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Working at a clean office may promote conventionality, a messy office may stimulate creativity

Einstein had once said, “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?"

Now we might have an answer.

In a study, conducted by psychological scientist Kathleen Vohs and her fellow researchers at the University of Minnesota, 48 participants in both clean and messy rooms were asked to come up with as many uses for ping pong balls as possible.

The result?
Overall, participants in the messy room generated the same number of ideas for new uses as their clean-room counterparts, but their ideas were rated as more creative when evaluated by impartial judges - those in the messy room generated five times as many highly creative ideas compared with their counterparts.


The researchers also found that when participants were given a choice between a new product and an established one, those in the messy room were more likely to prefer the novel one — a signal that being in a disorderly environment stimulates a release from conventionality. Whereas participants in a tidy room preferred the established product over the new one.

“Being in a messy room led to something that firms want more of: Creativity. Disorderly environments seem to inspire breaking free of tradition, which can produce fresh insights,” Vohs concludes. “Orderly environments, in contrast, encourage convention and playing it safe.”

The point?

We are all exposed to various kinds of settings, such as in our office space or our homes. Whether you have control over the tidiness of the environment or not, you are exposed to it and as research shows it can affect you.

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