Out of Mess, Creativity?

Is your desk drowning in unorganized piles of paper, sticky notes, yesterday’s coffee and other clutter? Or is your desk organized and squeaky clean? Most people tend to fall into one of these categories, and there’s research that shows it may not be a coincidence.

Psychologists at the University of Minnesota were looking for answers on whether cleaner environments had any affects on a persons habits. It’s been known from past studies that those who keep a more organized space have better health. As The New York Times pointed out, “people blessed with innate conscientiousness, meaning that they are organized and predictable, typically eat better and live longer than people who are disorderly. They also tend to have immaculate offices.” The studies conducted in Minnesota followed the same conclusion when they locked some participants in an office for ten minutes, made them fill-out an unrelated survey, and when they emerged there were offered a chocolate bar or an apple. Those in a clean office picked the apple more than twice as often as those who were in the  cluttered one.

Seems like we should be striving to keep ourselves organized and put together, right? Further experiments showed they are advantages in keeping a not-so-clean desk. In fact, a messy desk can bring on creativity and are able to generate new ideas easier. In an experiment, the researchers put college students in either a clean or messy room and were told to come up with different uses for a ping pong ball. The ones in messy rooms were able to come up with much more creative uses. This seems to go against a common theory that ‘chaos begets chaos,” in fact it looks like chaos in a room can bring good. As the scientists concluded in their study: “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.”

As for myself, I like to think I keep my work-spaces clean and organized, but more often than not I find myself staring at the clutter on my desk wondering how it all got there.