I’m hopeless at doing anything when there’s music playing in the background. I listen, it’s my natural bias. That’s why I tend to avoid reading in cafes. Maybe a newspaper, but definitely not a novel. I’ll re-read the same page five times before realising it’s just not going in.
Talking yes. Coffee shops are famous for the exchange of ideas. The Englightenment owed many of its cutting edge innovation (industrial, economic, and political) to the London coffee houses and Parisian cafes were where Modernist art and aesthetics really took off. It was the art of conversation, debate and discussion that gave coffee shops their raison d’etre. No longer. Urban cafes are now the domain of an increasing number of solitary typist/surfer plugged into wifi connecting to the latest thought-at-a-distance.
With more and more people ‘working’ in cafes (to relieve the isolation of working-from-home, or as a more inviting hot-desk?) it’s not surprising that there is some support to the claim that creative ideas are stimulated by the kind of background ambient noise common in most urban cafes.
Compared to a relatively quiet environment (50 decibels), a moderate level of ambient noise (70 dB) enhanced subjects’ performance on the creativity tasks, while a high level of noise (85 dB) hurt it. Modest background noise, the scientists explain, creates enough of a distraction to encourage people to think more imaginatively.
Of course, we can’t all afford to spend our days over endless cups of coffee or frapuccinos – at least not at £3 a cup. So you can have the background noise streamed to your desktop and improve your creativity by visiting coffitivity.com, adjusting your speakers and giving it a go.
Recent studies of creativity have tended to concentrate on how individuals or groups can be understood as creative. Here’s an article from the Atlantic that looks at how a partnership between two people can be creative in a way that is not reducible to the sum of their parts. It’s less the plus in Lennon and McCartney and more a hyphenated Lennon-McCartney that characterises the artist that produced so many memorable tunes.
For centuries, the myth of the lone genius has towered over us, its shadow obscuring the way creative work really gets done. The attempts to pick apart the Lennon-McCartney partnership reveal just how misleading that myth can be, because John and Paul were so obviously more creative as a pair than as individuals, even if at times they appeared to work in opposition to each other. The lone-genius myth prevents us from grappling with a series of paradoxes about creative pairs: that distance doesn’t impede intimacy, and is often a crucial ingredient of it; that competition and collaboration are often entwined. Only when we explore this terrain can we grasp how such pairs as Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, William and Dorothy Wordsworth, and Martin Luther King Jr. and Ralph Abernathy all managed to do such creative work. The essence of their achievements, it turns out, was relational. If that seems far-fetched, it’s because our cultural obsession with the individual has obscured the power of the creative pair.
The extract is from an upcoming book by Joshua Shenk called Power of Two which argues that, because of the power of collaboration, the magic number for creative output is two. What sounds interesting about the book though is that it is yet another example of work exploring the social side of creativity. Due out in August 2014
In the Guardian, an adaptation of The Iceberg, a memoir by Marion Coutts about her husband’s last months after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. She writes: “There is going to be destruction: the obliteration of a person, his intellect, his experience and his agency. I am to watch it. This is my part.”
Something has happened. A piece of news. We have had a diagnosis that has the status of an event. The news makes a rupture with what went before: clean, complete and total. We learn something. We are mortal. You might say you know this but you don’t. The news falls neatly between one moment and another. You would not think there was a gap for such a thing. You would not think there was room.
It is our child Ev’s first day at the childminder’s. I arrive at nine, anxious and grave. This is our first official separation. I am a zealot, an airship on its maiden voyage packed with mother adrenaline. I have rolls of data to proclaim about his protocols: his beaker, when he likes to nap, his poo, the snacks that are allowed and the snacks that are forbidden. I am not going to let anything stop me.
The childminder lives around the corner. She is much younger than me and canny. She has heard all this before. She knows to be patient and let me play myself out. When I am done, she will take the child.
Good article that examines research that claims: a) the brains of people who are already recognised as artistic may have particular characteristics which allows them to develop divergent thinking and b) particular DNA facilitates endless associations. Notice here that a definition of creativity has been smuggled into the discussion: creativity is about thinking outside the box and creative associations between disperate things/ideas.
Since the evolution of Homo sapiens, our world has been driven by flashes of inspiration, the process we call creativity. But while creativity may appear to be a spontaneous burst of new ideas, it is really the art of deriving the new from the old – the relentless reassembly of information we already possess.
The enduring question with creativity has always been whether the defining factors come from nature or nurture. Everyone can learn to be creative to some degree, but new research has revealed that the extent to which we’re born creative may be greater than previously thought.