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“When I’m thinking about a new idea, I like to go to a coffee shop. I like to work from there, where there is background noise and I can see some movement. It helps us to think out of the box if we have some moderate level of distraction. But if I’m writing an academic paper, I don’t want any distractions.” – Ravi Mehta
CREATIVE SPACES Sometimes noisier environments and big open spaces are just what the corporate doctor ordered.
“If a company relies on a lot of creativity, open space will help spur that creativity,” Mehta says. He points to the example of Google, which has open office spaces. “They want people to come and talk,” he says. “You get that ambient sound through people talking in the background and moving around. You see people working and talking. You get this natural distraction —but you also have spaces where people can go when they don’t want distractions.” That ambient sound, he says, can also be piped through speakers, but his study didn’t test for the effects of listening to music while working. “There are so many different types of music,” he says. “That would take a study all its own.” But open spaces and background noise can only do so much to enhance creativity. You have to already be creative to reap the benefits. “People are different in their levels of creativity,” he explains. “It makes sense that this impact on creativity will be greater for those who have higher levels of creativity, be-
cause if I don’t have any creativity, how can I increase it?” He adds that creativity can be improved through training. “If someone is being creative over and over, thinking about problems and how to solve them, then they become more creative,” he says.
APPLYING THE RESEARCH Mehta’s research applies not only to creativity among office workers, but among marketers as well. For example, he says, marketers might consider equipping showrooms with a moderate level of ambient noise to encourage customers to buy their new and innovative products. He found that his subjects were more willing to buy innovative products when they had a moderate level of ambient noise in the background. This creativity enhancement extends beyond the office and showroom, too. Mehta notes that people use creativity away from work all the time—whether it’s subbing for a missing recipe ingredient, decorat-
ing a room, or solving various homeowner problems. Want to increase the likelihood of arriving at a creative solution in your home? Turn on the radio or TV. Or get out the vacuum. “We as consumers are being creative, working things out,” Mehta says. “And that process of being creative is enjoyable for many people. I know my intrinsic happiness is enhanced when I am being creative.” A final word on enhancing creativity through ambient noise: You can get too much of a good thing. “If you are exposed to background noise for eight hours a day, that might have a negative effect,” Mehta says. “But instances of 15 to 25 minutes of background noise may help.” Tom Hanlon
What’s in Your Cart? E-commerce offers infinite variety and rock-bottom pricing. But sometimes it offers much less than you bargained for. Perspectives FALL 2012
ity is enhanced by moderate ambient noise, but analytical, detail-oriented work may not be. “Most of the time the work we do is not creative,” he says. “We’re not thinking about new ideas all the time, or solving problems, or developing new products. For example, when I’m in my office writing a paper, I don’t want distractions. “When I’m thinking about a new idea, though, I like to go to a coffee shop. I like to work from there, where there is background noise and I can see some movement. It helps us to think out of the box if we have some moderate level of distraction. But if I’m writing an academic paper, I don’t want any distractions.” He adds that his study did not look at the ideal sound level for analytical work, though he says it seems logical that such work would be best carried out in quieter environments.
Perspectives magazine is published by the College of Business at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.