Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
WORKPLACE / OCT. 24, 2013
version 5, draft 5

Why a Messy Desk Means You're a Genius

Ever been told by your manager that you really must tidy up your messy desk?

Well if you have, you may want to argue that by doing so your creativity is being stifled.

It used to be thought that a busy desk was indicative of a busy, unstructured mind. But Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is well known for working under piles of paper. Steve Jobs (the former boss of Apple) also had a chaotic desk – as did child’s author Roald Dahl, Alan Turing (who discovered penicillin), and science genius Albert Einstein. 

So, is there a link between messy desks and creativity? Well maybe - and this time, proved by scientific deduction.

According to a study earlier this summer at the University of Minnesota, psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs discovered that better outcomes were produced from participants when they were in messy rooms rather than tidy ones.

In her experiement she asked people to come up with new uses for the humble ping pong ball. While groups from the messy room came up with the same number of ideas as those who had been in the clean one, an independent panel judged the ideas formed in the messy rooms to be more 'interesting' and worthy of more development.

Professor Vohs said: "Just making an environment tidy or unkempt made a massive difference in people's behavior."

This study builds on others who now argue that being surrounded by mess actually encourages people to simplify their thinking processes.

One particular study, conducted at the University of Groningen (the Netherlands), found that those who sat at messy desks thought more clearly compared to those around them on more tidy ones.

Its conclusion was this: “Managers often promote 'clean desk' policies to avoid disorganised offices and messy desks, for the purpose of boosting work efficiency and productivity. But not all evidence supports this conventional link between a messy environment and a messy mind.”

So, perhaps it’s finally time to feel less guilty about the jumble of reports and papers at your workstation. If that memo comes to you to tidy up, you now have the response you've been waiting for. You can tell your boss that you’re not only an asset, but you could just be a hidden genius too.

As Einstein himself once said: “If a cluttered desk a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk?"

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