Lightbulb moments of creativity are kind of amazing. You're in the shower or taking a walk or folding laundry, and then BAM! A great idea drops out of the sky. It's like winning a mini creativity lottery. And it feels fantastic.

If you love lightbulb moments as much as I do, I think you'll be excited about a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. It showed there's a simple way to make these lightbulb moments of creativity more likely: dim the lights. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers conducted a series of experiments to explore the impact that darkness has on creativity. In one study, participants were divided up into three different groups. The first group was placed in a dimly lit room (imagine a dark room with a single small reading lamp), the second in a normally lit room (imagine a typically lit coffee shop), and the third in a brightly lit room (imagine a brightly lit jewelry store). Each group was then given brain teasers that required creative insight (lightbulb moments) to solve.
  • In analyzing the scores of individuals in different groups, researchers reached a clear conclusion: darkness improves creativity. Individuals who worked in dark rooms had more creative insights than individuals who worked in well-lit rooms.
  • If you're trying to turn up your creative wattage, try turning down the lights. As this study shows, it's easier to spark a lightbulb moment in the dark. But why is that?

Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

The study's researchers have a theory for why darkness encourages creativity. And that theory starts with a simple idea: darkness encourages risky behavior.

As other studies have shown, individuals in a dark room are more likely to cheat on a test, share personal information, and even hug strangers than they would in a well-lit room.

Darkness makes us more willing to take risks because we feel more anonymous and safe from judgment.

When it comes to creativity specifically, darkness encourages an experimental processing style. Risky thinking leads to more creative insight, and risky thinking is more likely in the dark.

Darkness has such a strong impact on processing style that individuals didn't even need to be in a dark room to experience its positive creative effects. In another one of the experiments run for this study, researchers just asked participants to think about a time they had been in a dark location and what being in that location felt like before completing a creativity test.

Even the participants who just thought about darkness saw a jump in their creativity.

This study's conclusions are clear and persuasive. Darkness can be a powerful tool for those looking to boost their creativity and have more lightbulb moments.

Next time you're feeling blocked, try turning up your creativity by turning out the lights.

Hi!

Ever wondered what successful CEO's do all day?

Researchersexamined the schedules of 1,000 CEOs from across the world and used a machine learning algorithm to try to figure out how the most successful CEOs spent their time. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • The average CEO works 50 hours a week: 25% of the day working alone, 10% on personal matters, 8% in transit, and 56% working with others (often in meetings).
  • CEOs spend more than half their days in meetings. But not all meetings are created equal. Researchers found a simple difference between successful CEOs and their less successful counterparts.
  • Successful CEOs have more high-level meetings than less successful CEOs.

Great CEOs Fly High

Researchers broke down the CEOs they studied into two broad categories: general managers and operating managers.

The quintessential general managerleads from 20,000 feet. General managers meet mostly with multiple executives at a time, delegate day-to-day tasks to others, and focus on promoting good communication at the highest level of the organization.

Operating managers, in contrast, spend a lot of their time in on-on-one meetings and put more focus on perfecting the individual pieces rather than focusing on the company atlarge. These are the CEOs who get into the weeds.

No one management style will ever be perfect for every firm. But this study's conclusions are clear: on average, big-picture CEOs are more likely to have big success.

A good CEO is a lot like a symphony conductor. They don't spend their time tuning individual instruments; they delegate these operational tasks so that they can focus to the ebb and flow of the company's concerto as a whole.

As a result, a successful CEO is one who can keep everyone playing to the same beat—even if they can't play all the instruments.

See you!

Allen

Get This In Your Inbox!

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A coat of paint could turn your office into a productivity dojo.

Researchers at the University of British Columbiaran a study to see whether looking at the colors blue or red could meaningfully impact task efficiency. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers had a group of participants complete a battery of tasks after having been exposed to eitherred or blue.
  • Individuals who viewed the color red performed better on tasks that measured precision (detail-oriented tasks), while individuals exposed to blue performed better on tasks that measured creativity (flexibility-oriented tasks)
  • Harnessing the power of color is an easy way to enhance your performance. Surround yourself with the color best suited to your task and you could give yourself a competitive advantage.

