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Can the iPod Kill Your Creativity?

According to Patrick Burgoyne it can – he’s just written a provocative post on the Creative Review blog, claiming that by sitting ‘hunched over their Macs, headphones on, plugged into their own private world’ designers are killing conversation in the studio – and when the conversation dies, so does creativity:

Design studios used to be full of banter – work-related or otherwise. Now all you can hear is the tssk, tssk of a dozen headphones.

Sure, you can still hold meetings and discuss the work, but who ever had a great idea at a “brainstorming” session? There’s something about the appearance of a flipchart that just sucks the life out of a room.

Great ideas come about either when you are busy doing something else – walking, taking a shower – or through talking to another human being.

If you’ve listened to any of the podcasts of my research interviews about managing creative teams, you won’t be surprised to hear I think he’s got a point. Every single manager, director, consultant and development professional I’ve interviewed has said that conversation and interpersonal interaction are essential to the creative process. One of the themes that has come out of the research for me is the idea of conversation as a creative meta-medium, where new connections and ideas emerge that would never have occurred to individuals working in isolation (or with their headphones on).

So should design studios ban iPods? That might be a bit extreme, but just as some companies have regular ‘no e-mail’ days, maybe there’s a case for ‘no-iPod’ days, or a return to the communal office sound system.

What could be better for fuelling the creative tension on a Monday morning than a good old-fashioned squabble over who gets to put their tunes on the stereo?


  1. Good points, interesting post.

    I’ve often had similar thoughts when I’ve noticed people “off in their own worlds” doing a job and listening to their iPods. I must admit, though, that I’m from a different generation.

    My son gave me an iPod for Christmas last year. I rarely use it for music, but I do enjoy listening to seminars from the “Teaching Company.” It’s a great way to get new knowledge and information. I’m currently halfway through Robert Greenberg’s 32 part series on Bach. Some other recent favorites have been on economics, 20th century science, and neurophysiology.


  2. I don’t really have it in for the iPod, although I don’t have one myself. I bought a digital voice recorder for the research project interviews, and it’s got an mp3 player which can be fun for a change, but I do feel a bit ‘cut off’ when I’m wandering around London in a little musical bubble. On the other hand I usually read a book on the tube so maybe that’s just as bad – not that there’s much chance of a conversation down there!

    I can definitely see the value of the iPod for learning, maybe I’ll get organised enough to download podcasts on it.


  1. […] Among the suggestions for a truly creative office are “No headphones… ever” – the author evidently agrees with the Creative Review blog that iPods Can Seriously Damage Your Creativity. […]