What sparks your creativity? 

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American sociologist Ray Oldenburg is known for his theory of ‘third places’. The concept of us having a first place (home), a second place (work) and a third place, where we spend time between the other two places, exchanging ideas, building relationships and, essentially, having a kind of community that is centred around a shared interest of sorts.  A third place might be a pub, a café, a church, a library, museum, restaurant, gym, shop or public parks and countryside. Essentially, it’s a different social environment to the other two place; somewhere you can relax in public. 

During the Covid-19 pandemic, places one and two became the same place for many of us. There were no third places for a while, and then there was a significant period of time before things got back to some kind of ‘normal’ in these kinds of social situations and interactions. Many people still work from home at times, meaning that the lines between the first and second place can be blurred. This all makes the third place more important than ever. 

Are virtual third places a thing? Whether it’s a world of multiplayer online gaming, chatrooms, forums or social media platforms, these are online places where communities can be formed and relationships forged and built upon. During the pandemic, this served as a lifeline to many people, but is it really the same as face-to-face interactions and being in public spaces? Oldenburg himself doesn’t think so. In this pre-pandemic interview, he thinks that “third places are face-to-face phenomena”. 

What role do third places play in creativity?

If we think about moments of inspiration, times when ideas first spark or chance occurrences that we see, hear or participate in that set the cogs going in the old grey matter, the chances are that this happens in a third place. A conversation with a friend in the pub (how many startups begin like this?), a people-watching session or an overheard discussion. These are all things that happen when we step outside of our everyday first and second places. 

A third place should be somewhere that offers stimuli that you don’t get at home or in the workplace. Somewhere unfamiliar can add an extra dimension, even if you’re doing a familiar thing in a new place. For example, a challenge I set myself is to spend time on my own in a café in a different location every time. This small change to the surroundings and environment helps to take me slightly out of my comfort zone and this means I’m more tuned in to what’s going on around me and this helps with my own creative process. 

Finding your own creative third place

We’re all different and a place that one person might find stimulating and thought-provoking might feel overwhelming to someone else. In my experience, the key to finding third places that work for me is to be purposeful about it. Carving out time on a weekly basis, when possible, to visit somewhere new and do something outside of the normal routine, is a great starting point. 

For example, wandering into a museum for 20 minutes instead of just walking past it can bring you an experience you wouldn’t otherwise have had. This type of occurrence can help generate new ideas or trains of thought, even in areas or settings that have never been of interest in the past.

Finding places where others with a shared interest hang out can also be great for sparking your creativity. Think about joining a book club if you’re an avid reader, taking a new gym class if you’re into fitness, or starting by just taking a wander down some local roads and areas you’ve never explored before to see what you can find in your vicinity.

My challenge to you is to find a third place that stimulates your mind and takes you out of the normal, to see what it sparks in you. 

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