Personal Development

Creative Inspiration

What’s Better For Creativity: Alcohol vs. Coffee


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I read somewhere that creativity is our ability to think of something original from connections made between pre-existing ideas in our brain. These connections are controlled by chemicals called neurotransmitters.

One of these neurotransmitters is adenosine, which alerts your brain when you’re running out of energy. When this happens, it reacts by slowing down the connections made between neurons.

Adenosine is kind of like your brain’s battery status monitor. Once your energy levels get low, adenosine starts to slow your brain functioning down. This is why after a few hours of intense work you begin to feel tired.

The only way to recharge it is to take a break. Unless of course you’ve got a secret weapon handy…..

Your brain on coffee

Every coffee drinker is familiar with the euphoric feelings after drinking a fresh cup of java. I know after I’ve had a cappuccino, I feel more focused. When you’re focused, you create effortlessly + your inspiration is on hyper-drive.

This happens because caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, preventing adenosine from slowing down your brain functioning. Coffee tricks your brain into thinking you have lots of energy, and this all happens within just 5 minutes of drinking it!

When adenosine receptors are blocked, chemicals that increase the performance of your neural activity like glucose, dopamine + glutamate, are allowed to work overtime. So while you may feel that coffee is giving you more energy, it’s simply telling your body that your energy reserves are good to go even when they’re long gone.

The peak effect of caffeine on your body happens between 15 minutes and 2 hours after you consume it. When caffeine from your coffee enters your bloodstream, you become more alert from an increase in the production of the hormones adrenaline + cortisol.

Problem? What Problem?

The problem is, if this over-stimulation of adrenaline + cortisol occurs too regularly, your adrenal glands (which absorb adrenaline to help make you feel energized) gradually begin to require more adrenaline to give you the same ‘pick-me-up’ feeling as before.

When researchers at Johns Hopkins University looked at low to moderate coffee drinkers (as little as one mug per day), they found that even this little amount of coffee can cause your body to develop a tolerance to caffeine + require more of it to get the same stimulation. Because of this, the good feelings associated with coffee are short-lived. Pretty soon you need another hit to feel good again.

Why there are lots of famous drunk artists, but no famous drunk accountants

While caffeine pulls a number on your brain to make you feel like you have more energy, alcohol has it’s own way of influencing your creativity.

After you’ve had a couple of drinks, drinking makes you less focused because it decreases your working memory. You begin to care less about what’s happening around you. But as researchers at the University of Chicago discovered, this can be a good thing for creativity’s sake.

The research showed that a blood alcohol level of 0.07 (about 2 drinks) makes people better at creative problem-solving tasks but not necessarily working memory tasks where they have to pay attention to things happening in their surroundings (like driving a car). By reducing your ability to pay attention to the world around you, alcohol frees up your brain to think more creatively.

It looks like author Ernest Hemingway was on to something when he said:

When you work hard all day with your head and know you must work again the next day what else can change your ideas and make them run on a different plane like whisky?

Alcohol produces better ideas

In an interesting study on the topic of alcohol + its effects on creativity, author Dave Birss brought together a group of 18 advertising creative directors + split them into two teams based on their amount of career experience. One team was allowed to drink as much alcohol as they wanted while the other team had to stay sober.

The groups were given a brief + had to come up with as many ideas as they could in three hours. These ideas were then graded by a collection of top creative directors. The result? The team of drinkers not only produced the most ideas but also came up with four of the top five best ideas.

While alcohol may not be the drink of choice when you need to be alert or focused on what’s going on around you, it seems that a couple of drinks can be helpful when you need to come up with new ideas.

Beer for the idea

The best time to have a beer (or two) would be when you’re searching for an initial idea. Because alcohol helps decrease your working memory (making you feel relaxed + less worried about what’s going on around you), you’ll have more brain power dedicated to making deeper connections.

Neuroscientists have studied the “eureka moment”. They’ve found that in order to produce moments of insight, you need to feel relaxed so front brain thinking (obvious connections) can move to the back of the brain (where unique, lateral connections are made) + activate the anterior superior temporal gyrus. This is a small spot above your right ear responsible for moments of insight.

Researchers found that about 5 seconds before you have a ‘eureka moment’, there’s a large increase in alpha waves that activate the anterior superior temporal gyrus. These alpha waves are associated with relaxation which explains why you often get ideas while you’re going for a walk, in the shower, or on the toilet.

Alcohol is a substance that relaxes you so it produces a similar effect on alpha waves and helping us reach creative insights.

Coffee, meanwhile, doesn’t necessarily help you access more creative parts of your brain like a couple pints of beer.

Coffee for the execution

If you’ve already got an idea or an outline of where you want to go with your project, a cup of coffee would do wonders compared to having a beer to execute on your idea.

The general consensus across caffeine studies is that it can increase quality + performance if the task you’re doing seems easy to you + doesn’t require too much abstract thinking.

In other words, after you have an initial idea or a plan laid out, a cup of coffee can help you execute and follow through on your concept faster without compromising quality.

Quick tip: If you drink coffee, do so before noon so it doesn’t effect your sleep. On average, it will take between 5-10 hours for the caffeine from a cup of coffee to be removed from your system. Messing up your sleep cycle can have a negative impact on your creative output for days to come.

