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Cartoon - ideas in a pub

Creativity and Booze

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Probably the easiest way to boost your creativity is also the least talked about method: have a few drinks. As artists, writers and composers have long suspected and science has more recently demonstrated1, being slightly intoxicated provides a boost to creativity. However, you do need to be careful, unlike many other methods of creativity enhancement, being a bit drunk has some definite negatives! And regularly being a bit drunk is even worse!

When you have a glass or three of wine (or whatever alcohol you fancy), your mind relaxes and two things seem to happen to encourage creativity. Firstly, your working memory is impaired. In other words, you cannot focus as well on the matter at hand. As a result, you free your mind to associate seemingly unrelated information to whatever you are thinking about. And this is what creativity is all about: combining diverse concepts to create original (at least in your mind) ideas.

Secondly, the part of your mind that regulates thinking -- part of the brain's dorsolateral prefrontal region -- becomes less active. When you are sober, this part of your mind tends to reject crazy ideas as too crazy, stupid or potentially embarrassing -- especially when you are sharing ideas with a group. When you've had a few drinks, the dorsolateral prefrontal region stops caring so much about your dignity, freeing your mind not only to build crazier ideas than you might normally do, but also to share those ideas with others who, if they've also been drinking, are more likely to appreciate and build upon your crazy ideas!

Moreover, if your ideas are criticised by others in your drinking group, you are more likely to defend your idea, sometimes with odd associations, than you would in a sober, business environment.

The result, provided you keep your drinking in control, is increased creativity. This is probably why far more creative ideas (in terms of quality and quantity) have been written on beer coasters than on office PostIt notes!

Be Careful with Alcohol

Needless-to-say, you need to be cautious with this approach to creativity enhancement. Firstly, excess alcohol is dangerous to your health. Even a small amount of alcohol is dangerous if you are driving. Drinking and driving is not creative clever. It is just stupid!

Secondly, as you drink your creativity might express itself in other ways, for instance: causing you to believe you are more attractive to the opposite sex than you really are (particularly in the case of the cute blonde you are trying to flirt with!).

Thirdly, your lack of focus may cause you to lose interest in whatever you want to be creative about and lead you to do something less productive.

No Easy Conclusions

As much as I enjoy a glass of wine or two in the evenings, I cannot condone drinking alcohol as a creativity method unless you are comfortable drinking and in control. I know a number of alcoholics and recovering alcoholics. I would certainly not recommend they take a drink in order to be more creative. There are better ways.

I have also lost a couple of friends to drunk drivers and a one-time colleagues will never walk normally again as the result of an accident in which he was driving drunk. Anyone who thinks he or she can drive under the influence of alcohol is a dangerous idiot.

That said, if you enjoy moderate drinking, going out to the pub with a few colleagues after work in order to play with ideas could be an effective way to come up with some great ideas. If suitable in your culture, you might hold idea-play sessions in a cafe with a choice of drinks ranging from light alcoholic drinks, like wine and beer, to alcohol free drinks for the non-drinkers.

It is also worth noting that simply getting away from the office and into a relaxed environment also relaxes the mind and offers some of the same benefits as drinking. Even if you do not drink, joining a few drinking colleagues for tea, coffee or fruit juice in a comfortable cafe can also be a great way to loosen up the mind and come up with ideas. Likewise, being a non-drinker in a group of moderate drinkers does not prevent you from making a creative contribution at the pub.

Write Drunk. Edit Sober

Ernest Hemingway is miscredited with saying, “Write drunk. Edit Sober”. This is good advice in any creative endeavour that involves alcohol. If you are having great creative thoughts after a drink or three – document your ideas thoroughly. But review them and act on them only when you have sobered up!

 

Reference

  1. Andrew F. Jarosz, , Gregory J.H. Colflesh , Jennifer Wiley; "Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving"; Consciousness and Cognition; Volume 21, Issue 1, March 2012, Pages 487–493; Link to paper
 

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Jeffrey Baumgartner
Bwiti bvba

Erps-Kwerps (near Leuven & Brussels) Belgium