Messy Offices Encourage Creativity

(p. 12) Forty-eight research subjects came individually to our laboratory, . . . assigned to messy or tidy rooms.   . . . , we told subjects to imagine that a Ping-Pong ball factory needed to think of new uses for Ping-Pong balls, and to write down as many ideas as they could. We had independent judges rate the subjects’ answers for degree of creativity, which can be done reliably.   . . .
When we analyzed the responses, we found that the subjects in both types of rooms came up with about the same number of ideas, which meant they put about the same effort into the task. Nonetheless, the messy room subjects were more creative, as we expected. Not only were their ideas 28 percent more creative on average, but when we analyzed the ideas that judges scored as “highly creative,” we found a remarkable boost from being in the messy room — these subjects came up with almost five times the number of highly creative responses as did their tidy-room counterparts.
. . .
Our findings have practical implications. There is, for instance, a minimalist design trend taking hold in contemporary office spaces: out of favor are private walled-in offices — and even private cubicles. Today’s office environments often involve desk sharing and have minimal “footprints” (smaller office space per worker), which means less room to make a mess.
At the same time, the working world is abuzz about cultivating innovation and creativity, endeavors that our findings suggest might be hampered by the minimalist movement. While cleaning up certainly has its benefits, clean spaces might be too conventional to let inspiration flow.

For the full commentary, see:
KATHLEEN D. VOHS. “GRAY MATTER; It’s Not ‘Mess.’ It’s Creativity.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., September 15, 2013): 12.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date September 13, 2013.)

The main academic paper referred to in the commentary is:
Vohs, Kathleen D., Joseph P. Redden, and Ryan Rahinel. “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity.” Psychological Science 24, no. 9 (Sept. 2013): 1860-67.

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