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Creative Inspiration: Cubicles, Neuroscience and Bad Decisions


Do people still sit in cubicles? Recent research found that workers in cubicles with high partitions were the most miserable, rated according to 15 factors including workspace cleanliness, noise, visual privacy and temperature. Of the factors, workspace cleanliness bothered just 10% of workers.

This is interesting when matched up with research suggesting that creativity thrives in messy office environments.

25% of all people were bothered by excess noise (rising to 30% if cubicled), and lack of sound privacy was the most highly-hated issue in the research, with 50% of workers (rising to 60% for those cubicled) finding this annoying. Apparently those in open-plan offices find this less annoying because at least they can see where the noise is coming from.

This is interesting when matched up with research suggesting that ambient noise is good for creativity. Clearly ‘ambient’ needs to be of a certain level – a ‘Goldilocks’ level – for it to be acceptable.

Read the full research here.


In my last post in this category I referenced articles warning us against putting too much stock in neuroscience research into creativity. But I’ve since read things which suggest that there are some things we can be relatively sure of.

This Guardian article covers research studying pianists’ brain activity, pointing to a network of brain regions that are involved in creative playing, including the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, which has previously been linked to the suppression of stereotypical responses and the selection of improvised actions. The research found that training led to more automation and higher functional connectivity – so practise, practise, practise!

Along with Keith Sawyer, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman is probably one of the web’s most authoritative voices on creativity at the moment. Kaufman gave a talk at Poptech recently, where he focused on the neuroscience of creativity. He explains how various different networks and processes of the brain – such as concentration, working memory, daydreaming etc. work together on creative tasks.

You can watch the video below, or see it on Vimeo. He’s teasing us at the start…

Bad Decisions

Are you the kind of person who regularly challenges the views put forward by experts? Are you naturally skeptical when reading big-idea business books or reading articles by recognised authorities? This New York Times article quotes various research showing that people’s decision-making powers seem to switch off while contemplating an expert’s claims, ceding power to decide to the expert. Some of this is down to anxiety, stress and fear, but also an optimism bias – we typically focus on anything that agrees with the outcome we want.

Quick hits:

If you have some bad habits that you’re really struggling to shake, the best way forward is simply to change your environment.

Can humans read minds? Maybe you’re better at it than you think. And once you’ve read that, see how good you are at reading people’s emotions, with this online test.

Finally, is doubt good or bad? Find out what Alan Iny, author of Thinking In New Boxes says.

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