Messy desks could be a sign of genius, say researchers

What does your work space say about you?

Sarah Young
Tuesday 11 July 2017 17:08 BST
Messy desks could be a sign of genius

Is your desk overflowing with scraps of paper, coffee cups, envelopes and wilted plants? Well, far from being idle, it turns out you might just be a creative genius.

In world where ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ is a well-valued idiom, being a messy person can often be mistaken as a hallmark of laziness. But thanks to a recent study, researchers have found there is a method to this madness.

Proving that sometimes working in mess is much more productive than precision and order, researchers at the University of Minnesota found that creative geniuses favour a chaotic workspace.

After testing how well participants came up with new ideas when working in both tidy and disorderly work areas, it revealed that while those in the messy room generated the same number of ideas as their clean-room counterparts, their ideas were considered as far more interesting and creative when evaluated by impartial judges.

Furthermore, the data also found that people with a messy desk are more prone to risk taking while those at cleaner desks tend to follow strict rules and are less likely to try new things.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” researchers said.

But why? Perhaps geniuses have far more important things to do than stewing over complicated filing systems, instead, under that mass of papers there is a sense of organisation that only they can operate through.

Just look at Albert Einsten, Thomas Edison and even Steve Jobs, they all had messy workspaces.

In fact, the idea that a clean desk creates a productive worker is very much a construct of the mid-20th century.

Historically, geniuses were always pictured with an unkempt desk with Einstein famously pointing out that, ““If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

So, if your work space, like many of ours, is usually a mess, stop agonising over how you look to your colleagues and embrace your untidiness for what it is – genius.

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