My Messy Desk

29 Mar

Einstein had a messy desk. Behind the messy desk were messy bookshelves with piles of reports, journals, and loose papers. A study published in the September 2013 issue of Psychological Sciences suggests, strongly, that a clean and tidy desk, or office space, leaves one doing socially acceptable things, having normative ideas, and, for want of a better set of terms, doing the right things, thinking the right things, and behaving. Those who worked in, or, in this case, filled out a form in, a messy room, with a messy desk, had less normative ideas, made more creative connections and reported being willing to try things much much further afield. They didn’t see the need to do the right things, think the right things or behave as expected.

I may never clean my desk. It does not make me smart. It doesn’t make me a creative genius. I may clean my desk. It does not make me dumb. It doesn’t make me dull. But the messier side of life is about being indicative of webs of connections. Not graphs. Not charts. Webs of ideas, concepts, facts, which may seem unrelated but later are pulled together to solve a mystery, a problem, a puzzle no straight lines or charts could solve and shine light upon an answer no single beam could illuminate.

It is why one needs to learn things that are of no immediate use. Of no seeming use at all. Because the more of those things we know, the more errata we have, the more connections can be made, the greater our potential for creativity. Connecting things no one had thought to connect in ways no one had before seen. That is how the unsolvable becomes solved. That is how the unanswerable becomes answered. That is the creative process.

That is the gift of a broad liberal education – one of curiosity and not direction. It is why America was a creative powerhouse. Losing that is why we no longer are. It now costs too much to be curious. It doesn’t result in a job. And we all lose.


Posted by on March 29, 2015 in Culture, Education, philosophy, psychology, Social


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4 responses to “My Messy Desk

  1. Craig R. Smith

    March 30, 2015 at 9:15 AM

    The older I get, the less I want to “behave.” The problem is that the older I get, the more I get muddled and confused by disorganization. So a neater desk (or house) helps me expend less of my mental energy on finding important things I need urgently, and more on new ways to misbehave!

    • Adamus

      March 30, 2015 at 9:22 AM

      As the study points out, there are advantages and disadvantages to each style. It is of little help to be creative if one cannot find a pencil to write with or the number to call that one so desperately needs for that creativity to flower. I dislike spending time looking for things, so, most of my house is neat and organised. My desk is a bit cluttered. I gave up anything other than a loose organization of my books. it is hard to find the right one, but it means finding the things I need, not simply what I want, and connections are made I’d not thought of if I could go directly to the correct book.

      Interestingly, the study pointed out the environment that was messy or neat didn’t matter. Office, kitchen, livingroom. No matter. Same effect. So one might change one’s behaviour depending on the space and what one does there.

  2. indigobunting

    March 31, 2015 at 12:05 PM

    Hear hear. No one can afford education for education’s sake.

  3. Janet Harazda

    March 31, 2015 at 12:43 PM

    I liked this, well-written!


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