Creativity and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Morning

This was an awful morning.

You’ve had those, right? In my case, the morning was one long meeting—the kind where people talk at you for hours, without even a bathroom break. Each presentation alone would have been interesting, but in total they resulted in a crowd of grumpy uncomfortable professors squirming in their chairs and looking longingly at the door. We were having no fun.

And the lack of fun mattered. Actually, it mattered a lot. Because at the end, a very bright administrator presented us with a valuable creative challenge—but few people were able to engage. I have hopes the project will live to rise another day, but at the end of this morning it was on life support. Creative thinking wasn’t happening.

It made me think about an article I read recently* about third graders creating cartoons. The study compared the creativity of cartoons created in a “mood enhanced” condition versus a more typical classroom activity. What enhanced the mood? It wasn’t much. When students entered the room, lively music was playing and for 30 seconds they participated in a “simulated laughing” exercise—they stood up and laughed, for no particular reason. Teachers reported that students found the exercise amusing—which any of us who have taught third grade can easily envision. But those students also generated more creative cartoons.

The study is one more piece of evidence that where creative thinking is concerned, mood matters. Of course creativity can happen in all kinds of difficult situations, for which anyone caught in an emergency can be grateful. But in general, we do not do our best thinking, creative or otherwise, when we are stressed, anxious, or unhappy. Creating a classroom atmosphere in which students can be happy and relaxed is not just a matter of being “nice.” And it certainly is not being “soft.” Whether in business environments or in schools, a positive atmosphere and a sense of progress lead to better results. Here’s hoping our creative efforts take place under better circumstances. If not, I may have to suggest 30 seconds of laughter. It couldn’t hurt.


*Teske, J., Clausen, C. K., Gray, P., Smith, L. L., Subia, S. A., Szabo, M. R., Kuhn, M., Gordon, M. & Rule, A. C. (2017). Creativity of third graders leadership cartoons: Comparison of mood-enhanced to neutral conditions. Thinking Skills and Creativity, 23, 217-226.

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