A study by Ravi Metha of the University of British Columbia suggest that the ideal volume for creative thinking is in the range of 70 dB and that an environment that is too quiet or too loud can actually hinder creativity.
The loud point probably isn’t too shocking, but I think the suggestion that it could be too quiet might come as a bit of a surprise. Anyone who has spent time working from their back bedroom or dining table will recognise that the loneliness and lack of human interaction can make us feel stir crazy, but the noise is probably not something we take into consideration.
One of the recommendations from the piece is “Instead of burying oneself in a quiet room trying to figure out a solution, walking out of one’s comfort zone and getting into a relatively noisy environment may trigger the brain to think abstractly, and thus generate creative ideas.”
Steven Johnson wrote in his book Where Good Ideas Come From that the more noise we have in our brains, and the more disorganised they are, the smarter we are. This is perhaps the point, if we are able to think straight, then we don’t think laterally.
I [Gareth] find some of my greatest breakthroughs happen when I am in the shower, at gigs or when I am daydreaming while others around me are having a conversation. These are generally on the higher end of the scale, but something about the environment makes my mind feel like it is operating at a million revolutions per second. Perhaps it is that our minds are awoken by the sudden and varied noises, and they operate in a manner whereby it feels at risk and needs to come up with new ideas quickly in case of an emergency, which we manipulate and apply to everyday challenges. Perhaps it is just coincidental timing.
When and where do you find you come up with your greatest breakthroughs? And do you ever pay attention to the conditions and how you could replicate them next time you are struggling with a creative drought?
The original article “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition” can be found here.