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Opinion and Insight
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Battery Hen Creatives Need to be Let Loose with Some ‘Nature Time’. Here’s Why.

LBB Editorial, 4 months, 3 weeks ago

You can’t argue with science, so turn off your computer and head outside, says LBB’s Laura Swinton

Battery Hen Creatives Need to be Let Loose with Some ‘Nature Time’. Here’s Why.

Cannes emails blossom in our inboxes. Lengthening sunny evenings spent inside, nurturing the summer slate of ad campaigns that are ready to hatch… May is here and, in the advertising industry at least, it’s far from a bucolic spring idyll. Instead, it seems, things are rather busy. Judging by the growing volume of new work we’re seeing in the Little Black Book office, some of you are very busy indeed. But if I may proffer a suggestion… take your phone and read this week’s newsletter on a park bench, by a river, up a mountain. Go outside. It might be just the thing your creative spirit needs.

“Get off the computer, turn the TV off and go outside and play, for heaven’s sake.” It’s motherly wisdom that dates back to time immemorial. We’re all adults now, of course. We can stay up as late as we want, eat a Snickers for lunch if we so desire, and, thanks to Netflix, stream cartoons to our heart’s content. But as we sit in offices, hunched over laptops, tablets and tech, it feels like that nugget of maternal advice is more relevant now than ever.

And you don’t even need to do anything as drastic as exercise to feel the benefit of a trip to the great outdoors or your local park. There’s a whole slew of research into the stress-reducing effect of simply being surrounded by the patterns found in nature. To get technical, fractals are the geometric repeating patterns that can be found repeated at every scale within the pattern as a whole – think snowflakes, snail shells, trees, geological faultlines, fern leafs… they’re everywhere. Simply looking at them can be incredibly relaxing physically (one study found they reduced stress responses by 60%) . And while this has led to a whole field of research into using fractals in design and architecture to help people unwind, the somewhat imperfect fractals of nature are more powerful relaxants than those generated by statistics.

But it’s not just about being in a state of untroubled zen – nature really does seem to help our brains when it comes to creativity. ‘Alpha waves’ are electrical signals in the brain associated with relaxation – and Dr Taylor’s research shows that natural fractal patterns stimulates these Alpha waves. In turn, other researchers have shown that increased Alpha waves are linked with greater creative problem solving, or what neuroscientists call ‘divergent thinking’.

But getting into nature isn’t just about passively looking at pretty plants.  One study led by psychologist David Strayer showed that a three day camping trip made participants perform 50% better on a creative problem solving task - though the researchers suggest that that was a result of both the positive experience of being in nature and the freeing sense of disconnectedness.

Speaking as someone with a symbiotic relationship with her couch, I’ve always noticed that many of the really great creative thinkers in the industry tend to have an outdoorsy streak wider than the Grand Canyon. Notoriously, the workloads dumped on creative departments are growing exponentially, timescales are shrinking, and in some agencies creatives are more battery hens than free range chickadees. Letting young creatives loose for some ‘nature time’ may, then, seem counter-intuitive. It probably won’t help with the amount of ideas and work they have to generate. But it could boost the quality.

And with that, I think I’ll go for a stroll…