Messy Desks a Sign of Creativity

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Gregg Monsees' fifth desk. (Sarah Kate Kramer/WNYC)

We’ve all heard the old quote about messy desks that’s attributed to Albert Einstein: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?” Well, Einstein’s endorsement of the cluttered desk now has the backing of a team of researchers at the University of Minnesota.

The researchers randomly assigned students disorderly and orderly rooms. Those placed in the disorderly room exhibited more creativity than those in neat rooms. 

Ryan Rahinel is the author of a new study on orderliness, decision-making and creativity. He joins The Takeaway to discuss his findings and the research behind it.


Ryan Rahinel

Produced by:

Tyler Adams, Kristen Meinzer and Mythili Rao


T.J. Raphael

Comments [4]

nancy from ontario

I consider myself creative in many areas, including art and crafts, problem solving, classroom activities/adventures, but I am also neat. I am not controlling and am good at rolling with the punches and changing plans on a dime, but I am also neat. A messy room of my stuff does not at all help me create. A messy room of someone else's stuff is as good as a neat room of mine for getting me in a creative frame of mind. I can just push their stuff over to make the room I need. How was the research done?

Aug. 09 2013 08:13 PM
John Lewis from Dallas, TX

I've always lived with clutter but entertained the hope that I'd do better without it. Unfortunately, I've never achieved, much less maintained, neatness for any length of time. I'll never know the answer, but friends and associates give me high marks for creativity. Just taking time out from a spate of clearing away clutter to comment on Facebook posts. Cheers, everyone!

Aug. 07 2013 04:36 PM
Colleen from Brooklyn

What a goofy subject - I work as an animator, and when I'm not at my job I'm constantly working on my own projects (short films, comics, etc) AND I'm a neat person. Being in a messy space makes me feel like I have no space to do my work - I actually find it infantilizing, constrictive and depressing. A clean space makes me feel open and welcomed.
But I guess that's just my hang-up.

Aug. 06 2013 05:04 PM
Cassandra from Westborough, MA

I understand that IBM has a "clean desk" policy and actually has job positions for people who go around and monitor compliance. IBM also encourages creativity and thinking outside the box. Go figure!

Aug. 06 2013 03:38 PM

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