Far Out Friday: Why messy desks are for winners

by MPA16 Aug 2013

Files piled high in no particular order; scribbled post-it notes decorating the computer, unopened mail and parcels accumulating in the corner. Mess, clutter, in serious need of a clean-up, yes...but a sign of creativity?

An American scientific study has found that working at a messy desk promotes creative thinking and helps you stimulate new ideas.

The study found ‘working at a clean and prim desk may promote healthy eating, generosity and conventionality’. But a desk that could be classified as a health hazard? That, evidently, promotes outside-the-box thinking.

The University of Minnesota study carried out a series of experiments on people working at clean and messy desks, while tracking their behaviour.

In one experiment, participants were put in an office environment and asked to come up with new uses for ping pong balls. Participants who were put in a cluttered environment generated the same number of ideas as those in a well-ordered environment, but those surrounded by clutter came up with ideas that were rated as more interesting and creative by a panel of impartial judges.

“Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries, and societies want more of: Creativity,” said psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs, who conducted the study.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” Vohs said. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

So maybe Einstein had a point when he asked, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”


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