Creativity and mood

I met a head teacher from a primary school in Clevedon (Bristol) a while ago and we got talking about one of my favourite subjects, namely where people do their best thinking. I mentioned some of the usual suspects that I featured in my new book Future Minds – cathedrals, airplane windows, beaches, mountains, baths, showers, bed and so on.

I said that I felt that places such as these change how people think. Wrong he said. They change how people feel, which in turn changes how they think.

At the time I thought that this was an argument about semantics, but listening to a Ben Folds song this morning I’ve changed my mind. He is totally right.

Certain physical or aural environments (music is very good) do indeed change our mood, which in turn changes how we think or, more specifically, what we think about. The best word I can think of is elevate. Our thinking us pushed upwards to matters of importance.

Of course, one of the key questions, if you are trying to think about important things, is whether you should tap into positive or negative moods? I remember some research a while ago that said that people in good moods have good ideas. Personally, it’s the other way around. I don’t mean that depression feeds creativity (although in some people it does) but that a melancholy mood can spark some interesting ideas .

There are plenty of people talking about process when it comes to sparking creativity in organizations. A few people talk about environments too. Who is talking about the linkage between mood and creativity or innovation?

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2 Responses to Creativity and mood

  1. Colin says:

    I’ve often found long solo drives on the motorway very liberating for creative thinking. The driving becomes automatic after a time and the brain seems to fly. It helps to have the sound system off in the vehicle. Is this caused by the mood created by driving or by some of my mind/brain being otherwise occupied by driving and therefore not limiting my thoughts?

  2. Richard Watson says:

    I think it’s because your brain is occupied. Here’s a passage from the book…

    “Before we get into some of my findings I want to tell you what happened to me one morning whilst I was pouring over the results of my little survey. I was sitting on a park bench re-reading and scribbling all over a copy of The Right Mind by Robert Ornstein when someone came up to me and innocently asked: “I’m intrigued by the fact you are writing in a book – you don’t see people doing that very often…what are you doing?”

    It turned out that this chap was a structural geologist and we ended up having a fabulous conversation about deep thinking. I asked him where he did his best thinking and he said it was usually when he was running. Fly-fishing, rowing and walking worked for him too. We then had a discussion about why so many people said that they think deeply whilst driving and he explained to me that driving was to do with spatial geometry. It was all about distances and speed and therefore used a particular part of the brain (his father, it turned out, had been a psychologist) thus freeing up other parts of the brain to think about different things.

    His chosen thinking pursuits tended to be repetitious – even tedious at times – and again these activities used very particular parts of his brain. We then got on to talking about thinking in organisations and he made the point that he believed that there were hardly any deep thinkers left in large organisations. They had been rooted out by human resource departments because deep thinkers were too disruptive. It was like the quote by T.E. Lawrence: “Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible.”

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