Neat or messy – which is best for a creative high?

Does mess help or hinder creative thinking?

Recently two conflicting tweets arrived on my timeline almost at the same instant – apparently the best strategy for creativity is to be neat or messy:

Tweets dis/order paradox

The author of each article makes some good points. I’ve weighed them up and I’ve asked the original tweeters to pass judgement too, @IngaSpouse and @GardhamDouglas. So, neat or messy – which are you?

A: The Psychology of Messiness: How Disorder Can Make You More Creative

Neat or messy – creative thinking

Image credit: danbuck57313

Life and schooling reaffirm our ingrained belief that neatness corresponds to productivity. The clean methodical approach gets the parental pat on the back and the teacher’s five stars. We go on to organise our lives around lists and notebooks. However Kathleen Vohs, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota has demonstrated that messier office spaces actually encourage creativity.

Experiments have shown that ideas are ‘28% more creative’ in messy environments; furthermore among the ideas rated most highly creative almost five times more originate in messy rooms.
Kathleen Vohs has pointed out that although a setting with visual disorder may be most stimulating for a brainstorming session, a more orderly environment may be more productive for quick and efficient decision-making. In this way the working environment should reflect the nature and desired outcome of the work process.

B: Clutter is Killing Your Creativity

Neat or messy – creative thinking highlandersImage credit: baekken

You need to get organised. This is more of a personal plea from the heart of writer Jeff Goins. He bemoans the fact that his workplace (as for many creatives) is a place of disorder and disorganisation. He points out that clutter is a form of procrastination, where the brain surrounds itself with distractions. Clutter presents obstacles to our ability to carry out creative activities.

He shows us that the creative process does not begin on some higher plane but back on earth at a humble desk with ordinary human distractions. The piles of obstacles build up around you on your computer and in your kitchen sink, distracting you from the creative work that you should get down to. His advice is to clear away this distracting clutter, with specific examples such as reclaiming your inbox and magazine rack, turning off the phone and silencing social media. The goal is to arrive at a clean space in which to create.

Furthermore Jeff Goins espouses setting restrictions in order to foster inspiration. I have seen how restrictions do work, in examples such as a project to publish a book limited to Twitter-sized chunks of text; the restrictions stretch the artist to explore unforeseeable possibilities.

It’s clear that both strategies can produce the desired result. We can see that the nature of the work has a large bearing on the optimum working environment: however we can also see that excess freedom can be detrimental to actually getting things done, and restrictions may actually be proactive.

The task at hand may determine which approach is best at that moment. But it’s perhaps up to you as an individual to regulate what’s best for you personally; there’s a need for each of us to be aware of the balance between freedom and restriction so we can be creative while still producing an end result. At least that’s what I’ve found; sometimes I know I’m wasting time and sometimes I believe I’m coming up with something good, the difficult part is knowing when to switch between the brake and the accelerator…

Me: a bit messy

What do you make of these opposing views? Please share and tell.

Neat or messy – which is best for a creative high?
Neat or messy – which is best for a creative high?
Some need order for creativity, others swear by mess. Choose a balance between restraint and freedom, and what's best for the task at hand.

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