Always in moderation

If you decide to drink coffee or beer while you’re working, you should stick to no more than 2 cups of coffee or a couple of beers per sitting. And you should only try to do this once or twice per week. Coffee + beer shouldn’t be thought of as magic bullets for creativity. They are ways to create chemical changes that occur naturally in your brain with a healthy lifestyle. Quality sleep patterns and allowing yourself to take breaks by splitting your day into sprints will do the same trick.

But if you do have to choose between coffee or beer, think about what type of task you are about to do + make sure you don’t over-drink!

Too much of either and you’ll lose the benefits of both.

Design

How Do You Bounce Back?


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bouncing back while building a brand

I’ve learnt that the best experiences we have are the sum of multiple “wow moments”, not just one. It’s the same feeling as the first time you used a great product. It probably felt like it was designed just for you. Every action you took while using it felt right. Your senses (vision, touch, sound) were in tune with the experience.You might’ve said “wow” while using it. The product touched you on an emotional level and you remember it. You shared it. And you want to use it again.

I felt this type of positive emotion the first time I used Instagram. At first, it may seem like using Instagram would not be that much better than just using any one of the other social networking platforms. But the trick to Instagram’s stickiness is not just one, but multiple “wow moments” that make it substantially better than using other photosharing sites. The first time I used Instagram, there were a few distinct “wow moments”:

1. Will my photos be safe? Instagram gives you a privacy option. You can turn it on anytime.

2. How will my photos be shared? Instagram has one newsfeed where your photos will pop up for friends to see, and visa versa. Only people who follow you will see them, and visa versa.

3. How do I fit into the global community? Instagram introduced hashtags, where your photo is categorized for anyone anywhere in the world to see.

4. Do I have to pay a subscription fee to use this service? Signing up to Instagram is free.

5. How do I upload a photo? Instagram connects to your phone’s camera + galleries, online or offline. You can choose any photo you want from anywhere you like at anytime.

6. How do I make my pictures look less boring? Instagram introduced editing features + filters so you can make your photos look better.

7. Do I have to be on my pc to upload to it? Instagram is only accessible via your phone. So all you need is you, your cellphone + the moments you’re capturing.

The way Instagram baked multiple “wow moments” into their product is one reason why their system is so strong. With each additional “wow moment”, your chances of using the app increases compared to not. Its simplicity is addictive. However, one of the challenges with creating multiple “wow moments” within your product is that they take time to construct. Instagram took over a year to build. You need to be patient and willing to go all-in on a problem to create an experience worthy of multiple “wow moments.” Creating the right experience is risky when you might not have all the signals to say what you’re building is the right thing. But that’s part of the road to building a differentiated product. You won’t have all the answers at the start. You might screw up a couple of times. The trick is persistance; bouncing back after you mess up.

To reduce risk, you can begin by focusing on the main one or two “wow moments”. This may not be good enough to create the full experience you’re after but as you build more and seek to reach that same level of quality of that one “wow moment,” your product will get closer to what you’re after.

Part of bouncing back is streamlining your definition of what you’re building. It’s often best to start by picking out the right problems to focus on + not get too caught up in solutions yet. How you solve each of the problems could be done a thousand different ways. To begin with, getting problems down is the focus. You can define potential solutions later.

Looks like bouncing back while in the process of building your dream product (blog, brand, service, item) could be summarised in a few sentences:

+ “Wowing” your audience

+ Making the experience as simple as possible

+ Defining what you’re building

+ Patience while you build

+ Persistance while you build

+ Learning each time you fall

Blogging

How Do You Keep People Coming Back?


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Building a brand is a funny thing. You want people to get the clearest understanding of who you are, but often you over complicate the process. My experience has taught me it’s really not that hard. Keeping things absolutely simple is key. If your business is online, it’s especially important to make your product easy to use for the user. Successful branding hinges on people coming back for more (products, information, entertainment). This means you need to become a habit for them. A habit is defined as: “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.” In his book on building habit-forming products, Nir Eyal (a Stanford lecturer + author) shares a perspective on how to think about building products people want to use. It’s called the Fogg Behavioural Model and was created by Stanford computer scientist, B. J. Fogg:

ImageThe Fogg Behaviour Model illustrates that the best path to get more people using your product is to make your product easier to use. If you make your product simpler, you increase the probability of your customers crossing the “Activation Threshold” + performing the behaviour.

Nir notes,

“Influencing behaviour by reducing the effort required to perform an action is more effective than increasing someone’s desire to do it. Make your product so simple that users already know how to use it, and you’ve got a winner.”

Remember this when you’re working on your next project. Keep it simple + you’re guaranteed to make your product, a habit.

Creative Inspiration, South Africa

20 Quotes + Endless Inspiration!


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Inspirational Quotes

As if the Golden Globes wasn’t inspiration enough (gorgeous outfits, glittering venue, beautiful role models), I’ve sourced some pretty cool sayings to give you a fresh approach to stuff you’re facing. As we kick off the new year, here are 20 quotes for the month that are guaranteed to inspire you.

1. Don’t look where you fall, but where you slipped. – African proverb

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