Coffee: Does it boost creativity, or hamper creativity?

Scientists disagree about whether coffee helps or hinders creativity.  Since coffee helps people focus, some scientists actually believe it reduces creativity.  Maria Konnikove in “The New Yorker” has written that creativity depends on “free association” (i.e., letting our mind wander)—and that coffee gets in the way of “wandering” because it “hones our attention in a hyper-vigilant fashion”.

But creativity, on its own, may be over-rated, states writer Geoffrey James.  If creative ideas are too scattered, they may remain just that:  scattered ideas.  Thomas Edison said, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”  In other words, what good are ideas if we don’t actually DO something with them?

Coffee may help the creative process precisely because it tamps down unneeded new ideas and helps us focus on our goals:  staying on the project and making daily progress…rather than wool-gathering about what we could be doing instead of working.

We might compare coffee to mindfulness meditation, which helps us silence our “monkey brain”—the part of the brain that chatters aimlessly—and helps our “ox brain” (the linear, step-by-step section) take charge.  This is what we want when we’ve got work to do.  

The Take Away:  

  • Don’t drink coffee before or during “mindless” activity times (housecleaning, going on a walk, riding the metro), because that’s when you might want free association to give you some ideas.
  • Do drink plenty of coffee once you’ve got your ideas and you want to put them to work, step by step.

For more detail, read Geoffrey James’ complete article: