It's a tiresome phrase repeated in brainstorming sessions around the world: let's do some blue-sky thinking. Tiresome, because it's so often ignored, or resented, or both. Perhaps turning it into action, though, is more a matter of the environment the dreamers are in than any other constraining structures that might be in place.
Our researcher Hannah dug up a paper by Ravi Mehta and Juliette Zhu, published in Science in 2009, that suggests that the colour of a room has an impact on the creativity of cognitive task performance:
“Psychologists, at the University of British Columbia, were interested in looking at how the colour of interior walls influence the imagination. They recruited six hundred subjects, most of them undergraduates, and had them perform a variety of basic cognitive tests displayed against red, blue or neutral coloured backgrounds.
The differences were striking. When people took tests in the red condition – they were surrounded by walls the colour of a stop sign – they were much better at skills that required accuracy and attention to detail, such as catching spelling mistakes or keeping random numbers in short-term memory.
The colour blue, however, carried a completely different set of psychological benefits. While people in the blue group performed worse on short-term memory tasks, they did far better on those requiring some imagination, such as coming up with creative uses for a brick or designing a children’s toy out of simple geometric shapes. In fact, subjects in the blue condition generated twice as many “creative outputs” as subjects in the red condition. That’s right: the colour of a wall doubled our imaginative power.”
So what accounts for these effects? According to the science, we automatically associate red with danger, thus making us more alert and aware. It may even trigger our adrenal fight-or-flight response, making us more focussed on the task at hand. The colour blue automatically triggers associations with the sky and ocean. We think about expansive horizons and diffuse light, sandy beaches and lazy summer days. This sort of mental relaxation makes it easier for us daydream and think in terms of tangential associations – actual, genuine “blue-sky-thinking” - we’re less focused on what’s right in front of us and more aware of the possibilities simmering in our imagination.
Mehta, R. & Zhu, J. (2009, Feb 27). Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Science, Vol. 323 (5918): 1226-1229.