Jonah Lehrer suggests that the ideal creative workplace is “a room with blue walls that feels very far away and is filled with references to foreign countries”. Why would these three conditions be conducive to creativity?
Colours can influence how we think (in one experiment, red backgrounds were found to make participants more accurate, while blue backgrounds drew out creativity).
The linkage of red and accuracy makes some intuitive sense, since people tend to associate red (stop signs, the color of blood, etc.) with danger and caution. But why would blue make us more creative? [â€¦]Â It turns out moments of creative insight are best achieved when people are in a relaxed, peaceful state of mind.
Psychological distance (thinking something is further away) makes us more likely to solve difficult problems creatively.
According to [construal level theory (CLT)], psychological distance affects the way we mentally represent things, so that distant things are represented in a relatively abstract way while psychologically near things seem more concrete. [â€¦] Abstract thinking makes it easier for people to form surprising connections between seemingly unrelated concepts.
Living abroad increases creativity (previously).
First, living abroad can allow individuals access to a greater number of novel ideas and concepts, which can then act as inputs for the creative process. Second, living abroad may allow people to approach problems from different perspectives. [â€¦] Third, experiences in foreign cultures can increase the psychological readiness to accept and recruit ideas from unfamiliar sources, thus facilitating the processes of unconscious idea recombination.
I initially thought that this was just going to be another superfluous variation on the 10,000 hours themeÂ (from Malcolm Gladwell’s latest, Outliers).
OK, so while it actually is that,Â David Brooks’ look at how to forge modern creative genius is still fairly interesting.
Coyle describes a tennis academy in Russia where they enact rallies without a ball. The aim is to focus meticulously on technique. (Try to slow down your golf swing so it takes 90 seconds to finish. See how many errors you detect.)
By practicing in this way, performers delay the automatizing process. The mind wants to turn deliberate, newly learned skills into unconscious, automatically performed skills. But the mind is sloppy and will settle for good enough. By practicing slowly, by breaking skills down into tiny parts and repeating, the strenuous student forces the brain to internalize a better pattern of performance.
I particularly liked this anecdote:
According to Colvin, Ben Franklin would take essays from The Spectator magazine and translate them into verse. Then he’d translate his verse back into prose and examine, sentence by sentence, where his essay was inferior to The Spectator’s original.
AnÂ interestingÂ learning methodâ€¦ reverse engineering something you consider excellent or perfect, reconstructing it yourself and finally examining the two end products.
Could living abroad, (or more specifically, adapting to a foreign culture) enhance creativity? Researchers conducting a series of novel and interesting tests (including the candle box functional fixedness test) are starting to suggest so.
Across these three studies, the association between foreign living and creativity held even after controlling for personality variables. In other words it wasn’t just that time abroad was a marker for having a creative personality. Another consistent finding was that travelling abroad had no association with creativity – only living abroad did. [â€¦]
The researchers cautioned that longitudinal research is needed to more fully test whether and how living abroad is linked with enhanced creativity, but they said their findings made a good start. “It may be that those critical months or years of turning cultural bewilderment into concrete understanding may instill [creativity]”.Â
Update:Â The Economist has their own take on the research.
You may know gapingvoid from Hugh MacLeod’s “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards“. Now he’s telling us How To Be Creative.
So you want to be more creative, in art, in business, whatever. Here are some tips that have worked for me over the years:
- You are responsible for your own experience.
- Everybody has their own private Mount Everest they were put on this earth to climb.
- Don’t try to stand out from the crowd; avoid crowds altogether.
- If you accept the pain, it cannot hurt you.
The lengthy article was picked up by Seth Godin and is now available for free in a wonderfully formatted PDF from ChangeThis. Also worth a read is Hugh’s How To Be Creative book proposal.