Being creative in a dingy hovel with people shouting at you is probably not the best environment to encourage optimal creativity. In practice, you need a range of measures to help this fragile flower bloom.
Environments which are dirty, cramped, uncomfortable and noisy are not the best for encouraging creative thinking. If we can design our general working environment with care and concern
A comfortable environment helps people forget about how uncomfortable they are and focus on the work at hand. Ergonomic chairs and desks. Good lighting. Clean and bright walls. Warm colors. Soft carpets. These and more help to create a sense of comfort. They also signal that our employers care about us, and hence motivate us further to extend ourselves in our work.
Things should not be too comfortable, however, and much creative work is done in remarkably rough surroundings. People who are too relaxed, and especially if they have too little stimulation (as below) can get lazy and demotivated.
There is a thing about natural environments that relaxes us and helps us stay happy. When we are on holidays, many of us spend much more time out of doors. Just look at the parks in city centres at lunchtime, full of people playing and dreaming.
Daylight is a key factor in keeping people positively engaged. There is a higher level of suicides in northern climes during the winter periods of limited daylight. There are some arguments that windows can have negative effects, and views out of the window can indeed be a distraction. But they can also provide sources of stimulation and relaxed moments. Better than one window is two, as described by architect Christopher Alexander, in his Pattern Language. Light from two directions reduces shadows. Further, if you can get it, a glass roof floods the room with natural light (and also removes the ‘distraction’ of outside views).
Plants can help as well. Having greenery around the office does more than remove some of the carbon dioxide. They break up the straight lines, stimulating our eyes. They also remind us of being outside and help to create a more natural environment. Buildings without plants in them appear cold and sterile, and encourage thinking to match.
As humans, we all need a certain amount of stimulation, and the environment can help to provide this. If our minds are kept active and fit then they will be ready to be called on when we need creative thought.
One thing that keeps our minds stimulated and busy is difference. Rather than straight lines, same colors and same desks everywhere, break things up with different color schemes, curves and texture changes. A well-designed building is both easily navigable and subconsciously stimulating.
Another stimulation can be found in pictures and photographs. Rather than vague ‘corporate art’ (which is still better than blank walls), curious and challenging pictures help to make people think a little further. Changing the pictures is important too. The same face on the wall month in and month out is soon ignored.
A thinking room is a place which is deliberately designed to encourage people to think, and the comments above apply even more so to this space.
A different place
One way of relaxing people and helping them to think differently is to create an environment that is more like home than work. Armchairs, low tables, bowls of fruit, carpets. Even mock fireplaces and window frames can all say ‘think differently here!’
If you can, a series of different places can provide variation to keep the mind going as it becomes accustomed to the same environment. You can have a playroom with bean bags, a hunting lodge, a ‘white room’ where you can scribble on the walls, and so on.
Provide appropriate drinks and food. Coffee, tea, juice, water. Alcohol may or may not be appropriate. Food at any time as well as appropriate times. Generally try to avoid heavy food: fruit and light nibbles are good. A kitchen where people can make their own food (and also gather and chat) is helpful.
Include materials that can be used for random stimulation, either deliberately or accidentally.
· Magazines: a very mixed set of journals, from trade journals to children’s comics to gossip rags. Even magazines that may be somewhat controversial – though it’s probably best to stop this side of offensive (your culture will dictate this).
· Newspapers: Local, national and international newspapers. Include tabloids as well as the more serious press.
· Books: An assortment of books, including books on creativity, politics, art.
· Pictures: Stimulating paintings on the walls or other surfaces.
· Games: To play in breaks and incubation periods.
· Music: Some people find music helpful. You can play it loud to create introductory stimulation. You can play it softly in the background. Natural sounds, such as of the sea or of birds singing, can be particularly helpful.
· Writing: Paper of all sizes, from notes to flipchart and rolls of brown paper. Post-it Notes of all different sizes. White-boards too (best is full-wall whiteboard). Magnetic whiteboards allow things to be tacked on with magnets. Pens and pencils to suit. All different types and sizes. Including children’s felt-tips and wax crayons. Also include paints.
· Recording kit: If it works for you, then being able to video-record your creative sessions may help to capture the mood and the thinking. Videos can also be used to create scenarios of situations you want to engender further afield.
· Audio recording: Audio recording can also be used, especially if you are ‘just talking’.
Tools and materials
There are many tools and materials you can put into thinking spaces that can be used to enhance the creative environment. Some of these include:
· Computers: Internet access, intranet access, programs for drawing and writing. Also include a variety of games.
· Modeling materials: These can be used for random doodling or more focused modelling exercises. You can provide children’s modeling clay (and sculpting tools), wood (balsa is good), wire, pins, clips, glue, nails and so on. A toolkit for cutting, grabbing, bending, hammering can also be helpful.
Your own space
Outside of the working environment, you can create your own space at home or wherever you have some private space. Many authors and artists have cozy hideaways where they keep their creative kit always out and ready.
This space can be customized in any way you please. The above discussion can help and you can also invent and experiment further. Try different furnishings, different colors, different stimulations. And then use what works.