Red Thought, Blue Thought

Take a look at the charts from the study below. Red is clearly better for boosting accuracy, while blue has the edge when it comes to inducing creativity.

Why? The answer is different for each color. Let's examine red first.

In our society, red is the color of attention. Red lights tell us to stop. Red pencil tells us we've made a typo. Red warning signs tell us of danger. If there's something that needs our focus, its existence is usually marked with a ruddy hue.

Need to point out a problem? Tell someone you've found "a red flag."

Because of this association, red seems to activate a subconscious, detail-oriented mindset. When we see red, we sharpen our focus to look for danger or a mistake. The color and the concept are so tied together that when we see one we expect the other.

The detail-oriented mindset is great for catching typos or other focus-heavy tasks. If you want to copyedit a spreadsheet or fact-check a list, setting your background to crimson could help keep your mind keyed in on the details. Red's attention-boosting properties have been confirmed by other studies, including one that found that individuals who grade papers with red pens catch more mistakes that those who grade papers with a black pen in hand.

Blue, on the other hand, is the color of freedom. From the endless azure sky to vast cobalt ocean, the color has a strong association with openness and tranquility, a finding that is supported by related research.

That's why blue is the perfect color for creativity. Instead of activating a detail-oriented, close-focus mindset, the color blue activates an open, flexibility-oriented mindset. Blue is brainstorming's best friend.

If you want to upgrade your productivity, match your task with the tint of your surroundings.

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Want to focus more and stress less? Pausing your email might be the key.

Working without access to email can significantly increase focus and decrease stress, says a study run by researchers from the University of California, Irvine, and the U.S. Army. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers studied a group of office workers for a week. Half the workers had their email access cut off entirely, while the other half were allowed to continue using their email normally.
  • Researchers monitored participants' work output and online behavior during the duration of the study to see how the differences in email access impacted performance. Participants in both groups wore monitors to measure their stress levels through heartrate variation (the more variation in heartrate, the more stressed the individual).
  • Participants without access to email blew their email-using colleagues out of the water; "email-free" individuals focused longer and stressed less. These findings suggest that working without the disruption of email could have some serious productivity benefits.
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Boring work is a part of life.

Dry reports must be read, messy files organized, and mind-numbing meetings attended. I hope that these tasks are few and far between for you, but unfortunately, almost all jobs (even the creative ones) involve some amount of boredom.

If you've been thinking of your boring tasks as wasted time, you could be missing out. According to two researchers from the U.K., your boring tasks can be harnessed to help increase your creativity. Here's what you need to know.

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Hi!

Stuck on a difficult problem? Try approaching it step by step.

Researchers writing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology examined the impact of walking on creativity. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers assigned study participants to a handful of experimental groups (i.e. walking inside, walking outside, walking then sitting, only sitting) and then measured their performance on a battery of creative tasks.
  • When ranking groups by their creative performance, researcher noticed two significant trends. Walking groups were consistently more creative than sedentary groups, and outdoor groups were more creative than their indoor counterparts.
  • Walkers were more creative both during their walks and after. So, if you're stuck on a difficult problem, take a stroll. It may help jog your creativity and keep you sharp.
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What do earmuffs, trampolines, and popsicles have in common? Give up? They were all invented by kids!

Childhood is a creativity hotspot. When I was a kid, my friends and I were innovation machines. We invented triple-decker pancake flippers, underwater airplanes, and edible T-shirts. I've never felt quite as creative as I did back then.

That's why I was so excited to read this study. Turns out, that creative childhood spark might not be lost to time. If you want to reinvigorate your creativity, all you have to do is think like a kid.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers divided study participants into two groups. Both groups were asked to brainstorm what they would do on a day off, but one of the groups was asked to imagine planning for that day as if they were seven years old. After brainstorming, both groups were then asked to complete a creativity test.
  • The participants who had first imagined themselves as 7-year-olds produced significantly more original responses on the creativity test than the control group did.
  • This research suggests that thinking like a kid can help boost spontaneity, reduce inhibition, and increase creative originality.
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Let me draw you a mental picture.

