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Forbes article: The Science Of Happiness And The Creative Brain

12th June 2017 | Jennifer Moss

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See the full article on the Forbes website here.

We often state that being creative makes us happier. But what if we flip that concept on its head and say that being happier makes us more creative, more innovative? For agency creatives, marketers and brand builders, this “chicken or the egg” question is worth debating.

Happiness And High Performance

Groundbreaking research in the field of neural and psychological sciences can teach us how to strengthen our psychological fitness so we can be higher performing. Rigorous scientific evidence (PDF) has shown that focusing on acts of gratitude will increase performance in a multitude of ways. From working out more per week to writing down something about work that you are grateful for, you can significantly increase job satisfaction and improve relationships with your peers.

So, what happens to us when we're stressed?

The Stressed-Out Creative Brain

A person’s negative bias is an evolutionary hangover going as far back as our cave-dwelling days. It has us irrationally scanning for saber-toothed tigers on the prowl ready to attack us at any moment. This fear is deeply rooted in our subconscious, referred to as our “fight or flight” response. When the chemistry is active, the back of our brain in the hippocampus region yanks itself offline to ensure its protection. When sudden stress occurs, the amygdala will shut down the entire brain operation to prepare the body to pool all of its resources for survival. Not an optimal time for creative thinking, according to experts from Stanford School of Medicine or Mayo Clinic.

This would compare to Facebook losing 30% of its developers or American Airlines taking 30% of their pilots out of service. But when we pull that part of our brain back online, creativity and innovative thinking increase substantially.

Are marketers actually happy? 

According to research by the U.K. government that analyzed the happiness of 274 different occupations, marketing associate professionals ranked 167th, with arts officers, producers and directors ranking slightly higher in happiness at 144th on the list. However, at triple the salary of the marketing associates, marketing directors ranked 24th.

How can we encourage more workplace happiness so that ideation and innovation flows for those marketing professionals making up the larger percentage of the marketing workforce? What can we do to protect our creative professionals from this evolutionary hangover?

Here are a few suggestions:

Boredom: Try to reduce it.

Novelty is one of our brain’s favorite ways to adopt and deepen a new memory.

So it should come as no surprise that boredom is the No. 1 killer of engagement in the workplace and that the main culprit for boredom is repeating tasks with little sense of accomplishment. The brain does not respond favorably to repetition when little or no gains are made. When we reduce activity in the “reward center” of the brain, the brain starts to desire it and can become highly distracted in its search for new experiences.

A University of Kent boredom and happiness at work poll asked 2,113 graduates aged 21 to 45 to provide a “boredom rating” out of ten. Marketers showed some of the highest levels of boredom. The graduates polled listed the following as the main reasons for boredom:

  1. “Lack of challenge in their jobs” (61%)
  2. “Not using their skills or their knowledge" (60%)
  3. “Doing the same things every day" (50%)

Marketers are looking for a workplace with challenge, novelty and community, rather than boredom and misappropriation of skills. It may seem like a challenge of scale, but by allowing every creative employee some percentage of their time to invest in passion projects of choice, you will notice a massive return on involvement.

Jennifer Moss is the Cofounder of Plasticity Labs, speaks globally about happiness, and is the author of “Unlocking Happiness at Work”. Click the image below to buy the book.

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