Got a tricky problem to solve? Head to a coffee shop

Got a tricky problem to solve? Head to a coffee shop

The next time you have a challenging problem to solve, fight the impulse to either stay seated at your desk, or to book a dull, grey-walled meeting room. The latest research published in the Journal of Consumer Research has revealed that going to your local coffee shop will be a much better way to elicit innovative solutions.

A group of researchers from the University of Illinois set out to investigate whether different noise levels impacted on people’s ability to generate creative solutions to problems. In this series of experiments, participants were given a problem to solve and were placed in an environment where there were low, moderate or high levels of ambient noise.

The researchers found that high levels of ambient noise (about 85 decibels, roughly the amount of noise generated by a household blender), reduced creativity. This was because it impacted on people’s ability to process information, and made the task much more difficult for people’s brains to process.

Low level noise was not much better for innovative thinking. When we are working in silence, this tends to sharpen our focus which is detrimental for a more abstract style of thinking.

The winning noise was a moderate level of ambient sound (about 70 decibels, the equivalent of sitting in a cafe or having a television playing in the background). These levels led to participants producing significantly more creative solutions to the problems they were trying to solve.

So the next time you have a tricky problem to solve that needs a good dollop of innovative thinking, pop down to your local cafe, settle yourself in and let the creative juices flow.

And if you can’t get down to a cafe, you might want to try visiting Coffitivity instead, and bring coffee shop sounds right to your desk.

In contrast, if you are working on a task that requires attention to detail – stay away from the cafe, and instead, lock yourself away in a quiet room.


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