A paint-speckled artist stands in his studio. He is racked by despair; his paramour has just died a tragic and untimely death. Now, he will turn that suffering into magic. He dips his brush and reaches toward the canvas. This will be his masterpiece.

Except, it probably won't be.

A new study, authored by two economists, shows that the "tortured artist" trope is baloney. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers examined more than 15,000 paintings created by 33 French and 15 American artists from the early 20th century. Each of these artists experienced, at some point in their professional career, a significant personal loss (defined as the death of a friend or relative).
  • Researchers found that the paintings created in the year after a loss were, on average, less valuable and less likely to be included in a major museum's collection than works crafted during periods of emotional stability.
  • Don't let yourself fall into the trap of the tortured artist. You don't need to suffer to succeed.
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This post originally appeared in Fast Company.

You already know that networking is a relationships game–that you're supposed to give with no immediate expectation of getting. That's the wise starting premise, anyhow, of Scott Gerber and Ryan Paugh's forthcoming book, Superconnector: Stop Networking and Start Building Relationships That Matter.

But if you're looking to grow your network in quality rather than just quantity, "I'd love to grab coffee and pick your brain" will only take you so far. So as you double down on those career resolutions for the year ahead, try these creative tactics–based on Gerber and Paugh's relationship-focused advice–to deepen and expand your network.

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You may be using the day to do some chores. You may even try and enlist some of your family members to help. But how can you best inspire people to help you?

Imagine I'm trying to convince you to help me clean out my garage. There are 10 boxes in the garage that I don't particularly feel like moving, and I'm willing to pay you $10 to get them out.

I could pay you this money in two ways: I could give you $1 per box after you move them, or I could offer you $10 up front and then dock you $1 for every box you don't move.

Financially these offers are identical. But according to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, one is much more motivating. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers wanted to study how the wording of incentives impacted motivation. Study participants were asked to solve relatively impossible word puzzles, and were motivated either by a gain-focused incentive (i.e. you'll get 25 cents for each correctly unscrambled word, up to $1.50) or by a loss-focused incentive (i.e. you'll get $1.50 at the start and each word you fail to unscramble will cost you 25 cents).
  • Participants who were given the loss-focused incentive worked harder, spending 60% longer on the two impossible scrambles than participants given the gain-focused incentive.
  • These findings suggest that the desire to avoid a loss is a stronger motivating factor than the desire to achieve a gain. If you're trying to motivate yourself to accomplish a difficult task, try using the risk of loss instead of the promise of a reward.
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Tired of being told all the reasons you need to sleep more? Sorry, here's another.

In a recently published study, researchers from the University of Washington and Indiana University examined how lack of sleep impacts perceived hostility between leaders and followers. Here's the rundown.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers administered surveys to more than 120 pairs of bosses and employees. Survey questions asked individuals to record how much sleep they got the past night, how positive or negative their interactions that day were with their leader/follower, the level of hostility they perceived in those interactions, and other similar questions.
  • Researchers found that lower levels of sleep led to higher levels of perceived hostility. For example, if your boss stayed up all night surfing YouTube, it's likely that their interactions with you the next day would seem more hostile. The same is true if you skimp on shut-eye; if you don't get good sleep, your boss will perceive you to be more hostile.
  • Both leaders and followers were unaware of how their sleepiness was being perceived. Sleepy individuals didn't rate their interactions as more hostile, even though others consistently did.
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In sports movies, motivating a team is easy. You walk into the locker room, shout some stuff about "heart" and how "today is your day," and then watch as your team succeeds.

I've always found motivational speeches challenging. What seems simple in the on-screen locker room is a lot harder in the real-life conference room.

