peace and quiet, let science offer an alternative strategy: Go somewhere noisy. See, despite what most people think, that whole "peace and quiet" thing isn't worth a ghost fart when it comes to creativity. What your creative process craves instead is a certain level of noise and distraction.
"It really worked, but I have to say ... I kind of missed the hobos."
Think of your brain as a jeep: When it has a smooth road under it, it rolls just fine, but it doesn't really need to do half the stuff it is capable of. But when you take it into a harsher environment, it's ready for a goddamn safari. In much the same way, your abstract thinking switches into high gear when your brain is forced to tune out a bunch of background noise. This, in turn, helps you come up with creative ideas more efficiently than usual, because your brain's engine is already warm and rumbling.
No, this doesn't excuse douchey coffee-house dwellers.
Don't overdo the volume, though -- only moderate levels of background noise, such as those found at crowded coffee shops, create sufficient distraction to kick your brain into creative high gear (so that's why all those hipsters insist on writing their novels at your local Starbucks). Trying to boost your brain by, say, listening to Slayer in a steel mill not only hurts your creative process, but can actually increase your risk of heart attack.