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Thread: Messy desks and creative thinking

  1. #1

    Default Messy desks and creative thinking

    Here's a thing:

    Why You Should Have a Messy Desk
    Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Mark Twain. What is one thing these three visionaries have in common?

    They all had very messy workspaces.

    These three game-changers were never ones to follow the crowd, and always enjoyed doing things their own way. We can see this by how unconventionally disorganized their desks are. There was a method to this madness: under the mass of papers, magazines, and various objects, there is a sense of organization only the creator can operate through.


    Recently, a study conducted by the University of Minnesota found that people with a messy desk were more prone to creativity and risk taking, while people at cleaner desks tended to follow strict rules and were less likely to try new things or take risks. Dr. Vohs and her co-authors conclude in the study, “Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights.”
    The study in the University of Minnesota featured an experiment where respondents with clean desks chose apples over candy bars, and selected more established solutions over new ones. When you’re generating ideas and concepts, it could help to have a messier desk. However, when you’re trying to be productive, getting a specific task accomplished, or simply need to execute on a creative concept, cleaning your desk can “trade in” your creativity for efficiency.

    In case you are trying to be more creative, here are some ideas: instead of throwing out those magazines right after you’re done with them, leave them hanging around your desk. Don’t shelf those books yet. Keep anything that could potentially inspire you (including art prints). “There are two types of messy environments,” Vohs said in an interview with NY Daily News. “One is unkempt and one is dirty. I don’t think these results suggest leaving around banana peels and dirty dishes for a week.
    I think we're all aware of the "method to the madness" phenomenon, but I hadn't thought about messy desks actually providing inspiration.

    What sayeth TypoC? Does your disorganized desk make you a creative genius? Do you keep a clean desk or a messy one?

  2. #2
    thankful Array PeaceBaby's Avatar
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    Jan 2009
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    Messy, messy desk ... let's hope the project I am working on is affected accordingly.
    "Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one."
    Eleanor Roosevelt

    "When people see some things as beautiful,
    other things become ugly.
    When people see some things as good,
    other things become bad."
    Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

  3. #3


    I cannot concentrate with a messy desk. I don't think I've ever written anything worth a damn while sitting at a messy desk.
    Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody Wang Chung tonight.


  4. #4
    Banned Array
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    Aug 2012


    My room always looks like a hurricane hit it and I like it that way. Makes me feel more mentally comfortable for some reason I think I like the chaos.

  5. #5
    Alma Array five sounds's Avatar
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    Jul 2013
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    Quote Originally Posted by badger055 View Post
    My room always looks like a hurricane hit it and I like it that way. Makes me feel more mentally comfortable for some reason I think I like the chaos.
    Second that.

    What they said about keeping anything around that could inspire you I relate to a lot too. Also, just the Ne way of unlikely combinations is so much better facilitated when all the things are surrounding you. I feel cut off from things when they're filed away. The energy it takes me to realize I want something, neatly unpack it, and bring it to my workspace is enough to kill my flow. And I usually don't even know if I wanted it until I have it out and can try it first. Then I gotta put it back away neatly? And then something new comes up and I might want to try it out again? Oh no no. Cannot flow like that.
    You hem me in -- behind and before;
    you have laid your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

  6. #6
    eating bugs out of hair. Array prplchknz's Avatar
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    Jun 2007


    Hah! I know this isn't a desk, but I hate the saying "messy bed, messy head" it's bullshit. I'm not making my fucking bed except after I've washed the sheets. or it's in such disarray that i can't get the blankets correct.Also I use my bed as a desk, always have I used to sleep with scissors in it and other sharp objects
    by @magpie

  7. #7
    Diabolical Array Kasper's Avatar
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    May 2008
    9w8 so/sx


    This is something claimed by messy deskers to feel good about working in squalor!

  8. #8
    A Mystery Array Jacques Le Paul's Avatar
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    Apr 2011
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    My desk is organized, just in a way only I know.
    Let thought and reasoning be your guide, it certainly is mine!

    Always forward, never back!

    I'm an idiot, but I'm willing to learn. So that separates me from the idiot who isn't.

    My blog in regular blogs

  9. #9
    Artisan Conquerer Array Halla74's Avatar
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    Jan 2009
    7w8 sx/so


    I'm a whack job "Perceiver" when it comes to orderliness/tidiness of my desk/office/etc.

    My German Mother drilled the age old expression...

    "Ein Platz fur Alles, und Alles ins Platz" --> (aka "A place for everything, and everything in it's place.")

    ...into my head by the age of 6.
    Since then my bedroom and desk/office have been designed and maintained by that creedo.

    HOWEVER - my garage (aka "woodworking shop") looks like a fucking hurricane hit it as my projects evolve from their inception through their completion.

    There is a good article I read recently regarding the pros/cons of "neat" vs "messy" workspaces. (I will post the link here when I have a moment to locate it)
    In short, it said that for non-creative work (aka "administrative tasks, repetitive tasks, etc.") that a neat work space is ideal.
    And - for creative work a workspace that the comfort of the artist is key and that whatever state their studio/workspace is in so the artist's maximum productivity is realized is best.

    This is an interesting phenomena to ponder on because I have worked with so many people over the years who were massively productive and damn good at what they did, and the range of "neat" vs "messy" for all their respective workspaces has been vast indeed. Kind of cool, IMHO. Another tribute to the diversity of the human spirit.

    Type Stats:
    MBTI -> (E) 77.14% | (i) 22.86% ; (S) 60% | (n) 40% ; (T) 72.22% | (f) 27.78% ; (P) 51.43% | (j) 48.57%
    BIG 5 -> Extroversion 77% ; Accommodation 60% ; Orderliness 62% ; Emotional Stability 64% ; Open Mindedness 74%

    "If somebody asks your MBTI type on a first date, run". -Donna Cecilia
    "Enneagram is psychological underpinnings. Cognitive Functions are mental reasoning and perceptional processes. -Sanjuro

  10. #10


    Quote Originally Posted by EffEmDoubleyou View Post
    I cannot concentrate with a messy desk. I don't think I've ever written anything worth a damn while sitting at a messy desk.
    Same. Every thing on my desk screams "HERE'S A THING TO DO" to me. A colleague of mine once remarked that a desk as vacant as mine would make him nervous.

    I know where everything I need is, though, on demand. The problem may arise, then, that there may not be things that I "know" that I need since they're not staring me in the face. It's a tradeoff, for sure.

    Most of the ol' idea gestation occurs internally for me anyway. When I'm working on a thing that randomly reminds me of some other thing, I'll know where to find it.

    "Messy -> creativity" for me comes in the form of opening up a bunch of files or browser tabs. I get a general idea of a thing and delve onto and all over the Internet. Before I know it, "middle clicking" the mouse (which opens a link in a separate tab) has given me about a billion browser tabs that I bounce back and forth between.
    And then I close it all back down when I'm done.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kasper View Post
    This is something claimed by messy deskers to feel good about working in squalor!
    And this is, in turn, a thing that I would like to claim about messy deskers

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