Thankfully, a new study was recently published that offers some insight into crafting the perfect motivational speech. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers

  • In a series of experiments, researchers found that teams that are expected to win (favorites) react best to loss-focused encouragement (i.e. "Let's not lose!"), while teams that don't expect to win (underdogs) react best to win-focused encouragement (i.e. "Let's go win!").
  • It's important to give your team the right type of motivation. The most successful motivational appeals help favorites avoid cockiness and help underdogs avoid hopelessness.
  • It's important for leaders to tailor their motivational messages to the group they're addressing. Figuring out how a group sees itself is an important first step in any motivational strategy.
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When the chicken crossed the road, what did its coworkers think?

In a recently published study, researchers at the Wharton School of Business and the Harvard Business School set out to explore how jokes impact perceptions of competency and confidence in the workplace. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • Researchers found that telling funny, appropriate jokes increase both perceptions of confidence and competency.
  • More interesting, even appropriate jokes that are not funny increased perceptions of confidence.
  • Inappropriate jokes, on the other hand, made the subjects look incompetent even if they're funny.
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I'm sure many of you will be partaking in some champagne this evening. If you're like me, a drink or two might make you *think* you're a good dancer. While it doesn't actually do that, it turns out, a drink can also make you a better problem solver!

According to a study published this year in the Creativity Research Journal, low levels of intoxication make creative problem solving easier.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers divided study participants into two groups. Participants in the first group were given enough alcoholic beer to raise their blood alcohol content to 0.03 (somewhere between one and two drinks, depending on the gender and weight of the individual) while participants in the second group were given a similar amount of non-alcoholic beer. Both groups then completed a battery of creativity tests.
  • The buzzed participants performed better than their sober counterparts on these creative, problem solving tasks. Researchers theorized that this occurred because of a decrease in executive control; low levels of intoxication made the mind more flexible and increased the likelihood of "aha!" moments during problem solving.
  • Next time you're stuck, consider loosening up your brain with a little with a creativity cocktail.
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Hope everyone had a wonderful holiday! I am currently in-hiding from carbs (the cookies were as good as they looked).

For today's newsletter, we're going to be talking about noise. According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, moderate levels of ambient noise can significantly boost creative thinking ability. But why?

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers ran an experiment with a group of undergraduate students at the University of British Columbia to study the effect of background noise on creativity.
  • Subjects in this experiment were asked to complete a traditional test of creativity with ambient noise played in the background at three different levels: low (50dB), medium (65dB), and high (80dB).
  • The study found that moderate levels of ambient noise (an average coffee shop) are more conducive to creative thought than either low (a hushed library) or high (a packed restaurant) levels of noise.
  • Researchers concluded that moderate levels of ambient noise encourage creative thinking by causing subtle distractions which increase the likelihood of higher level abstract processing by making it hard to over-focus on the details.
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In the spirit of the holidays, I wanted to talk a little bit about online shopping. I'm in New Jersey today visiting family and in between mountains of cookies, I may have been buying some mildly unnecessary things on Amazon (you can never have enough toys for your dog!).

Like most people, I look at reviews when I am shopping online. However, when it comes to reviews, it appears that quantity has a quality all its own.

Confirm Before Sending A study examining Amazon purchasing behavior found that online shoppers are more likely to be swayed by the number of reviews a product has than the average rating of those reviews. Participants consistently chose product popularity over product quality.

For Skimmers:

  • This study asked a group of 132 adults to choose between two phone cases in a mock Amazon marketplace. Participants were shown the number of reviews that each case received and the average star rating of those reviews.
  • Study participants demonstrated a strong bias toward selecting cases with more reviews, and placed less importance on the average rating of those reviews.
  • Even when both products were rated poorly, subjects displayed a significant preference for the more regularly reviewed product.
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Want to boost innovation at your company? Don't look to open-plan offices, teleworking, or company retreats. Hire a lazy CEO.

