5 Workplaces Annoyances That Can Actually Boost Creativity
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 ...
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.
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!"
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.
A Sex-Free Mind Is a Creative Mind
Somewhere right now, a young man is walking into a new job and letting out a disappointed sigh when he sees that there in fact are no hot women working there. Well, if his job is to create things, he's better off not spending his day imagining shoving his face into the cleavage of a voluptuous supervisor. Now this isn't what you might think -- we're not just saying that a guy trying to design a new company logo is going to have trouble concentrating if he's trying to do it in a room full of nude models having a pillow fight. This isn't about horny people being distracted by sexual urges; it's about the type of thinking your brain does when you're focusing on sex.
To put it simply, the way we think can be divided into two basic processes called local and global thinking. The former is largely analytical, with increased focus on the present moment. Global thinking, on the other hand, is your classic "ideas man" brain work, with heavy emphasis on the big picture and the ability to focus on your creative side.
"Melinda, walk those gorgeous tits out of here and don't come back till you're too fat to eye-fuck."
Science has found that thinking about sex is all about boosting your petty local thinking. So it actually does help for logical, analytical tasks, which we guess means that the blowjob hacking scene in Swordfish was 100 percent scientifically accurate. The brain apparently treats sex as a crude mechanical process intended only for the continued survival of the species and uses the calculating part of the brain when dealing with it. If that makes us all sound like cold robots, here's the flip side: Thinking about love and long-term relationships boosts creativity through the roof.
And it makes sense -- throughout history, love has served as the inspiration for great works of art, poetry, songs and many other bursts of creative behavior. And you don't actually have to be in love, either -- according to research, all you need to do is think about being in love to get you creative juices flowing. Yep, love and sex live in completely different parts of the brain. This might be why great love songs tend to be of higher creative quality than, say, your average porn video.
"This next song, 'You're My Lifeboat,' was called 'I'm as Wet as a Beach' until I bought that new shower head."
You Are More Creative When You Don't Get Paid
When push comes to shove, the most important thing about any work is getting paid. It's not so much a case of "No money, no honey" as it is one of "No money, no paying my bills and now I'm broke and homeless and by God I am going to burn this office to the ground." That's why most companies not only make a point of paying their employees, but offer all sorts of little rewards and incentives to motivate workers.
It's just sheer math, right? Creativity takes an enormous amount of energy -- even the worst movie you've ever seen took somebody months to write. Getting those inspirational juices flowing can be insanely difficult even when there's a big fat bonus (or a small one) to look forward to, so who could keep themselves motivated when the reward is a big, steaming pile of jack shit?
Pretty much anyone, according to scientists.
"You know, except for us. Rewards make us sciencier."
Incentives and reward systems are essentially nothing more than an upscale version of Pavlov's dogs and labyrinth mice. But as shocking as it may seem, humans don't respond to the old stick-and-carrot routine quite as well as your average donkey, so the benefit reaped from rewards is short term at best ... and when it comes to creativity, all bets are off.
Because creativity stems from the will to create, you are at your most creative when you neither expect nor get any reward. Receiving rewards for creative work can even undermine the whole process, as evidenced by a study among 1960s art school students: The ones who weren't subjected to extrinsic motivation (i.e., rewards) during their school years were doing just fine in their professional art life two decades later, since their creativity stemmed from the inside and they were thus ready for the ups and downs in their career. The ones who were accustomed to constant rewards during their formative years were doing ... rather less well.
"Hey, you lookin' for some neo-expressionism? I can do neo-expressionism real good."
Another study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School, had professional painters and sculptors select samples of both their commissioned (ordered and paid) and non-commissioned (freely created for no reward) works and subject them to evaluation. Without fail, evaluators ranked the non-commissioned works above and beyond the commissioned ones. It was almost as if, hah, the artists were at their most creative when they were free to enjoy their creativity.
We're not saying that creative people shouldn't get paid, obviously. Just don't be surprised if the stuff you do in your spare time turns out better.
Elorm is from Ghana, West Africa, and he'd really love to be your friend on Facebook.
For more on why you should probably get a new job, check out The 5 Most Useless Motivational Tactics Every Workplace Uses and 6 Petty Things That Start Wars in Every Office.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 5 New Space Projects Even More Awesome Than the Mars Rover.