Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write drunk; edit sober.” I’m beginning to think he had beer and coffee in mind.
For you see, the two elixirs have their benefits, depending on what you want to accomplish. Knowing what works best is crucial to staging a productive meeting or event. Let’s say you plan a meeting that depends on the exchange of knowledge like bees exchange pollen. Beer is your best bet then. Or perhaps you plan a meeting that has a lot of to-do items that attendees need to blaze through. Coffee is your choice for that type of meeting.
Why does beer (alcohol) affect creativity? Sian Beilock, Ph.D., offers a reason.
“The answer has to do with alcohol’s effect on working memory: the brainpower that helps us keep what we want in mind and what we don’t want out,” wrote Beilock, author of Choke. “Research has shown that alcohol tends to reduce people’s ability to focus in on some things and ignore others, which also happens to benefit creative problem solving.”
Coffee, though, works differently.
“Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors, preventing adenosine from binding to its receptors and tricking your brain into thinking you have lots of energy,” wrote Mikael Cho, co-founder of the online talent creative marketplace ooomf, in an insightful article on Medium.com.
Adenosine, by the way, is a neurotransmitter that helps tell your brain that it’s running low on energy.
“Adenosine is kind of like your brain’s battery status monitor,” Cho wrote. “Once your energy levels get low, adenosine alerts your brain and starts to slow down brain functioning. This is why after a few hours of intense work, you begin to feel tired, like your brain has run out of juice.”
Thus the ubiquitous coffee break found in between conference sessions. What better way to stimulate an attendee than a shot of caffeine? Is that the best way, though? With more sessions becoming interactive and relying on the exchange of information to increase knowledge, perhaps a Fosters instead of Folgers is the best choice.
“When thinking of this, I immediately thought of the one country [Italy] that doesn’t have a Starbucks franchise on every other street corner,” said Ruud Janssen, CMM, managing director and owner of The New Objective Collective in Basel, Switzerland. “Yet it inspired Howard Schultz (CEO of Starbucks) to create a new category across the world around coffee and ambiance (and free Wi-Fi).”
Janssen, a member of the MPI France-Switzerland Chapter, is co-founder of the Solution Room, a peer-to-peer session held during MPI conferences.
“Thinking of the Solution Room—the epic closing general session format that I have the pleasure of crafting with my good colleague Mike van der Vijver (a fellow Dutchman who happens to live in Italy) in collaboration with MPI—prompted me to think what would happen if you offered beer in the Solution Room,” Janssen said. “Interesting thought, and I must admit that when the Solution Room format was cooked up in Dusseldorf, the paper cloths and atmosphere in the social event (think a carnavalesque beerfest atmosphere on the Monday evening at MPI’s EMEC 2011) must certainly have played a serendipitous role in bubbling up the right components and (with coffee the next morning) aligned the thoughts that made up this thrilling experiment.”
Then again, Janssen says, coffee could provide what’s needed at meetings.
“I think back to a recent MPI Italy board retreat where I had the pleasure of facilitating in Pisa, Italy,” he said. “Coffee is infused into the meeting at all opportunities, and the ritual has led, in the case of the real coffee brewed in Italy, to some pretty phenomenal creations. Top of mind, I could think of a string of legacy products and services the Italians have created over time. Are they infused by their unparalleled barista coffee culture or was it the Tuscan wine and exquisite food that seems to be ingrained into the creativity process?”
I think Janssen’s comments reinforce the idea that beer is better for certain sessions compared to coffee. A session such as the Solution Room lends itself to beer (or at least you could decorate the room like a beer hall). Board retreats, though, where agenda items need to be checked off, should feature coffee at every elbow.
“The best time to have a beer (or two) would be when you’re searching for an initial idea,” Cho wrote. “Because alcohol helps decrease your working memory (making you feel relaxed and less worried about what’s going on around you), you’ll have more brain power dedicated to making deeper connections.”
Coffee, Cho writes, won’t help gain access to your brain’s more creative parts like beer will.
“If you’ve already got an idea or an outline of where you want to go with your project, a cup of coffee would do wonders compared to having a beer to execute on your idea,” he wrote.
A last item to add: Consume beer and coffee in moderation. Once you drink too much, you lose the benefits of both. You don’t want to be that attendee.
“When the body feels well, the mind feels well, and in that respect, the level of activity in the room is a key performance metric in my book,” Janssen said.
Have you ever served beer or thought about serving it before an interactive session? Please share your stories with us in the comment section.
(Photo via Flickr: Guillermo Ruiz/Creative Commons.)