How Does Environment Influence Creative Thinking?

Being asked to be creative is daunting and doesn’t come naturally to most people. People tend to behave much like a tortoise. They poke their head out nervously to ensure the environment is safe and comfortable before they fully emerge. Your creativity won’t show up if you are nervous or stressed, busy or surrounded by hustle and bustle. Creativity is a very particular kind of thinking.

The Science Bit

We know that creativity is something that happens in the brain; many psychologists and neuroscientists have identified cognitive mechanisms and processes active during the creative process. However, many people still believe that creativity is a “gift”. There are many studies that suggest that subtle cues in our physical environment significantly influence creative output.

Psychologist, Lemin in 1943 proposed that behaviour is “a function of both the person as well as the physical environment they are in.” 

The Guiding Principle

Creating a physical environment that puts people at ease and makes them feel relaxed and safe, will get the creative juices properly flowing.

Environmental Factors That Can Help to Boost Creativity:

1. Familiar surroundings/territory

If you were to put a truck driver into a boardroom or viewing facility for example, this won’t in any way mimic their real life environment, so they will feel on edge and out of their comfort zone. Meet with them at a roadside café, and the chances are they will feel right at home.

2. Light

According to the Journal of Environmental Psychology, natural light fosters superior creativity as it encourages a feeling of freedom. Natural light contains what is called ‘blue light’. It boosts the immune system, increases dopamine levels and lowers cortisol levels. This means that being in a naturally lit room with make you feel less anxious, happier and more productive.

3. Noise

A moderate noise level is the sweet spot for creativity. Ambient noise gets our creative juices flowing unlike silence, and doesn’t put us off like high levels of noise. The theory is that when we struggle just enough to process things as we normally would, we resort to more creative approaches.

4. Temperature

A study at Cornell University in 2004 found that a constant temperature of 20 degrees Celsius keeps people 44% more focussed on the task in hand than the usual optimal room temperature of 25 degrees Celsius.

5. Colour

Colourful spaces can make people feel more childlike, playful and adventurous. These moods are conducive to new ways of thinking. Colours create visual interest and can help fight fatigue. Exposure to both blue and green has been shown to enhance performance on tasks that require generating new ideas.

So, there are some simple things we can do to our physical surroundings to help boost our creativity, and there appears to be plenty of evidence that suggests that creativity is improvable and not just reserved for certain people.

This is why we deploy these principles in our client workshops, consumer co-creation sessions and even in our own office space as we all know that creativity is the lifeblood of innovation.