Does Coffee Kill Creativity?

By October 20, 2018 General No Comments
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Businesspeople—and marketers in particular—are kind of obsessed with creativity. Which only makes sense, since so much of what we do, and so much of our success, depends on our ability to improve upon existing ideas, and come up with new ideas—and to do so every day.

No pressure, right?

It’s no wonder there’s been about a billion books (give or take a few million) and classes and studies and seminars and webinars (and blogs) about creativity. Everybody wants to be more creative. Everybody’s looking for another handy-dandy tip to increase his or her creative abilities. (And clearly, if I’m using the expression “handy-dandy” I need help more than most.)

Way back in April, I wrote a little essay about how meditation can be a powerful creativity tool. Well, I’m here to discuss another popular one: coffee. It’s something people have sworn by for hundreds of years—probably since the “magical fruit” first came on the scene in 11th Century Ethiopia. (Yes, coffee is considered the original magical fruit—long before kidney, pinto, black beans and the like stole its thunder, in a manner of speaking.)

Just look at some of the famous thinkers and creators who were either obsessed with or addicted to coffee—and who swore their creative powers and exceptional productivity were due at least in part to guzzling as much of the brown liquid as possible.

  • Voltaire, the famous French satirist who wrote Candide, drank between 40 and 50 cups a day. (Nope, that is not a misprint.)
  • Theodore Roosevelt drank a gallon a day.
  • L. Frank Baum (uber-creative Wizard of Oz writer) had four or five cups every morning. (A bit more reasonable, but still a lot.)
  • Honore de Balzac, the French novelist and playwright was famous for drinking 50 cups a day.

Ah yes, coffee—that mighty elixir that turns tired, foggy-headed, mopey mortals into cheerful, peppy, super-achievers. Or not.

Turns out, recent evidence shows that coffee (and caffeine in general) may actually be sabotaging your creativity rather than supporting it.

Voltaire: Mon dieu! Ziss makes no sense!

  1. Frank Baum: Clearly those researchers don’t have a brain!

There are two main reasons why they say coffee (and caffeine in general) can adversely affect creativity.

First, a jittery, overexcited mind isn’t conducive to generating new ideas. Creativity thrives in a warm, peaceful environment, free of stress and agitation. By stimulating your body’s production of adrenaline, caffeine puts you in a fight-or-flight state. Which is great if you want to feel more physically energetic and focused. But it’s not so great of you want the subconscious neural networks of your brain to come up with that great new marketing concept. In those cases, caffeine actually works against you, blocking the pathways that lead to idea generation.

Talk about a kick in the Balzac.

Second, the caffeine in coffee takes a full 24 hours to leave your system. Which means that even a single cup of coffee in the morning can affect the quality of your sleep. And as we all know, the lack of a good night’s sleep makes us significantly less able to perform at our best. Being tired can also affect our thinking and the quality of our ideas.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news. I love my coffee, too. As a marketer, I rely on it daily. Unfortunately, as a way to improve my idea-generating power, it’s apparently better to choose decaf.

Feel free to send your hate mail to mzukor@dtrio.com

Author Mark Zukor

Mark is a copywriter and designer for d.trio.

More posts by Mark Zukor

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