Busy Building Things  (which by the way, is a great Tumblr) cites the fact that many creative, visionary people have messy desks. The writer surmises  “under the mass of papers, magazines, and various objects, there is a sense of organization only the creator can operate through.”

Furthermore, they cite a recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota:

“…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.'”

Stop it. Just… just stop it.

My biggest bone to pick with the article is the idea that you can manufacture creativity by making a messy desk. It doesn’t work that way. The creative mind makes the mess, the mess doesn’t make the creative mind.

I’ve been a Creative Director for almost a decade. While I agree there is some comfort in having a self-made mess on my desk, the assertions above are missing some very key factors:

  • The mess is often a result of being distracted. We put one thing down because we get “inspired” by something else that’s caught our interest. It’s a result of creative folk observing the possibility of creating something new.
  • The mess can also be a result of procrastination. We don’t want to deal with stuff but understand its importance so we put it out of immediate sight but keep it close enough to know it’s something we should deal with soon. So, in a way, part of our desk is a physical To-Do list. But don’t let procrastination fool you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve consciously fed my mind with the problem and walked away from it so that my subconscious mind can gnaw away at the problem first.
  • When creative people put things down they think, “yeah, I’ll remember it’s in this non-standard place” because we’re creative—it’s in our nature to do something different. It’s why we lose our keys all the time. This creates non-standard placement of our things on our desk, a.k.a. “a mess”.

If you want to be more creative at work, consider the things that naturally cause the mess:

  1. Pursue an interesting distraction,
  2. Let issues begin to unravel in the back of your brain and
  3. Try something new.

In the end, maybe you may end up with more creative solutions AND a neat desk.