When you are trying to develop new ideas, it is useful to get every advantage you can. One aspect of creative groups that deserves more attention is mood. Is it better to be in a good mood or a bad mood when you are trying to develop a new idea?
If you just look back on anecdotes, it is hard to know for sure. On the one hand, the many stories of artists who struggled emotionally suggests that great creativity may be born from pain and distress. On the other hand, when people feel bad, they often want to avoid engaging with others and with the world, so perhaps it is better to be happy.
Luckily, science has weighed in on this question.
Alice Isen and her colleagues did many studies looking at the effects of positive mood on creative problem solving. They would do simple things to induce a positive mood like give someone an unexpected gift or have them listen to happy music. After lifting their mood, people were more likely to look for novel ways to solve new problems.
Of course, there are two kinds of positive mood. Some positive moods involve enjoying a desirable or pleasurable experience. Savoring chocolate or listening to music is like that. Other positive moods happen when you survive a difficult time. Turning off a buzzing light can make you feel better, because it removes an annoyance from the environment. Studies suggest that positive moods created by desirable experiences enhance creativity, but those created by removing undesirable experiences do not.
When you are putting a group together to engage in a creative pursuit, then, it is a good idea to create a positive mood. Play a little pleasant music as people are getting together. Greet everyone with a smile. Give them a small gift like a new pen to work with or a toy. Pleasant smells can also lift the mood.
Once you start generating ideas, get a feel for how it is going. A successful idea generation session will sustain a positive mood. Other research reveals that fast thinking lifts your mood. When a team is really working well together, the mood of the entire group is lifted. So, the effects of positive mood on creativity can be self-sustaining when things are going well.
Sometimes idea generation sessions are frustrating. The ideas are not coming. In this case, the entire group bogs down. That slow pace of thought can actually make people feel bad, which can make generating ideas even harder.
If you see the group mood starting to collapse, it may be time to intervene. Call a time out. Give everyone a chance to take a walk. If it is a sunny day, let people go outside and breathe some fresh air. Exercise and a change of venue will help to break the bad mood. Encourage people not to jump on their phones immediately or check email. Otherwise, they will run from one stressful situation into another.
After you take a break, engage some of the techniques you used to start the day. You might consider holding back on giving a surprise gift to everyone until well after you get started to lift people's mood in the event that the session turns out to be frustrating.
Just remember that the better people feel, the more likely they will think expansively about the problem they are solving.