There’s a general assumption–in homes, in workplaces–that neatness corresponds to productivity.
It begins in elementary school, with the annual rite of buying school supplies. You have the intent of staying organized, subject by subject, throughout the year. In adulthood, the habit continues. Every December, you buy an annual planner or calendar. It’s as if you’re buying a fresh white set of intentions. Moleskine notebooks beckon dreamers at every register.
As it happens, the fine art of getting organized is an official profession, with formal certifications, a code of ethics, and an official industry group (the National Association of Professional Organizers, or NAPO, 4,000 members strong).
Last week, at the Yale School of Management’s Art, Mind + Markets conference, Kathleen Vohs, a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota with an extensive psychology background, gave a talk called “Effect of Visual Order on Creativity.” Her main point–which she and her colleagues have demonstrated in experiment after experiment–is that you get a creativity boost when you work in a messy space.
Last year, she described her work in the New York Times. In one experiment, she assigned 48 individuals to messy or neat rooms, and asked them “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.” Independent judges rated the answers for creativity.
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