Messy Desk?  Sign of Creativity

By Shlomo Maital  

messy desk

Say, is your desk messy?  Are you troubled by it?  Try to clean it up regularly, and fail?   Get hassled by your neat obsessive significant other?

   New evidence suggests – hug your messy room, don’t hassle it.  It’s a sign you have a creative mind.

    Writing in the online magazine NewsMic,  (Nov. 10),  Tom McKay reports that “There’s fairly robust psychological evidence that messiness isn’t just symptomatic of poor standards or effort, but might actually provoke creativity.  He quotes psychologist Kathleen Vohs, who wrote in the New York Times, “being around messiness would lead people away from convention, in favor of new directions.”

     Here is the experiment she ran.   To test this hypothesis, Vohs invited 188 adults to rooms that were either tidy or “messy, with papers and books strewn around haphazardly.”   Each adult was then presented with one of two menus from a deli that served fruit smoothies, with half of the subjects seeing a menu with one item billed as “classic” and another billed as “new.” The results (published in Psychological Science), Vohs reports, were enlightening.   As predicted, when the subjects were in the tidy room they chose the health boost more often — almost twice as often — when it had the “classic” label: that is, when it was associated with convention. Also as predicted, when the subjects were in the messy room, they chose the health boost more often — more than twice as often — when it was said to be “new”: that is, when it was associated with novelty. Thus, people greatly preferred convention in the tidy room and novelty in the messy room.  A second experiment with 48 adults found that subjects in a messy environment came up with ideas “28% more creative” while creating a list of unconventional uses for ping pong balls, even though the two groups came up with the same number of ideas. Vohs argues the results are clear: Messiness actually spurs creativity.”

The point here is obvious.  Creativity itself is MESSY, in caps.  Creativity people have messy minds, that collect random pieces of information and find new ways to link them. Creative ideas emerge from disorder and entropy, not order.  The ultimate state of order is the universe as it will be in a few hundred billion years:  All the energy will have been burnt up, and the universe will be perfectly orderly,  at a temperature of absolute zero.

So —  messy desk?  Enjoy it.   Cherish it.  And, nonetheless  — do clean it up once in a while, if only for your significant other.