Can alcohol make tech companies more creative?

A recent study suggests that though alcohol might impair one's focus a little, it might do wonders for one's creative juices.

Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Silicon Valley believes in neither inhibition, nor prohibition.

Openness is encouraged, drunkenness is often cast upon blind eyes.

And yet some still frown on the idea that alcohol is anything other than an evil liquid, sent by the forces of darkness to make man incoherent.

I have scientific evidence that this might not be the case.

The Economist, its writers perhaps a little tipsy on the weekend, today offers an inebriating piece entitled: "The sad demise of the three-martini lunch."

It explains how America's battle with its puritan posture has meant an increased frowning on the presence of a sherry or a port in cubicles and boardrooms.

Stunningly, new research to be revealed in the Journal of Consumer Psychology suggests that a candidate who has a drink over a dinner interview is viewed as less intelligent than one who orders a smoothie.

For those who believe that alcohol in moderation can ease the mind and smooth the paths of righteousness and love, it is hard to understand such myopia.

For myself, I can say that a glass of Idle Cellars' fine 2008 Cabernet or a mere whiff of Saracina's Pinot Noir can erase a blockage and lead to a peculiar clarity.

Finally, this willfully subjective notion is supported by scientific research.

The journal Consciousness and Cognition has recently published a study from the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Its title is both heartening and revealing: "Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving."

The authors explain how it has always been thought that alcohol loosens the positive senses, yet no one has really researched it.

In this case, subjects were subjected to "moderate intoxication." This was numerically defined as a blood alcohol content of around .075.

They were then given the Remote Associates Test. This seeks to see if one can solve problems creatively.

The researchers' conclusion was that those who were a little boozed-up solved more problems, more quickly. Moreover, when asked how they thought they'd solved these problems, they were more likely to reply that they'd felt they'd had a sudden insight.

Alcohol isn't for everyone. Some people have no control in its presence. Some merely worry that they'll have no control in its presence. Some should never be in its presence.

But if, as many in Silicon Valley do, you live near excellent sources of wine, it's possible to appreciate alcohol's effects in a different way.

I'll admit to, when stuck or bewildered, sitting in the garden at the Honig winery in Napa and discovering ways forward I never imagined possible, accompanied by a glass of wine.

Silicon Valley likes to think of itself as a creative force. Yet it's easy to conceive that currently the problems it's trying to solve are often of a trivial, rather than world-changing, nature.

Facebook, for example, has something of a revered reputation for beer-drinking and one for trivializing the idea of friendship. Beer might, indeed, be part of the problem.

Perhaps the quality of the alcohol might have something to do with the quality of the inspiration. It is unclear in the University of Illinois' research what sort of alcohol was used in order to bring out the creative spirit.

A next step in this research might be to test whether a couple of cans of Miller Light can engender the same refined thought as, say, a single glass of Failla Pinot Noir.

 

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