Why Leaving the Office Could Boost Your Creativity

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Photo: Kevin H

According to a study in the Journal of Consumer Research, working in environments surrounded by moderate levels of noise boosts creativity.

The study took place in a noise environment similar to that of a roadside diner or a noisy mall and tested people’s creativity at different levels of background noise – silent, moderately loud (around 70 decibel; similar to the noise level in a coffee shop) and very loud. Respondents were asked to solve various creative tasks e.g. come up with ideas for a new type of mattress and list uncommon uses for a common object. They were most creative when the background noise was moderate compared to lower or higher noise conditions.

The researchers explained: “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.”

So, if you are looking to engage in problem-solving, leave your quiet office setting and go to a café to trigger the brain to think more abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas more effectively.

Some office environments may already offer such an optimal setting, making it unnecessary to leave for a coffee shop that could prove to be a hassle due to insufficient power outlets, unreliable wi-fi etc. One example is the increasingly more common urban co-working spaces which are often a bit noisier than traditional office settings.

An additional finding of the study was that consumers are more likely to buy new and innovative products in moderately noisy environments. For example, consumers were much more likely to choose a pair of running shoes with new and innovative features over a standard pair at this optimal level of background noise.

A word of caution to any brands wanting to explore this in their showrooms and retail outlets is to understand the meaning of a moderate level of ambient noise. It is way too common for consumers to find themselves in stressful, overly noisy retail outlets that rather scare them away than sway them to open up their wallets.

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