Creativity and Your Desk

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22well-tmagArticle-v2Here’s an encouraging tidbit for a Friday afternoon: having a messy desk may not mean that your life is a mess; it might just mean that you are creative! This is certainly good news for me, since my desk is a perpetual mess. I LIKE having a neat and tidy workspace, I just rarely achieve that. Fortunately for me, researchers at the University of Minnesota recently conduced a series of experiments that found that working in an untidy workspace might encourage thinking “outside the box” and help people to be more creative. According to an article in the New York Times,

The results were something of a surprise, says Kathleen D. Vohs, a behavioral scientist at the University of Minnesota and the leader of the study. Few previous studies found much virtue in disarray. The broken-windows theory, proposed decades ago, posits that even slight disorder and neglect can encourage nonchalance, poor discipline and nihilism. Chaos begets chaos.

But in the study by Dr. Vohs, disordered offices encouraged originality and a search for novelty. In the final portion of the study, adults were given the choice of adding a health “boost” to their lunchtime smoothie that was labeled either “new” or “classic.” The volunteers in the messy space were far more likely to choose the new one; those in the tidy office generally opted for the classic version.

“Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition,” Dr. Vohs and her co-authors conclude in the study, “which can produce fresh insights.”

Now that I’m feeling creative, I’ll save my usual Friday afternoon desk-cleaning till next week!

–Caren Swanson

Illustration by Brian Wiseman

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