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Does more positivity = more creativity?


This is a guest post from Susanna Halonen, a self – described Happyologist.

It’s no secret that happy, healthy employees are more creative, productive and better performers. Science has shown that creative problem solving, idea generation, and opportunity creation all increase with a more positive mood. Even a simple gesture, such as receiving a bag of candy or watching a few minutes of a comedy film, can boost your positivity.

This is a great motivation for companies to invest in creating positive working environments for better idea generation. You’ve probably seen pictures of what the Google offices are like – more like a playground than an office! But in reality the science of creativity is a bit more complex than that. Below you’ll discover new pieces of research which show how a positive mood’s impact on creativity varies depending on the individual and the situation.

How Positivity Affects Creativity in Different Ways

1. An “affective shift” can be the most effective in bringing the highest level of creativity out. An affective shift is when you experience both negative and positive emotions (also referred to as affect), and then experience a decrease in negative emotions and an increase in positive emotions. Basically, in order for you to discover an increase in creativity with a positive mood, you have to start at a neutral or negative mood to experience a benefit. An increase in positivity in already a positive mood has hardly any benefits on creativity. (Bledow, Rosin & Frese, 2013)

2. Creativity can also be driven by negative experiences. In some cases, you can choose to use life changing experiences as a source of inspiration and motivation. Psychologists refer to this as one possible outcome of post-traumatic growth. Overcoming experiences like this also opens up your perception to a world of new possibilities. (Forgeard, 2013)

3. Using positivity to boost creativity in teams is most effective when team trust is low. This might sound bizarre but it actually makes sense when you think about it. If team trust is too high and people are feeling positive, people become more complacent and settle for the ideas they’ve received from their trustworthy teammates. (Tsai, Chi, Grandey & Fung, 2011)

4. Your natural dopamine levels affect how much positivity affects your creativity. Chermahini & Hommel (2012) discovered that those with naturally higher levels of dopamine, the happy neurotransmitter, experience much lower (if any) improvements on their creativity than those with an average or below average dopamine level.

Putting This Into Practice

There are new pieces of research coming out in the field everyday, but the key is to put the findings into practice. How could you make use of the above findings to bring more creativity out of you or your team? Here are some ideas to help you get started.

1. When approaching a creative task, put yourself or your team in a neutral state before inducing a positive mood. This could be as simple as becoming focused on the task by looking at the brief of your design task, or looking at the kind of outcome you ant to reach. Only after this add some fun in so you get your positivity up and the creative juices flowing.

2. Use an existing obstacle or a challenge you overcame in the past as inspiration. Go crazy with the ideas. The crazier you go (i.e. pigs CAN fly), the more creatively you will be able to think. The rational, pragmatic mind should come into play only later because in the initial stages it will block idea generation.

3. Don’t settle for the first ideas but reward yourself and others for coming up with new options. Be aware of complacency and challenge it by encouraging everyone to give a new (or at least somewhat different) idea or opinion.

4. Appreciate some people will benefit more from positivity than others when it comes to thinking more creatively. Get to know yourself and your team mates. Reflect regularly on when you were at your most creative, and what helped you get there.

There is quite a lot to think about here but the key is to keep these in mind as potential ways of getting unstuck from creativity blocks. Test different things in different situations and you will discover what gets your creative juices flowing. Good luck!

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About the author

Susanna from Happyologist offers one-to-one coaching, group workshops and inspirational talks to help you find your happiness and fulfil your potential. Sign-up to her free weekly newsletter and find out more here: http://www.happyologist.co.uk.

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Bledow, R., Rosing, K. & Frese, M. (2013). A dynamic perspective on affect and creativity. Academy of Management Journal, 56(2), 432-450.

Chermahini, S. A. & Hommel, B. (2012). More creative through positive mood? Not everyone! Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6(319), 1-7.

Forgeard, M. J. C. (2013). Perceiving benefits after adversity: The relationship between self-reported posttraumatic growth and creativity. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, 7(3), 245-264.

Tsai, W., Chi, N., Grandey, A. A. & Fun, S. (2012). Positive group affective tone and team creativity. Negative group affective tone and team trust as boundary conditions. Journal of Organizational Behaviour, 33, 638-656.

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