A study ("The Genius Dilemma") recently published in The Journal of Creative Behavior uses survey data to explore the relationship between the personality traits of Fortune 1000 CEOs and the level of innovation found at their companies. Here's what you need to know.

For Skimmers:

  • There was a significant inverse relationship between CEO conscientiousness and company innovativeness. Companies with less conscientious CEOs (i.e. undisciplined, impulsive, lazy) are more innovative than companies run by conscientious CEOs (i.e. disciplined, careful, hardworking).
  • It takes times for a CEOs' personality to filter into a company culture. The study also showed that CEOs who have led companies for more than three years show the biggest impact on innovation.
  • Perhaps if your company needs an innovative edge, hire a lazy CEO and then give them time to do their thing.
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Author Norman Cousins once wrote, "Life is an adventure in forgiveness." According to a new study, creativity is as well. Apparently being a bitter, tortured artist may be oddly romantic, but it is not productive.

In a series of experiments, researchers explored the impact that forgiveness had on creative activities. Here's what they found.

For Skimmers:

  • Researchers split the subjects into two groups: one that was asked to write about a time they forgave someone after a conflict, and another that was asked (you guessed it) to write about a time they had not.
  • Participants in both groups then completed tasks designed to measure creativity.
  • The forgiving group performed better on creativity than either the non-forgiving or the control group. This improvement occurred most significantly when measuring the impact of forgiveness on deep focus creativity, as opposed to creative brainstorming.
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Turns out, you should not leave your creatives alone.

According to a study published this year in International Journal of Business Communication, leaders who used motivational language significantly boosted their team's creativity.

For every 10% increase in motivational language, employees perceived their work environment to be 7% more creative.

For Skimmers:

  • The study found three types of motivational language that positively influenced team creativity: direction-giving language, empathetic language, and meaning-making language.
  • Direction-giving language: "This is due by this Friday at 5 p.m. and should be focused on three concrete steps we can take to improve the quality of our Amazon reviews."
  • Empathetic language: "Feel free to get creative with those suggestions. We're looking for big ideas, and you've done great with those in the past."
  • Meaning-making language: "Senior management is looking for one idea around which to build our new customer outreach program. Your ideas will lay the foundation for this project."
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As your token millennial friend, I am here to tell you that I have a good reason for eating all that avocado toast.

According to a study published in the journal Psychological Research, the amino acid tyrosine can help boost performance on creative tasks that require deep focus to complete.

Tyrosine can be found in high quantities in foods such as avocados (!!), soy products, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, bananas, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, and a variety of seeds, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.

For Skimmers

  • This study gave 32 adult participants a 2-gram dose of tyrosine powder, dissolved in orange juice. Participants were then asked to complete two standard creativity tests: one measuring for divergent thinking (brainstorming) and one measuring convergent thinking (deep focus). A week later, the participants completed the same experimental sequence with a placebo instead.
  • Subjects who drank the tyrosine orange juice performed significantly better on the convergent thinking (deep focus) task than they did when they drank the placebo juice.
  • Tyrosine did not positively impact performance on the divergent thinking (brainstorming) task.
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Do you view leadership a responsibility or an opportunity? This might tell how well you take advice.

A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Organizational Behavior aimed to answer a simple question: Are leaders who view their power as a responsibility to the community better at taking advice than those who view leadership as an opportunity for self-advancement? Here's what they found.

For Skimmers

  • Leaders motivated by responsibility are better able to take advice than leaders motivated by opportunity.
  • Responsibility-motivated leaders were also more able to engage with advice from a diverse collection of sources (subordinates, expert advisors, and nonexperts)
  • These responsibility-minded leaders took advice because they perceived more value in that feedback, not because they felt less confident in their own ability to make decisions.
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Hi!


I run a company called TrackMaven and wrote a book coming out in June from Penguin Random House about how anyone can have moments of creative genius.


This blog is my musings on how you can identify your potential and act on it.


Every Wednesday and Sunday I send a "creative brief" with creativity hacks and tips backed by real-world science and case studies.


Join the family below.

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