"I once saw an infographic that suggested creative minds require beer and coffee – a beer to stir creative juices, and a coffee to keep the person awake long enough to execute," quipped Dr. Randy McIntosh, Director of the Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest Centre in Toronto, Ontario. Dr. McIntosh, who is working on an international project referred to as the Virtual Brain Project, sat down with us to offer his take on popular beliefs on how such things as culture, environment, life style and group ideation techniques affect cognitive performance and creativity.

Create boundaries

Having just returned from a visit to Google's Mountain View, California headquarters, Dr. McIntosh remarked on the misconception that creativity flows from a lawless environment defined by playgrounds, games and junk food. "In fact, companies like Google have found that harnessing the creative powers of staff requires striking a balance between freedom and structure. You are free to work within boundaries and that's important."

Stay active

"One of the most important ways people can improve their cognitive performance at work is to get up and move around," says Dr. McIntosh, "and that doesn't mean you need to go to the gym and have a grueling workout during lunch. Something as simple as walking up a couple flights of stairs will suffice. Most people can't maintain their attention on one task for longer than 90 minutes, so try breaking up your work day with physical activity."

Give yourself a break

We asked Dr. McIntosh to comment on brain-storming, mind-mapping and other ideation techniques that some facilitators claim improves creativity among teams. "More importantly," he replied, "I would focus on what you do to stop thinking. We need to constantly re-orient ourselves. Everyone has their own preference whether its meditation, going for a walk in the park or changing up one's environment. We need to avoid switching rapidly from task to task without giving our brains time to adapt."

Establish healthy eating and sleeping habits

"Proper rest is very important. I would caution people from trying to compensate with any kind of stimulants or supplements. In general, people require between 6-8 hours of sleep. And reactions to stimulants such as caffeine vary as individuals metabolize them at different rates. While coffee may have its benefits for some people, others can't handle it even in small doses." Dr. McIntosh referred to his colleague, Dr. Carol Greenwood, who studies the impact of lifelong dietary patterns on risk of cognitive decline with aging, highlighting the importance of developing habits that promote long term health. "Unfortunately, there isn't a magic bullet when it comes to enhancing creativity," he said.

Founded in 1918 in Toronto, Baycrest Health Sciences is one of the world's top research institutes in cognitive science. Learn more about how the ground-breaking research taking place at Baycrest in Toronto.

 

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June 4, 2015

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