Study: Messy desks get creative juices flowing

Clean and messy desks
When it comes to how clean your desk is, are you more like the handsome gent on the left or the lovely lady on the right? New research done at the University of Minnesota shows that the decisions that you make and your creativity are influenced by the relative tidiness of your environment.
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New research shows that the decisions you make and your creativity are influenced by the relative neatness of your workspace.

Kathleen Vohs, a psychological scientist and professor at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota said the subject first got her attention after she moved to another building during her work on her PhD.

Vohs said the change of location to new, modern office space, seemed to prompt changes in her test subjects. She researched the phenomenon and found that desk tidiness affects work.

Vohs and her fellow researchers set up a laboratory with a workspace that was either clean or messy, then had subjects sit down and perform some specified tasks.

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Among their findings: People in a tidy room donated more to charity when asked to contribute some of their own money. People in clean workspaces picked healthier snacks. Asked to solve an inventory problem at a hypothetical factory, people at messy desks came up with more creative solutions.

"When people are in a tidy room, they seem to perform behaviors and make decisions that go along with what's expected," Vohs said.

"People in the messy room are more creative ... Cluttered minds can lead to all kinds of pathways and solutions. I think cluttered minds actually do a pretty good job some days."

Vohs said the condition is subject to change, and suggested that employers take their workers' workspaces into account when they want work done.

"If you're in a situation where you need to be following rules, you might want to make your little local desk environment a little more tidy," Vohs said.

"But if you're in a situation where you need to come up with something fresh, something new, something where people really haven't been doing this before, then you might want to cultivate a little clutter, and make your environment somewhat unkempt, and that ought to get some of the creative juices flowing."

And as for Vohs? What kind of person does this kind of research?

"I'm a neat person," she said. "I don't know what that says for my creative side."