Thursday, February 5, 2015

Why The Most Creative People Flourish In Messy Environment


All our lives, we’ve been told to “be organized.” Organization has always been pegged as a direct key to success. Starting at very early ages, we have been trained to clean up our toys and make our beds. But perhaps our mothers had it wrong. As you can see from a research conducted by the University of Minnesota and from the examples below, messy environments can enhance our creativity by letting our lives get a little messy.

Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain. What is one thing these three visionaries have in common?
They all had very messy workspaces.

These three game-changers were never ones to follow the crowd, and always enjoyed doing things their own way. We can see this by how unconventionally disorganized their desks are. There was a method to this madness: under the mass of papers, magazines, and various objects, there is a sense of organization only the creator can operate through.


Here are some other creative powerhouses that have messy desks:

Mark Zuckerberg Desk, CEO and Founder Facebook
Max Levchin, co-founder and former CTO of PayPal.
Foursquare founder and CEO Dennis Crowley’s desk. 
Other notable creatives with astonishingly messy desks include programmer and codebreaker Alan Turing, discoverer of penicillin Alexander Fleming, as well as painter Francis Bacon.
Recently, a study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that people with a messy desk were more prone to creativity and risk taking, while people at cleaner desks tended to follow strict rules and were less likely to try new things or take risks. Dr. Vohs and her co-authors conclude in the study, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.”

Calibrating Creativity and Efficiency
Rather than leaving a desk in a state of constant messiness, it can be helpful to modify the environment as it suits our needs. Think of messiness and cleanliness as a spectrum that also has a corresponding creativity setting.

The study in the University of Minnesota featured an experiment where respondents with clean desks chose apples over candy bars, and selected more established solutions over new ones. When you’re generating ideas and concepts, it could help to have a messier desk. However, when you’re trying to be productive, getting a specific task accomplished, or simply need to execute on a creative concept, cleaning your desk can “trade in” your creativity for efficiency.

Social Perceptions
This creativity comes with a social cost: as staffing firm Adecco discovered, the majority of our colleagues and peers judge us based on how clean (or dirty) our desks are. Should your desk be left in a perpetually messy state, “They think that you must be a slob in your real life,” says Adecco’s VP of Recruiting Jennie Dede in an interview with Forbes.
While remaining hygienic would minimize the possibility of this scenario, here’s another reason not to leave your desk in a constant mess. Adjust it along the spectrum between the ends of creativity and efficiency. Be aware of the impression you may be giving to colleagues, but don’t be afraid to explain your reasons for an intentionally messy desk — you’ve got anecdotal and empirical evidence right here.

Your Mess is unique to you
Your desk is a mess. Then again, it’s your mess, and thus, it feels very in-control. When you habitually fail to put things in their designated place, you’re bound to get creative figuring out ways to make everything, I don’t know, fit. And fit comfortably.

While it might look completely random to strangers, a lot of times, a person’s mess is very methodical – with respect to himself.

Psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs, from the University of Minnesota, who set out to debunk this urban legend, didn’t confine her study to solely the desk. No, Vohs, clearly a creative mind, chose to think outside the desk. She just sounds messy. The creative kind of messy.

Using a paradigm consisting of one messy room and one tidy room, and a series of trials, Vohs concluded that messy rooms provoke more creative thinking – and provided scientific evidence!

What is Creative Thinking?

Creative thinking, in its purest form, is thinking outside the lines of “conventional” reasoning. When considering this, it should be no huge shock that messy rooms containing possessions misplaced from their “conventional” locations would promote creativity.

Consider this from Albert Einstein, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?”
Albert Einsteins Desk

Obviously, Einstein’s desk looked like a spiteful ex-girlfriend had a mission to destroy his workspace, and executed it rather successfully. Yet, there’s no denying Einstein’s creativity.

Einstein wasn’t alone. Mark Twain, too, had a cluttered desk. Perhaps even more cluttered than that of Albert Einstein. Mark Twain was one of the most imaginative minds of his generation.

If the likes of Einstein and Mark Twain don’t catch the attention of Generation-Y, I give you Steve Jobs. No wonder he invented iBooks, it’s clear he had trouble maintaining his real life ones. His desk, and office alike, were disasters. I suppose this just added to his brilliance.


Here's the Lesson
So what does this mean to you? Trash your desks, trash your rooms and hope for a touch of genius? Not exactly. The relationship between messiness and creativity is by no means causal. Being messy won’t find you waking up one morning more creative.

The two are, however, correlated. If you are “messy by nature,” perhaps finding a healthy medium between your usual mess and that urgency to clean, is optimal. By curbing your sloppy desk, room or tendencies, – keep in mind – you might also be curbing your overall creative tendencies.

Ultimately, the only way for you gauge the effectiveness of your mess-induced creativity is to go out and experiment for yourself. So, go ahead, make it rain with all your important files and paperwork, toss your clean clothes across the room, have a blast. See what you come up with, after.

PSA: If you have a roommate, tell him not to send me any hate mail if your dorm room turns into a zoo while you experiment with this. I am not liable for any of the future messes my readers may create.
Mark Twains Desk

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