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Is silence really golden? For creativity, probably not.

August 26, 2014   Tags:

Who knew that a visit to the local coffee shop could provide both a jolt of caffeine and creativity?


While silence might be golden for most people, there’s been chatter around the idea that the ambient noise found at a coffee shop might provide the right boost of creativity for the freelancer.

Now, we’re not talking about listening to your favorite jazz tune while drinking that cup of java. This is about the type of noise you would literally hear at a coffee shop — the grinding of coffee beans, the indiscriminate chatter of the patrons, the cacophony of clanking dishes. All of these types of sounds can inspire creativity that can actually help one focus and concentrate.


The theory was documented in a 2012 study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Up until recently, very little research has been done on the topic of environmental factors impacting creativity.


Moderate ambient noise can help creative types


The research closes the gap on the topic, and says that while noise is a distraction for most people, a moderate amount of ambient noise can positively impact creative, highly original people. It also supports the growing idea that subtle cues in our physical environment can affect human cognition and behavior.


The general idea goes like this: when people are thinking abstractly, they are less likely to fixate and will become more creative than those who think concretely. So when moderate, ambient noise is introduced into an environment, the distraction will create processing difficulty, which will lead to abstract thinking, and thus greater creativity!


The study also inspired the web-based application Coffitivity. The app provides the soothing, steady hum of a coffee house, which as the site says, is “proven to be just what you need to get those creative juices flowing.” The site was named by TIME Magazine as one of 2013’s 50 Best Websites.


Forget the caffeine boost! Get inspired at your local java shop


People do prefer to have some type of stimulus around them while working creatively. Julian Treasure, sound consultant and author of Sound Business was recently interviewed for CBC Radio’s Spark on the impact of ambient noise on creativity. “If there have been environments where you’ve felt wildly creative, if you can recreate the sounds of these environments, you will probably stimulate your creativity,” he said.


While ambient noise certainly stimulates creativity, Treasure also notes that music is not exactly the type of sound that would inspire creativity for most people, since it is considered “cognitively dense sound” and causes attention. “Music is made to be listened to, and it’s pretty difficult to have it on in the background and not listen to it at all,” he said. He also recommends getting a few minutes of silence each day, just to recalibrate and refresh.


Finding the audio sweet spot


The right type of noise can enhance creativity, which is what apps like Coffitivity can provide. There are also other playlists available online that provide the steady hum of coffee houses, such as Songza. Their “In a Busy Coffee House” recording is as realistic as if you were actually sitting inside of one. You can hear the grinding of coffee beans as if it were happening right near you.


Denise Summers, communications freelancer, storyteller and principal of Amphora Communications agrees with the findings. “While I’m grateful to be able to freelance and work from home, I’m also fortunate enough to live close to many of the best coffee shops in Calgary—one of them was recently voted one of the top coffee places in the world,” says Summers.


“Often, when I need to find inspiration to further develop a character in a book I’m working on, or have been working non-stop for too long on a communications project, I’ll head out to a nearby cafe. The change in scenery is usually enough to refresh me and I’m off again, tapping at the keys on my laptop.”


Freelancer Denise Summers gets inspired at a local coffee spot
Freelancer Denise Summers gets inspired at a local coffee spot



As a creative freelancer, I’ve always found the coffee shop environment a source of creative inspiration. I primarily work from home so I’ve always sought out local coffee houses to periodically spark my creative juices. It’s nice to know that my instinct was right and that there is an actual science to it!


Share where you find java-inspired creativity and post your favourite coffee-slash-workshop here.