Often, little though goes into our physical surroundings. By starting to make small changes to the environment you work in every day, you can make a big difference to your creative output.
Nine out of ten offices I visit through my work at Inventium are grey, dull and illuminated by horribly artificial fluorescent lighting. Meeting rooms are often characterised by windowless white or pale grey walls, sparse ‘decorations’ and beige furniture. Not the kind of environment that inspires creativity.
Yet, we know from decades of research that the physical environment has a significant effect on our ability to innovate. Here are three ways you can change your environment to drive innovation.
Bring in nature
Of all the ways to change your physical environment for the better, those involving nature have received the most attention. Ruth Atchley, from the University of Kansas, and her colleagues studied a group of people who were going on a four-day hike without any access to technology. Half of the hikers were asked to complete a creative problem-solving task prior to their hike, and the other half were asked to complete it on day four of the hike. People who had experienced four days’ immersion in nature, without any technological distractions, performed 50 percent better in the creative problem-solving task.
And nature is not just great for creativity, but also for general well-being and productivity. In one such study, Marlon Nieuwenhuis, from Cardi University, and her colleagues were keen to investigate the impact of greenery on people’s happiness and productivity at work. In an initial study, they decked out half an office in greenery and left the other half bland. Three weeks later, employees in the green half said they had felt more focused and productive as a result of the plants.
Turn up the background noise
Ravi Mehta, from the University of British Columbia, found that exposing people to a medium noise level (70 decibels – or the equivalent to what you would hear in a café or city street) significantly increased performance on a creative problem solving task. This level of noise acts as a mild distraction, which fosters creativity.
When thinking about your office, consider zoning off areas with different sound levels. While silence is needed for certain types of work (such as highly focused work, or teleconferences), consider having some parts of the office where there is a moderate level of noise for those involved in work requiring innovation. Mehta’s research suggests that 70 decibels is a moderate sound level—it’s similar to the level of sound you would hear when walking down a typical city street.
Bring in both warm and cool colours (especially green)
Several researchers from the University of Munich brought a group of 65 people into the lab to complete a creative problem-solving task. However, before engaging in the task, some people were shown a green login screen while others were shown a white screen. The researchers found that those seeing a green screen performed about 20 percent better on the creative thinking task. Similar results have been found in other research warm colours. The message is clear – don’t settle for beige and instead, bring in some colour.
In further studies, green was pitted against red, blue and grey and emerged every time as the winner. The researchers suggested that the colour green was so impactful in enhancing creativity because it reminded people of nature — and, as discussed earlier, the benefits of nature to innovation (not to mention productivity) has been consistently shown.
Often, little though goes into our physical surrounds. By starting to make small changes to the environment you work in every day, you can make a big difference to your creative output.
– Dr. Amantha Imber is the Founder of Inventium, a leading innovation consultancy that uses scientifically-proven techniques for boosting innovation performance. Her latest book is The Innovation Formula: The 14 Science-Based Keys for Creating a Culture Where Innovation Thrives. Connect with her at @amantha and @inventium.
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