Does Coffee Shop Noise Help Entrepreneurs Be More Creative?
One of the things people complain about most in today’s “open workspaces” is noise. However, some research shows that noise-in moderation-can actually improve creative thinking and boost “idea generation.”
Anyone who’s ever found themselves trapped in a noisy environment struggling to produce work for a client with a deadline looming might beg to differ.
But before you shout “nay” at me and jam your AirPods back in, check out some of the research (and caveats) about this.
70 is a Magic Number
There are plenty of reasons coffee shops are perfect places for entrepreneurs to work.
There’s coffee, other inspiring creative people who are there to grind (and with whom you can network), coffee, people of leisure who you can make connections with and potentially convert into new clients, and caffeine.
But these aren’t the only reasons entrepreneurs and creatives flock to coffee shops to work.
Way back in 2012, when people thought the world was about to end-fortunately that’s no longer the case these days-a team of researchers from several different universities published a paper about a series of laboratory experiments that measured the effects of various “noise” levels on “creative task performance.”
You might be wondering, as I was, how exactly they defined “noise” for these experiments. In the journal article, they defined “noise” as “any unwanted sound.”
In the paper, they argue that while noise definitely distracts people, the degree of distraction induced by different noise levels affects creativity differently.
For example, a high level of noise may interfere with peoples’ ability to process information
However, a moderate noise level (compared to low/no noise) introduces just enough difficulty in processing information that it leads to increased abstract thinking-with people being less likely to get stuck fixating on single ideas. In the lab tests, this resulted in measurably greater idea generation.
What was the ideal “moderate” noise range? Somewhere around 70dB.
What’s the average sound level in a busy coffee shop? Somewhere around 70dB.
Does listening to that 64 year old regular talk endlessly about the exciting world of refurbishing old Dell laptops to sell on Craigslist with the 19 year old barista who wishes they were at a Melanie Martinez concert while you’re trying to write qualify as noise? Yes, yes it does.
Why Does Coffee Shop Noise Help Entrepreneurs?
It seems like around this magical 70dB volume, noise is quiet enough so we’re not completely distracted, but it’s loud enough to prevent us from concentrating too intensely on a problem that our creativity is affected negatively.
One of the caveats of these results was that the benefits of moderate noise seemed to only affect people who already possessed a certain degree of problem solving ability, and were highly creative (cough, entrepreneurs, cough).
According to this research, white noise and pink noise near 70dB doesn’t have the same effect that a ~70dB-ish mix of human voices and recognizable sounds found in everyday experience do.
Not like entrepreneurs and creatives needed another reason to be near coffee to get work done, but it kind of explains why working at a coffee shop, or working in open/co-working spaces over coffee, is such an ideal situation for them.
This is semi-abstract thinking in itself (especially since the paper was published in 2012) but I’d guesstimate that playing podcasts with multiple participants conversing has a similar kind of effect.
Personally, I know I often find it easier to write when I have four separate elder millennials talking over each other about how historically inaccurate Being the Ricardos was-directly in my ears. I don’t absorb a single piece of information from the podcast, but it certainly seems to help with idea generation.
(Hey, I didn’t say noise helped with “good idea generation.” But did you expect someone to bring up Being the Ricardos-or really any Aaron Sorkin production-in an article about creativity? Certainly not.)
Originally published at https://blackinsomnia.us on February 28, 2022.