Sometimes, shooting the lights out seems like a good idea.
Because of this blog, I’m always interested in articles that help a person become more creative. Of course, even if I didn’t have this blog I’d still be interested.
I recently read an article in Inc. Magazine about adjusting your lighting to boost the creative process.
In its article, Inc. cites a study by two German researchers that suggests dimming your lights if you want to be creative.
Seriously. I can’t make this stuff up. This is from the horse’s mouth:
“Two researchers based in Germany, Anna Steidle and Lioba Werth, used six experiments to observe different aspects of creativity. The first three studies primed participants by having them describe a dark or bright environment or do a word search where the words were related to one of two illuminations. From there, creativity was measured by an imagination task, an alternative-use game, or a speed-accuracy test … priming dark conditions induces a risky, more explorative behavior, leading to creativity, Steidle concluded. But to generalize it, she and her partner had to use actual lighting variations …”
Don’t mind saying, I’m a little skeptical of this. Not all the way, though.
If you’re a cubicle dweller, you’re probably in one of those offices with fluorescent lights blazing nonstop, and they’re probably flickering all over your computer screen. Really, how creative do you feel in such surroundings?
Thought so. Kind of makes you want to shoot a couple of the lights out, doesn’t it?
Lights low in the studio
When he recorded one album, Charles Mingus used the same band that played in a club called the Showplace for about a year. In the studio he adjusted the lights to simulate the darkened club.
I’m pretty sure he wasn’t thinking about what scientists studied about creativity. He just wanted to recreate the surroundings where his band did its best work. He even went so far as to talk to the nonexistent audience between songs, just like he did during the live gig:
“We do not applaud here at the Showplace where we work,” he warned the non-audience at one point. “The reason is that we are interrupted by your noise. If you must applaud, do it at the end of the set, and it won’t even matter then. No rattling of ice in your drinks, no cash register ringing. Got it?”
During that recording, his band was every bit as strong as it was in a live set. This is quite unusual for jazz, especially the highly improvisational style Mingus liked.
But the lights? Maybe he was onto something.
Mood lighting … in more ways than one
I can’t vouch for the lighting trick myself. Really haven’t tried it, though the level of illumination does make a difference with me. I have two periods where I’m at my best: In the early-to-mid morning, and fairly late at night. Most of the time my morning work session is done while sitting in the doorway in a camp chair, front door propped open, bare feet hanging out the door. Enjoying the sunshine. About the only issue here is keeping the laptop screen halfway shaded so I can read it. The only dimming going on is when the clouds roll in.
Late at night, I’ll have lights on. Preferably from the side rather than in front or behind me, but I’m thinking of screen readability here. The lighting’s not like office fluorescents, which is probably a good thing.
Don’t know if it’s universal or just me, but I need natural light when at my creative best. Lots of it. But it has to be actual sunlight. I have those light bulbs that supposedly mimic natural light, but I can tell the difference. It’s a poor substitute for the real thing. Artificial light doesn’t do it for me, especially when too much or too little.
That’s why I don’t do much writing at the library. All fluorescents, but they’re not on all the way. No window nearby, so I usually do nothing but upload my copy from there. At Starbucks I can at least grab a window seat or write outside on the patio.
I know lighting seriously affects my mood. I can go wild during the summer (sometimes running faster than the Muse), but that’s not always such a good thing. Sometimes I go off the rails. On the other hand I’m in pretty sad shape during the winter. Even in South Carolina, the sun is just a rumor for weeks at a time. When the Muse shows up then I might tell her to bug off.
I don’t understand how a person can live in a place like Seattle, a place Bill Cosby once said was where the people would cut up a calf and lay it out on a rock whenever the sun came out. But up there, people are doing amazing stuff with computers. In Redmond the Microsoft coders come up with extremely creative ways to screw up your computer with each new release.
I wonder if a lack of sunlight contributes to all the depressing angst-ridden music that comes from Seattle. More than likely, I’ll wager. Give it this, though. It is creative stuff.
@work in different surroundings
On the home front it’s a battle keeping my lighting the way I want it. The town drunk who painted the interior went with a murky color reminescent of something you’d shovel in a horse barn. Just looking at it zaps my mental and creative energy. I have several 4×4 whiteboards on the wall to brighten the place, and of course some real heavy jazz or some energetic bluegrass playing.
As I write this, it’s around noon. The weather is cruddy, and the intermittent rain puts the kibosh on the feet-hanging-out-the-door setting. I have the drapes open to let in some natural daylight (such as it is), and the lights are off. Don’t need them right now because there’s enough sunlight punching through the rain clouds. John Coltrane’s playing a live version of “One Up, One Down.” The stereo’s not loud enough to grab the attention of North Charleston’s Finest, but it’s pretty close. I can operate on that, and in fact I’m kicking out some pretty good work right now.
Some other surroundings where I’ve done good creative work:
- Parked in the driver’s seat of my old taxicab, windows opened and the car aimed so I get the best breeze. The steering wheel serving as a desk.
- In the front of a newspaper office, in some stinkin’ cubicle but close enough to the huge front window. In Arizona. If you can’t find sunlight there, you’re not gonna find it anywhere.
- Speeding along a curvy road in southwest Indiana during the summer, clipboard on the console, and I’m writing without even looking at it. Sometimes it’s even readable when I get to the newspaper office.
- Pounding out a few hard miles on a bicycle. Forget about actually writing stuff down then, so I hope I can remember things when I get somewhere I can take things down.
Only common denominator I can see here is natural light and lots of it.
I can sure see the idea of muting the lights when indoors. But if it’s the real stuff let’s have it full blast.
Tell the researchers to take that dimmer switch and … well, it seems so appropriate to suggest someplace lacking sunshine, but let’s not go there.
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What say you? What lighting conditions are best for your creative work? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it.