Coffee Shops, Creativity, and Covid

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Pre-Covid, we enjoyed the opportunity to get out of our office habitat on frequent occasions and take our laptop on the road to our friendly neighborhood coffee shop. There's something about the change of scenery that can spark creativity and productivity. It could be access to hi-test, premium grade coffee, the gentle hum of coffee shop background noise, tasty pastries at one's beck-and-call, or a combination thereof.

There is science to back up claims of the "coffee house effect" on productivity. A Journal of Consumer Research study showed that a low level of ambient noise in a place could boost your creativity. If slightly distracted from work by ambient stimuli, it can increase abstract thinking ability and lead to more creative idea generation.

Another study from 2019 focuses on stochastic resonance — the phenomenon in which just the right amount of background noise boosts our senses and improves decision making — a little white noise to help us focus on the tasks at hand.

And of course, being human, never discount the effect of having other people hard at work around you to inspire you to "get after it" yourself. Seeing other people work puts us in the mood to work. Think about the extra effort you give if you're exercising with a group versus doing it solo. Seeing other people sweating alongside you can definitely supercharge your own level of effort. Exercise equipment company Peloton has ridden that particular human trait into a billion-dollar business.

Mixing it up, visually

Another component of the coffee house effect is that getting out of the office and into a new and different visual atmosphere can "wake" your brain up a bit. New visual stimuli can energize your brain and help you think in unique patterns. Of course, you may have to develop a map of all the coffee houses in your area and trek from one to the next to keep the stimulus at peak value.

And think about all the subtle changes happening regularly in the background while you work. New customers, the door opening and closing, new smells (donuts!), and maybe even someone you know coming in to break the routine with a quick conversation. All those little happenings going on in the background are goosing our brain on a subconscious level.

Of course, Covid-19 has put an end to our penchant for hanging out with other like-minded caffeine addicts hunched over their laptops, so we've had to find different ways to simulate the effect. YouTube videos of coffee shop noise, ambient music channels, and finding a socially distanced picnic table in the park will have to do while we isolate. But we cant wait to get back to hanging out at our favorite table, ordering the quadruple espresso and cracking open the laptop.