My Christmas stocking included a book called The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner which examines how creative genius flourishes in specific places and at specific times. He starts in Ancient Athens and ends up in Silicon Valley via Florence, Vienna and plenty of other cities in between.
Given the amount of wine involved in my seasonal festivities this year I thought I'd examine what the book has to say about the role of alcohol in the creative process. The word "symposium" literally means "to drink together" and there is a line of thought that booze played a key part in development of Athenian genius.
Alcohol and creativity have long been linked in the public imagination. Faulkner, Twain, Hemingway were notorious drinkers and painters like Van Gogh and Jackson Pollock liked a good swig before facing up to the canvas. There's even a theory expounding the existence of a "Churchill gene", suggesting that alcohol lubricates the wheels of productivity in some of us. If you believe Churchill's claim that "I have taken more out of alcohol than it has taken out of me" then it certainly didn't do Britain's greatest leader any harm.
There's not much published research on the subject. One Swedish psychologist, Torsten Norlander, found that alcohol facilitates the incubation of new ideas, but impairs the verification of them. The University of Illinois has shown that moderate amounts of alcohol (about the legal limit for driving) improved creative response times. In other words, the right amount makes us more intuitive and less analytical.
With binge-drinking part of the relentless drip of doom and gloom in the press, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that alcohol consumption per head of population is falling in the UK. It's fallen in eight of the past ten years and is now at it's lowest levels this century. Anecdotally, the trend is easy to divine. I started working in an era when drinking at lunchtime was part of the insurance community culture but now it's rare and getting rarer.
Which, belatedly, brings me to the point of this article. The report commissioned a couple of years ago on the competitiveness of the London insurance market, London Matters, revealed that London is only just tracking global growth in commercial insurance, while it is losing its share in reinsurance.
Could it be that there's a correlation between the amount we in London drink and our market share? It's incontrovertibly true that the decline in alcohol assumption aligns closely with the decline in London's competitiveness. It's also true that we in London seem reluctant to embrace innovation and the creative process that entails.
So, in the interests of science I am in the middle of a two week experiment. While at all times drinking responsibly, I intend to maximise my creative potential by drinking a lot of fine wine and assessing the results. I'll let you know in the new year if I have invented anything.
Analysis reveals that London is only tracking global growth in commercial insurance, while it is losing its share in reinsurance: London’s share declined from 15 per cent to 13 per cent between 2010 and 2013.