messy desk

Your messy desk is a sign you could be a creative genius

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    Put down the organisers and pencil pots – it turns out there are a lot of hidden benefits to having a messy work environment. A new study has revealed that people who work in disorderly rooms are more likely to be more creative and open to innovation, which ticks off two of the corporate world’s biggest buzzwords.

    Led by researcher Kathleen Vohs, a University of Minnesota study placed people in a number of different scenarios with one group in a spick and span space and another in a total tip. They were asked to do exactly the same task, so in one instance they were asked to come up with creative uses for ping pong balls. While both groups were equally as productive and came up with the same number of ideas, those in the messier setting came up with more exciting concepts.

    Vohs explained, ‘Being in a messy room led to something that firms, industries and societies want more of: Creativity.’

    Given that British employees have been proven to lose a whopping 13 hours a year just on office cleaning, the creative and time cost of cleanliness could mean you have a reason to skip out on the evening tidy-up.

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    In another experiment, people were asked to choose between a product by an established brand and another by a newer one. Those in a more chaotic space were more likely to choose the path less travelled, taking a risk on a new product, while those in the clean one generally went for the stalwart.

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

    It seems like there’s something to the findings, as creative whizz kids like Susan Sontag, Picasso, Mark Zuckerberg and more have been documented in their messy workspaces. Albert Einstein also famously said of his untidiness, ‘If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?’

    However, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses for messy people in Vohs’ study. Another experiment asked people to fill out a questionnaire, before putting them on the spot by asking them to donate to charity then choose between a chocolate and an apple. Those in the clean room donated more to charity and were more likely to choose the healthier option, encouraging moral behaviour.

    ‘Prior work has found that a clean setting leads people to do good things: Not engage in crime, not litter, and show more generosity,’ Vohs elaborated.

    While the study focused on messy physical spaces, Vohs and her team are also going to be looking at whether their findings translate to the screen – namely, whether messy webpages stimulate more creative thinking and so on. If Pinterest’s gloriously chaotic layout is anything to go by, we’re definitely inclined to agree.

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