A Cocktail for Creativity

A Cocktail for Creativity

By: Jill Mendoza Want to unleash creativity in your business? Then you may want to check out this article in the January Issue of Inc. Magazine, “Using Neuroscience to Boost Your Creativity” by Ryan Underwood, for it invites us to look to the squishy place where it all begins: the chemistry in the brain. In the article Underwood introduces us to the latest research, in a lecture given by Stanford professor Baba Shiv and written up recently in Stanford Business Re:Think. In which Shiv provides insights on how to coax the best out of our brains, by outlining the role of physical health in creativity. According to Shiv, creativity resides at the intersection of two primary pathways in the brain. Along one pathway, the neurotransmitter serotonin governs whether you are operating from a sense of calm and contentment or from a position of anxiety and fear. On the other pathway, dopamine moves you from boredom or apathy to excitement and engagement. The right neurochemical cocktail for your best creative work, according to Shiv, is a high level of both serotonin and dopamine. “This will produce a condition in which you are calm but energized,” he says.  Shiv explains, humans are generally at their most creative when they are physically calm (with less of the stress hormone cortisol and more serotonin present) but psychologically aroused (with plenty of dopamine kicking around). So how do you get to this creativity sweet spot? According to Shiv, you need to forget late nights and buckets of coffee and try this approach instead:

  • Get the proper rest
  • Eat a protein-rich breakfast
  • Get your heart pumping
  • Reduce workplace stress

Shiv believes, the path begins with proper rest. A minimum of 30 minutes — but ideally up to 2 hours — of deep sleep reduces cortisol levels and boosts serotonin. Next he stresses that a high-protein breakfast is easily converted into serotonin and dopamine. Then there is that cardiovascular thing. Shiv explains, when the heart muscles pump faster, they release a peptide believed to help produce serotonin. He suggests considering a brisk walk before an afternoon meeting — or better yet, walk and talk. Adequate sleep? A healthy breakfast? Plenty of exercise? If this advice sounds familiar, perhaps knowing that these behaviors are chemically tied to creativity will add a bit of incentive to practice them more regularly. Reducing stress in the workplace is important too.  Shiv says stressed-out people tend to be closed off to new ideas and they are more likely to stick to familiarity when under too much pressure.  As designers we know from research in this area that we are more creative (and less stressed) when we can look up from our work and see trees and natural light.   Studies also suggest higher ceilings in the workplace encourage abstract, conceptual thinking.  The ideal office layout can also help.  A combination of quiet workspace and other open shared spaces provide quiet places to think and social places where one can mingle with and bounce ideas off of their co-workers. The truth, according to Baba Shiv, is that, for most of us, healthy living and healthy environments are the basis for creativity.  Being in a creative industry we know creativity refers to the ability to come up with new ideas or new ways to approach old problems, and innovation is the ability to confine these creative ideas and make them turn into reality.  Where creativity and innovation may begin with a good cocktail and napkin.   But according to Shiv, only if the cocktail is consumed 2 hours before bedtime! Photo from Architectural Record Cocktail Napkin Sketch Contest 2011 Runners-Up, Professional John E. Quinton, Jr. Vice President BRR Architecture Merriam, KS

Comments are closed.