Your surroundings are essential for your productivity, ability to focus, comfort, and also creativity. So how could you quickly set up the environment to boost creativity?
When I was a child, I thought that creativity is a gift for a few, and I felt special being gifted. But with time, when my creativity dropped, I feared losing that gift until I discovered that creativity is the most characteristic ability of humankind.
Without creativity, we would have never invented smartphones, for example. And even before that, cars, houses, or even irrigation systems would have never existed.
Our creativity, or creative thinking, helped us evolve and grow into the complex society we are today. Creativity is the basis of our cultures, beliefs, and ethics, but studies haven’t found out how it works yet.
Some suggest that creativity is the ability to overcome uncomfortable situations like it was in the past. Some others think it is a comfortable activity, for which we need to stay in the right environment, with the right set of light, noise, etc.
To discover how to quickly set up your environment to boost creativity, I will consider the answer in the middle. To explain that, let’s start with irrigation systems.
The Two Faces of Creativity
How did we invent irrigation?
A couple of thousands of years ago, our ancestors discovered plantations by observation. They observed that if you bury a seed and you sprinkle it, it will probably grow. So they build villages near the water.
But even if they were able to grow plants, carrying water every day from the river to the plantation wasn’t efficient. So to fight that uncomfortable situation — if you do not provide the water you die — they invented irrigation.
And now, how did we invent smartphones?
We already had phones, we could already talk to each other long-distance, but we wanted to do it even outside our homes. So we built giant connectivity cells that can interact with each other and little devices that can talk with those cells.
That is how smartphones work. Not so smart anymore, that’s what I thought.
It wasn’t an adapt-or-die situation, but still a slightly uncomfortable one.
So as you can notice, creativity is the comfortable response to an uncomfortable situation, and it all starts from the environment. But how could you create the perfect setting for creativity? You need to deal with both faces of it, the uncomfortable trigger and the comfortable response.
The Uncomfortable Trigger
If it is a matter of life or death — or just how to slide on the handrail without losing your balance — any creative work starts with an uncomfortable trigger: the desire to achieve something new that can ease up your experience.
This trigger usually comes from the surrounding world that throws at us challenges. But it can also generate from simulation by modifying the environment and making it hostile or unfamiliar.
To do it, you can act in different ways, but here are the two things I use the most:
1 — Changing the setting often.
Comfort can destroy creativity. For this reason, changing the setting often allows you to maintain brain flexibility and enhance the spawn of new ideas. Basically, by simply moving your workstation from one side of the room to the other, you gain a new perspective over the room and the ideas you had in that old setting.
I change the disposition of my workstation at least once every 5–6 months. But I can achieve this effect with less effort by simply changing rooms frequently, for example, or sitting on the other side of the desk.
2 — Having many distractions around.
Distractions are known as productivity killers, but to creativity, it is quite the opposite. The more you get distracted, the more your idea potential grows. Having hands busy, for example, can improve the free-flowing connections of the mind between different topics. This is a well-known phenomenon called embodied cognition, and it has a strong influence over creativity.
To achieve that, I split my room between a productive and a creative setting. The productive one is bare, with limited resources that remove any distractions from the environment. The creativity one is full of useless objects and papers I can use, revise and touch instead.
The Comfortable Response
The comfortable response is the answer of our body and brain to the uncomfortable trigger, which is by finding a solution. To do that, you need to take some free time, do nothing, and think of a solution.
But creative thinking comes with its requirements, and even here, the environment needs some adjustments to have a productive session.
1 — Correct Light.
According to the Journal of Environmental Psychology, natural light fosters superior creativity because it encourages the feeling of freedom. Also, natural light contains blue light, which boosts dopamine and lowers cortisol levels, making you happier, more productive, and less anxious.
2 — Inspiring Colors.
To achieve this environment, I use two colored lights that I switch to green and blue, so both colors mix up in my room.
3 — Background Noise.
Research shows that low levels of noise also enhance the performance of creative tasks. For this reason, many people love to work in bars and coffees, because they can hear the noisy people talking and drinking.
The Unbreakable Link
The comfortable response is the answer to the uncomfortable trigger, but for the system to work, there’s a missing part, an unbreakable link that relates the two concepts: curiosity.
Curiosity and creativity are close relatives. If you are curious about your environment, you also develop a higher creativity system. So you need this third wheel if you want to build a stable system.
And what is curiosity?
Curiosity is the ability to interview a concept, and it requires having lucid questions in mind, asking and answering them with every tool at your disposal. And this is the creative process.
To achieve that clarity of mind, I use a magnetic board. I write the topic of interest in its center, and I create ideas around it, as in brainstorming. Then, I take every concept, and I repeat the process until I find a new one. And so on.
When I discovered creativity is not a gift for a few, I was sad because I thought I wasn’t special anymore. But then, I understood the implications of it.
If creativity is an achievable task for everyone, we can build systems to enhance it. But how should we quickly set up the environment to boost creativity? In this article, you have the example of a simple one based on three main concepts only.
The first one is the uncomfortable trigger, which is the situation that makes us seek a change. The second one is the comfortable response, which is the final response of our body to the external input. And the third one is the unbreakable link of curiosity, which makes us question the uncomfortable trigger until we find a solution to overcome it.
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Article first published on Curious, a Medium publication.