Are Creative Types Lonely? Boston College's Spencer Harrison Conducts Employee Survey

By Steve Nagel on Dec 15, 2015 02:43 AM EST

If history's our guide, one wonders: are creative types lonely?  As lovers of art, we often become so infatuated with the talents and genius of creative types that we forget what they might be sacrificing in order to keep their art flowing. The Boston Globe’s Ruth Graham wrote a hard-hitting piece concerning the common shroud of loneliness shared by many creative types. Although this conjecture can hardly speak for all members of a necessarily abberant populace, those on both sides of the establishment -- now reassured by some organizational research (an employee survey conducted by Boston College's Spencer Harrison) -- might be alerted to some underlying and familiar tendencies.

Author Ruth Graham drew her conclusions from a study that was conducted by Boston College's Spencer Harrison, an associate professor of management and organizing. Harrison, together with his coauthor, sought out 108 workers (and their spouses) and surveyed them daily for up to 10 days. According to Graham, this employee survey focused on some personal and, at times, divisive questions: “Workers were asked about the tasks they performed during the day, while spouses reported how much time they spent together that day.” From this outline of daily tasks, Harrison was able to weigh the “type” of work most frequently tackled by the employees against their time spent at home, and surmise the quality of that time.

The results of the survey pointed a finger squarely at the creative types, suggesting that the cognitive demands placed on those who “identify problems and generate solutions” diminished the quality of their social capabilities when relaxing.  So the question, again, is: are creative types lonely?  The research suggests they may simply be burnt out (falling somewhere between mildly preoccupied and hopelessly over-obsessed).

Author Ruth Graham also equated loneliness in creative types to some well-known historical individuals, often known just as much for their sorrow as for their art. From Beethoven to Lord Byron, to Steve Jobs, Graham suggests that in extreme forms of creativity (found particularly in savants), dysfunction and loneliness may give way to an even more miserable lifestyle: alienation. Most likely, these ill-effects are caused by the engrossing demands of the creative process.

The only solution reported by Boston's College's Spencer Harrison to “cure” this crippling ailment is to find some form of conclusion in a set of tasks. He called it “idea validation”, which he posited would “provide some resolution for all those free-floating sparks and help creative types mentally leave their work at the office.” Harrison’s thorough paper on the subject is pending publishing. The abstract, submitted in the earlier in the year, proposes some of his aims.

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TagsCreative, Creative Process, The Boston Globe, Boston College, Lonely, Beethoven, Survey

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