Why Being Stuck at Home—and Unable to Hang Out in Cafes and Bars—Drains Our Creativity

mavo/Shutterstock.com

As we bounce from place to place, each brief social encounter plants a small seed that can gel into a new idea or inspiration.

While the pandemic has caused thousands of small businesses to temporarily close or shutter for good, the disappearance of the corner coffee shop means more than lost wages.

It also represents a collective loss of creativity.

Researchers have shown how creative thinking can be cultivated by simple habits like exercise, sleep and reading. But another catalyst is unplanned interactions with close friends, casual acquaintances and complete strangers. With the closure of coffee shops – not to mention places like bars, libraries, gyms and museums – these opportunities vanish.

Of course, not all chance meetings result in brilliant ideas. Yet as we bounce from place to place, each brief social encounter plants a small seed that can gel into a new idea or inspiration.

By missing out on chance meetings and observations that nudge our curiosity and jolt “a-ha!” moments, new ideas, big and small, go undiscovered.

It’s Not the Caffeine, It’s the People

Famous artists, novelists and scientists are often seen as if their ideas and work come from a singular mind. But this is misleading. The ideas of even the most reclusive of poets, mathematicians or theologians are part of larger conversations among peers, or are reactions and responses to the world.

As author Steven Johnson wrote in “Where Good Ideas Come From,” the “trick to having good ideas is not to sit around in glorious isolation and try to think big thoughts.” Instead, he recommends that we “go for a walk,” “embrace serendipity” and “frequent coffeehouses and other liquid networks.”

Just as today’s freelance writers might use coffee shops as a second office, it was the tea- and coffeehouses of London in the 18th century that spurred the Age of Enlightenment. Then, as now, people intuitively knew they were “more productive or more creative when working from coffee shops,” according to David Burkus, author of “The Myths of Creativity.” As research shows, it’s not the caffeine; it’s the people. Simply being around other people who are working can motivate us to do the same.

In other words, creativity is social.

It’s also contextual. The built environment plays a hidden but crucial role. Architectural researchers in the U.K., for instance, found that classroom design impacts the speed at which students learn. They found that classroom features, such as furniture and lighting, have as much impact on learning as teachers. Similar aspects of cafe design can enhance creativity.

Designing for Creativity

Buildings influence a wide range of human functions. Temperature and humidity, for example, affect our ability to concentrate. Daylighting is positively linked to productivity, stress management and immune functions. And air quality, determined by HVAC systems as well as the chemical composition of furnishings and interior materials like carpet, affects both respiratory and mental health. Architectural design has even been connected to happiness.

Likewise, a well-designed coffee shop can facilitate creativity – where the unplanned friction between people can ignite sparks of innovation.

Two newly completed coffee shops, the Kilogram Coffee Shop in Indonesia and Buckminster’s Cat Cafe in Buffalo, New York, were designed with this kind of interactivity in mind.

Each has open, horizontal layouts that actually encourage congestion, which fosters chance encounters. Lightweight and geometric furniture enables occupants to rearrange seating and accommodate groups of various size, such as when a friend unexpectedly arrives. There are views outside, which promote calmness and offer more opportunities to daydream. And there is a moderate level of ambient noise – not too high or low – which induces cognitive disfluency, a state of deep, reflective thinking.

Restoring the Soul of the Coffee Shop

Of course, not all coffee shops have closed. Many shops have reduced indoor seating capacity, limited patrons to exterior seating or have restricted services to takeout only as a means to stay open. All of them have faced the difficult task of implementing safeguards while retaining the atmosphere of their establishments. Some design elements, like lighting, can easily be retained amidst social distancing and other safety measures. Others, like movable seating for collaboration, are harder to achieve safely.

While these tweaks allow businesses to stay open and ensure the safety of customers, they sap spaces of their souls.

Philosopher Michel de Certeau said that the spaces we occupy are a backdrop on which the “ensemble of possibilities” and “improvisation” of everyday life occur.

When social life fully transitions into the digital realm, these opportunities become limited. Conversations become prearranged, while the side chats that take place before or after a meeting or event have been quashed. In video meetings, participants speak to either the whole room or no one.

For cafe owners, employees and customers, the post-pandemic era can’t come soon enough. After all, while customers ostensibly stop by their local coffee shop for a jolt of caffeine, the true draw of the place is in its haptic and hectic spirit.

Korydon Smith is a professor of architecture and associate director of global health equity at the University at Buffalo; Kelly Hayes McAlonie is an adjunct instructor of architecture at the University at Buffalo, and Rebecca Rotundo is an associate director of instructional design at the University at Buffalo.

The ConversationThis article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.