Let's get one thing straight. We're not going to advocate living like a slob. A grown man shouldn't be living with an unmade bed, a dirty bathroom or a sink full of dishes. But into each life, a little mess is bound to fall. Especially in places like your workspace. Thankfully, a recent study by the University of Minnesota found that untidiness actually fosters creative thinking and stimulates new ideas. The kind of attributes you'd probably like to have at your desk. According to Kathleen Vohs, the study's lead author, the accepted wisdom has always been that cleanliness and order produced better results. "We found, however, that you can get really valuable outcomes from being in a messy setting."
If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"
- Albert Einstein
In one of several experiments, students were separated into orderly and messy rooms and were asked to come up with new uses for ping pong balls. Those in the cluttered room generated ideas that were rated as much more interesting and creative when evaluated by independent judges. "Being in a messy room led to something that both industries and societies want more of: Creativity," says Vohs.
Which makes sense really. Albert Einstein, Mark Twain and Steve Jobs all had notoriously messy desks. There's something freeing about a lack of structure. The burden of perfection and expectations are lifted and your imagination is unfettered. So here's to the co-worker with the cluttered desk littered with Post-It notes and a phone buried under a pile of books. Just remember that there's a difference between disordered and just plain dirty. A three-day-old candy bar wrapper stuck to the side of your desk isn't going to help you brainstorm.