Imagine such a picture: you have a creative task to do, maybe this is a project for work, maybe a family issue you need to solve, or maybe just something you need to design and create. You are sitting in a dark room with no window just poor artificial light and the walls are painted grey with one rather sad picture hung up. There are some tables and uncomfortable chairs. Everything is positioned in straight rows with no possibility to move. Moreover, you are quite cold, hungry and a bit tired but there is nothing around to help you with those needs. There are other people there, but you are not allowed to speak to them, you need the permission of a supervisor even if you want to whisper.
Nightmare? Well it looks and sounds like that, but that is how I remember my primary school! Maybe with one slight improvement – there were windows in classrooms. Now, how do you feel about working creatively in such conditions? It is almost impossible. The gate to imagination is open when one feels at least ok, and it is wide open if one is delighted and feels comfortable.
In our project Imaginarium we asked youth workers from Ireland, Poland, Finland, France and Luxemburg about what they needed to boost young people’s creativity. All of them agreed that young people very much have the ability to work creatively, they do not need special methodology, complex methods or tools. What is essential however is having the right space and atmosphere – safe, non-judgmental, open. External conditions are also important, not just for young people but for everyone.
That’s why during our last partnership meeting in Galway we asked our colleague – experienced trainer and therapist – Diarmuid Lavelle to tell us about the best conditions for creative work. Here, we share this valuable knowledge with you
The size of the room should be balanced and adjusted to people number. Too large could overwhelm and too small could be a limitation. Furniture positioning should be flexible to let participants move around freely and adopt their setup to how best suits the task. A relaxing space with couches can be an advantage, but only to a certain extent. Too many cushions and couches may put people in too sleepy a state to work, however on the flip side formal seating may limit the amount of creative thinking occurring. A space that has a focal point with a clear visual objective is a great solution that encourages movement and therefore more communication.
Plants are also very easy on the eye and stimulate creativity. Being close to nature is one of the most effective imagination boosters out there so when we conduct indoor creative sessions lets have at least a few plants inside.
Some but not all colours are helpful as well: red increases your heart rate; yellow stimulates the intellect; and blue is often called the colour of the mind with strong blues evoking clear thoughts and delicate blues helping us stay focused and calm. If there is no colour in the room you can always prepare motivating sentences, print them on coloured sheets and stick them to the walls.
The optimum temperature for creativity is about 20° Celsius. If people feel cold, it is better to warm them up by movement than to heat the room, and if people are warm the best idea is to simply open the window. This will also let you keep the room air hydrated.
Daylight is best when trying to work creatively as it helps balance serotonin levels in the body. Try to avoid direct sunlight – you shouldn’t have to squint. Light up pools of darkness (the corners for example) to fit the atmosphere, and if overhead daylight is not possible than a bright artificial light with a full spectrum or “day light bulb” may help. Flexible lighting is a definite advantage.
Acoustics in any given room should not be too harsh. Music is an option depending on the group dynamics and work purpose. For divergent thinking (when we want our imagination to run wild) music can be a great help. The optimum option will always be the classical genre: Bach, Mozart, Vivaldi.
However, when people need to focus and analyse the results of brainstorming for example, music can impair the process. It is advisable to ask the group what suits them best.
When you provide suitable conditions for creative work you are much closer to success. In our next blogs we will also cover the very important subject of how best to make a creative group climate. Physical conditions are essential, however people also need to feel safe in relation to others in the group and putting forward their ideas. Stay tuned to find out how to build a creative atmosphere.