The Noise to Innovation Ratio
I hate quiet work environments, and need some kind of background noise. Of course, I occasionally need to shut a door and focus on a call or have a private meeting, but for most of the day, I draw energy from the people activity around me, or from the sound of music playing in the background. I’m always amazed to walk into an office setting that is so quiet that any slight disturbance, like the squeak of a chair or gentle cough of a peer, seems to echo through the room like the crashing of a cymbal.
According to the Journal of Consumer Research (from an article in HemispheresMagazine.com) and based on the results of experiments looking for the relationship of noise to creativity, a moderate amount of noise is conducive to creative success. Across five experiments investigating whether a low (50dB), medium (70dB), or high (85dB) volume within a typical coffee shop setting, the results indicated again and again that a medium amount of noise resulted in the most creative thinking, "providing just enough of a distraction to disrupt mental processing and cause abstracted thinking, but isn’t so loud that it reduced processing overall."
It makes perfect sense to me, kind of like when you take a shower and the rhythmic sound of the water helps you to solve a problem, or by stepping back from a problem and listening to some music or watching a completely unrelated program on TV can help you to recognize new patterns, or take an earlier idea into an entirely new direction altogether.